Insert clever headline here

When I was an editor at Crain’s Chicago Business, I sat next to one of the best headline writers in the business. He could sit at his desk all day and spit them out like a gumball machine, the ideas popping into his head, running down his arms, through his fingers and onto the keyboard. Chewy deliciousness in every one.

“How do you do it?” I would ask him.

“Just relax your brain,” he would say. “It’s easy.”


We can’t all be the King of Puns. But if you want to try, you can start by picking up The Economist, which consistently comes up with some of the best headlines I’ve ever read. Like a great conversationalist, its headlines are witty and informative. They catch your attention and make you want to move in closer to hear more. Why are they so good? Because they often include a play on words. Here are some examples.

Article topic:  The cost of making cell phone calls overseas
Headline: When in roam

Article topic: The merger of two big meat producers
Headline: A steak in the market

Headlines are a crucial part of any article, whether you’re writing them for a client alert, newsletter, presentation, or thought leadership report. Often they determine whether someone will read the rest of your article. Sometimes it’s the only thing they read. That’s why it’s so important to get them right. Or at least make them interesting. Here are four tips for improving your chances of writing attention-grabbing headlines.

1. Make them active.

One of the biggest problems I’ve noticed with our Firm’s headlines is they are often general statements of the topic, such as “Cross-border M&A trends” or “Recent developments in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s antidumping procedures.”


When it comes to writing headlines, strong verbs are your best friend. They provide a sense of action and specificity that topical statements lack. Here are my revisions of those headlines with the help of our new best friend.

Before: Cross-border M&A trends
After: Cross-border M&A rises 20%

Before: Recent developments in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s antidumping procedures
After: U.S. Commerce Department increases dumping liability for exporters

As you can see from these examples, using a verb not only makes a headline more interesting, but it also forces you to pinpoint what your article is about. A headline stating what the cross-border M&A actually trend is — that transactions have risen 20% — is more effective because it causes your reader to think, “20%? Really? I wonder why,” and then read on to find out.  

In the second example, telling your audience the U.S. Commerce Department is going to increase dumping liability for exporters is much more likely to get the attention of those exporters than a vague reference to “recent developments.”

2. Speak directly to your audience.

Another common problem with our headlines is they don’t highlight why the article should matter to our clients. Headlines such as “New arbitration law in France” or “Race discrimination ordinance on employment now fully operational” speak to no one in particular. It’s unclear who the audience is. Here’s how to change that:

Before: New arbitration law in France
After: France’s new arbitration law streamlines process for international parties

Before: Race discrimination ordinance on employment now fully operational
After: Race discrimination law creates new liability for Hong Kong employers

None of these headlines are particularly Economist-worthy, but at least in the “after” versions we know who the new laws will impact and how. To make sure my headlines address the concerns of my audience, here are some phrases I commonly use:

“How to…”
“What you need to know about…”
“Top 5 things you should know about…”
“Tips for…”

When put into practice on particular topics, the headlines become:

How to navigate Brazil’s new anti-corruption law
What foreign employers need to know about Russian labor law
Top 5 things U.S. companies should know about merger control in China
Tips for reducing compliance risk in M&A transactions

See how much better it sounds when you talk to your audience?

3. Keep them short.

One of the best ways to make your headlines memorable is to keep them short. Shorter is always easier to remember, so do whatever you can to get your headline down to the fewest number of words possible while also conveying what the article is about. My rule of thumb is no longer than seven words. To achieve greater brevity, look for long phrases that could be replaced with short phrases or a single word, like this:

Before: U.S. Commerce Department increases dumping liability for exporters
After: New rule increases dumping liability for exporters

Keep in mind when writing headlines that you don’t have to explain everything all at once. Headlines are meant to pique interest, not tell the whole story in one sentence. Is it really critical that your audience knows it’s the U.S. Commerce Department that increased liability? Or can you shorten it to “new rule,” then state in the first sentence of your article that it’s a U.S. Commerce Department rule? These are the types of questions to ask yourself as you edit.

4. Be clever, but not too clever.

One of my favorite headlines I’ve ever written is, “What does it mean to be sisters?” It was for a story about whether Chicago’s relationships with its sister cities around the world really generated business for Chicago companies. Under the headline was a photo of two little girls with their arms around each other.

The reason this headline worked was that it had a double meaning. When you saw the headline and looked at the photo, you might have thought it was a story about siblings. When you began reading the article, you discovered it was about the business concept of “sisters.”

Many of the best headlines take clichés and common phrases and turn them on their heads. For example, it’s not particularly clever to write a headline like, “Look before you leap” because it’s a cliché. But if you take that cliché and tweak it to something like “Look before you sleep,” for a story about bed bugs, you’re moving in the direction of originality and wit.

However, make sure you’re not being too clever or using so obscure a reference that no one will understand what the article is about. Using verbs, addressing your audience and keeping headlines short are the most important steps. Being clever is for those who want to earn bonus points. With a little practice in the art of puns, you too can become a headline gumball machine.

The perfect pitch: How to write a winning proposal

Yes, Baker & McKenzie is a big global law firm, one of the biggest in fact. And sure we have won numerous awards, many that would make any parent proud. But so have a lot of other global law firms, so what sets us apart? How do we convince new and existing clients to give us their business by going beyond citing the number of offices we have or how many times Chambers has ranked a practice group Band 1?

These are some of the questions I asked Dan Weisberg and Suzanne Struglinski, expert writers on our Firm’s Global Proposal Team, who spend their days working with partners and business development staff to craft the perfect pitch. In FY15, our Firm responded to more than 2,600 requests for proposal (RFPs), with a success rate of 60%.

In this exclusive interview (translation: I begged them to talk to me), Dan and Suzanne share the team’s best tips on proposal writing. Even if you don’t write proposals, their pointers can help you with any type of persuasive writing, whether it’s trying to get funding for a particular project or convince your boss to let you work from home once a week. The secret: Focus on your audience’s needs first.

Me: Let’s start with some basics. Who writes our proposals?

Dan: It’s a partnership between the proposals team and the lead partners, as well as the regional or global practice group and client business development teams. We have a kickoff call with the lawyers and BD staff to go through the RFP questions and decide how we want to answer them. The general questions about things like the Firm’s history, geographic footprint, diversity and inclusion policies, and pro bono work are handled by the proposals team. The more technical questions like, “Explain how you would perform this work for our company,” require a lot of focus from the partners.

Who reads the proposals? Who is your target audience?

Dan: Typically people in the client’s legal, HR or tax departments as well as procurement. The legal department has been traditionally interested in who can give them the best quality work. With the procurement department it’s more about which firms are qualified and, amongst the qualified firms, who can do the work cheapest. Increasingly that’s now important to the legal department too because they need to reduce their budgets and justify their legal spend.

Why is it important to know who your audience is?

Dan: When we know who’s reading the proposal we can tailor our message to what’s important to them. So if what’s important to them is having very experienced partners in Germany, China and France, we can make sure we emphasize that. If what’s important is having things done as cost effectively as possible, we can spend a lot of time talking about how we drive efficiencies by giving a lot of the work to associates, paralegals and staff in our Manila and Belfast offices.

What’s the most important part of the proposal?

Dan: From a writing perspective, it’s the executive summary. For every proposal we write a one- to two-page executive summary highlighting why they should hire us over the other very good firms out there.

What is your approach to writing executive summaries?

Dan: The best executive summaries hammer on two to three points we know are important to the company either because they told us in the RFP, because we have the relationship to know that information, or because we’ve done a lot of research to understand where this company is going and how the legal department has to help them get there.

Why is it crucial to review materials like the client’s 10-K, annual report and recent press releases before writing the proposal?

Suzanne: It helps us avoid talking too much about Baker. When we know a lot about the client, we can focus on their needs and what we can do for them. If we’re offering a discount or some amazing global team to satisfy that client’s needs, we mention that early on.

What is the biggest challenge you face writing proposals?

Dan: What makes our job both difficult and fun is we compete against a lot of other very good firms, so the key is trying to find interesting ways to differentiate ourselves that resonate with the client.

How do you do that?

Suzanne: I like case studies. Every time I’ve been able to speak with one of our attorneys about how we saved the day in a particular matter or why a particular win was so great and what led to that win, the proposal is light years ahead of the others. I just did a proposal for Walgreens and talked with our real estate attorneys to get examples of similar work they had done. During that conversation I asked, “So what makes us so great at lease management?” Turns out it’s how well the team works together and the internal processes they have in place. So I was able to explain in the proposal that it’s not just that we know the ins and outs of warehouse leases, but that we have the infrastructure to basically automate the process.

How else have you used client information to make a proposal stand out?

Dan: We did a proposal for Merck last year in which we wanted to emphasize that we really understand the company and its issues and risks better than other firms. We did that by identifying their four biggest business and legal issues and found the right partners to write about how other pharmaceutical clients are dealing with those industry pressures. We also mixed in some of the work we’ve already done for Merck in those areas.

Did we win the business?

Dan: Yes.

When you’re reviewing the content from various partners and practice groups to put the final proposal together, what writing mistakes do you commonly see?

Suzanne: Our Firm often uses vague phrases like, “We provide clients with high-quality work” but I like to define what we mean. Is it quick response time, like in a dawn raid when the government is at a client’s door? Is it that the client wants to expand into China and we know the legal and business environment in that market? There’s often a lack of specificity, and the more specific we can be about what the client is trying to achieve and how can help them, the better.

What part of proposals do we still struggle with as a Firm?

Dan: When clients ask us to describe our experience doing certain types of work, we tend to give them a laundry list of deals that doesn’t really say much. We give them four pages of “worked with a global pharmaceutical company on a transaction in Mexico,” and “worked with global pharmaceutical company on a transaction in Canada.” No one’s going to read through all those pages. It would be a lot more effective to give them one or two detailed case studies that explain to the client the value we delivered in that case and how that’s relevant to their issue.

Why is linking our experience directly to the client so important?  

Dan: Whenever we’re able to respond to an RFP by having our partners say, “For this particular project or matter, here are the top five things you need to be thinking about,” that’s what clients find most valuable. If we can get them nodding their heads as they read those five things and have them thinking, “These guys get it,” we’ve gone a long way in differentiating ourselves.

If you could give someone only one or two tips on proposal writing, what would they be?  

Suzanne: Read the RFP. You need to understand who the client is and what they are looking for. The second part is to know what your message is. There are 1,000 different ways we can talk about Baker & McKenzie so we need to identify what we should highlight to win the business from this particular client. Sometimes it’s a combination of things that sets us apart. It’s the fact that we’re global, have the top lawyer who works on XYZ issue, and have been working with the client for 10 years.

What advice would you give partners to make our Firm’s proposals more successful?  

Dan: I would encourage them to think about RFPs as just one part of the client relationship cycle in which they are constantly thinking about our Firm’s relationship with the client, how we can grow our relationship, do work in new areas, and make sure we’re soliciting the client’s feedback and acting on that feedback. By taking this approach we can often win the RFP before it even comes out.

What advice would you give professional staff to make our Firm’s proposals more successful? 

Suzanne: Keep the most current information about your practice group at your fingertips. What are your top awards? What are your top five matters? What innovations has your group implemented to do client work more efficiently? What kind of alternative fee arrangement have you successfully used with clients? How do you partner with other Baker lawyers across practice groups? For your top five deals or matters, you should be able to tell the story of why it was an important deal, especially if it’s something we’ve put out a press release about. Having the most up-to-date language ready to go can really help move the process along quickly.

More about Dan:
Before joining Baker & McKenzie as the Senior Manager of Global Proposals for North America four years ago, Dan spent seven years in global business development at Ernst & Young. When he’s not reading RFPs, Dan does crossword puzzles and watches the Mets.

More about Suzanne: Suzanne is a former newspaper reporter and press secretary who joined Baker & McKenzie’s Global Proposal Team three years ago. Based in our Washington DC office, she’s a news junkie who can’t start her morning without reading the A-section of the Washington Post.

For more tips on proposal writing
, visit the Global Proposal Team’s blog, Pitch Perfect, and read their Little Book of Winning. If you’d like to see their presentation on “Executive Summary Best Practices,” contact Dan or Suzanne for the slide deck.

What’s missing from your Deals List?


Take a minute and look at your resume or CV. Maybe you haven’t updated it in a while and don’t even know where it is. But find it, dig it out, and look at it. Take a few minutes to read about yourself. Who you are, where you’ve worked, what positions you’ve held, and what you’ve done. Notice anything missing?

Maybe not. That’s okay, keep scratching your head.

Now pretend you aren’t you. Pretend you are a potential employer or client looking at your resume and considering whether to hire you. Now what do you notice? Anything you want to know about this person that isn’t there?

Probably. Because here’s the thing.  You can ask 10 people and they’ll tell you 10 different ways to write your resume. You can worry about which font to use, how wide the margins should be, and whether to make it one page or two. But what potential employers and clients really want to know about you boils down to two things:

  1. What have you done?
  2. How well did you do it?

I’m sure you’ve got plenty of information about number one. You’ve listed your duties and responsibilities underneath each job. But what about number two? I’ll bet you a hundred dollars you’ve been so busy describing what you’ve done that you haven’t included what’s most important:


As in, what have you accomplished?

I see the same mistake in our firm’s Deals and Representative Matters lists. All of our practice groups keep lists of the major transactions and legal matters they’ve worked on to demonstrate their experience to potential clients. We showcase these lists in our brochures, proposals, award submissions, and lawyer CVs.

These lists are important because they provide concrete examples of our work, facts to back up claims about how great we are, and reasons for legal directories like Chambers and Legal 500 to give our practice groups high rankings. They are also a major part of our pitches for new business. The problem is they typically read like this:

  • Represented Sony Corporation in numerous administrative proceedings on
    anti-counterfeiting activities in Russia.
  • Advised BAT Rossiya, a major tobacco producer, on different labor issues and legal aspects of interacting with trade unions.
  • Advised Yapi ve Kredi Bank of Turkey on the establishment and initial issuance under their US$1.2 billion future-flow securitization program backed by diversified payment rights.

What’s missing from these descriptions?

You’ve got it…results. And by results I mean, what was the outcome of the deal or matter? How did our representation or advice benefit the client? Writing a Deals or Representative Matters list without including results is like driving halfway down the street. It’s a good start, but you’re not there yet.

To identify the result, try using what I like to call the “So what?” test. For every deal or representative matter on your list, ask yourself, “So what?” like this:

Represented Sony Corporation in numerous administrative proceedings on anti-counterfeiting activities in Russia. So what? Did we win? What benefits did we achieve for Sony?
Advised BAT Rossiya, a major tobacco producer, on different labor issues and legal aspects of interacting with trade unions. So what? How did this help BAT Rossiya?
Advising Yapi ve Kredi Bank of Turkey on the establishment and initial issuance under their US$1.15 billion future-flow securitization program. So what? How did this help Yapi ve Kredi Bank?

Once you have your answers, put the issues and the outcomes together as I did in a brochure I wrote for our Global Corporate Compliance Group excerpted below. I’ve highlighted the outcome part of the description for each matter in blue.


No FCPA charges
Conducted an internal investigation, helped terminate non-compliant employees and revised product distribution agreements for a Fortune 500 IT company under investigation for public procurement fraud and bribery in Brazil. As a result of the client’s implementation of our remediation plan, the DOJ decided not to file charges.

Successful joint venture
Conducted FCPA and trade sanctions due diligence, drafted protective contractual language and developed compliance policies and procedures that enabled a US public company to proceed with its joint venture with a Chinese state-owned enterprise. We also trained the joint venture partner’s Chinese legal and business teams on US anti-corruption and trade sanction law to prevent future liability.

Quick, credible investigation
Collected 3.5 million documents and interviewed 120 witnesses in the US, Australia, the Middle East and Asia in a large-scale internal investigation of a Fortune 100 metals company facing FCPA charges. Our ability to execute the investigative plan quickly and earn the trust of US enforcement officials with our thoroughness and transparency saved the client significant time and resources.

Notice that instead of using the title “Representative Matters” or “Related Matters” like our firm typically does, I simply call this list “Results” because that’s what potential clients want to know most. I also summarize the outcome in the subheadings, not just in the descriptions.

Rather than using the name of the case, client, or issue like we usually do, I use the subheadings “No FCPA charges,” “Successful joint venture,” and “Quick, credible investigation” to get the client’s attention and reinforce that we’re about outcome, not just process.

This might seem like a lot of work, and in some ways it is. Taking these descriptions a step further requires some effort. That’s why I would encourage you to refrain from listing 10, 20, and even 30 deals in your CVs or client materials and instead focus on five to 10 and make them really good.

Taking the extra step of including outcomes in your Deals and Representative Matters lists will make you stand out from competitors because so few professional services firms do it. It seems so obvious once you see the benefits, yet for some reason it’s not our natural approach. Just like when drafting our resumes, we get so busy talking about ourselves that we quickly forget who we’re writing for and what they would want to know.

Now that you know the secret, you have no excuse. It’s time to start turning those Deals and Representative Matters lists into Results lists. And remember, “So what?”

Omit needless words!

Man talking with alphabet letters coming out of mouth

I don’t know about you but I don’t like clutter. Stacks of dishes in the sink, piles of mail on the table, toys strewn across the living room floor. It’s a losing battle considering I have two children under age 4 and a husband who fills the top of our dresser with loose change, business cards and crumpled receipts. But I keep trying.

“What’s all this?” I’ll ask my husband, pointing to the pile.

“Important documents,” he says, smiling.


It’s the same thing with writing. So many of the adjectives, adverbs and phrases we use are nothing more than junk mail we leave on the counter. They clog sentences, bog down paragraphs and make long documents even longer. Even worse, they do no work besides stand between you and the clear message you are trying to convey to your readers. Our Firm’s client communications are littered with them. Here are some examples:

Unnecessary words

currently                      likely
effectively                    literally
generally                      mostly
in connection with    regularly
in order to                   relatively
in relation to               routinely
in this regard              truly
In respect to                typically
largely                          very

In The Elements of Style, one of the most popular English usage guide for professional writers, author E.B. White recounts how his college English professor would lean forward over his desk, grasp his coat lapels and implore his students to “omit needless words!” In what he calls, “63 words that could change the world,” White quotes his professor, William Strunk Jr, on why people should strive to eradicate literary clutter:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subject only in outline, but that every word tell.

People often worry that if they minimize their use of adverbs and adjectives, their writing won’t sound professional or academic. They fear that everything they write will read like a children’s book: see spot run.

In reality, it’s the opposite. Clearing clutter from your sentences doesn’t mean a life of choppy, pedestrian sentences. You can still be as eloquent as Shakespeare, who is also an advocate of simplicity. “An honest tale speeds best being plainly told,” he wrote in his play King Richard III.

Here are examples of how you can make your writing more concise:

Before: Generally, you should anticipate that the unions and works councils will typically expect to be involved in relation to the individual steps of the process.
After: Generally, You should anticipate that the unions and works councils will typically expect to be involved in relation to in the individual steps of the process.

In the first sentence, notice that “generally” and “typically” are just taking up space. Delete them and you lose no meaning. “In relation to” is a wordy way of saying “in.” Whenever there is a shorter, more succinct way of saying something, use it. Your readers will thank you.

Before: Jane Smith routinely advises clients in connection with intellectual property issues in mergers and acquisitions.
After: Jane Smith routinely advises clients in connection with on intellectual property issues in mergers and acquisitions.

Here you don’t need the word “routinely” because the present tense verb “advises” already tells you this is what Jane routinely does. “In connection with” is a wordy way of saying “on.” Like, “in relation to,” it’s an unnecessary phrase I see repeatedly in our Firm’s writing, particularly in our lawyer CVs. We’d be better off without them.

Before: The process to comply with the new regulation appears to be relatively simple.
After: The process to comply Complying with the new regulation appears to be relatively simple.

Can you see how condensing and deleting just a few words makes the sentence clearer? Now it’s your turn. Here’s your assignment: refrain from using adjectives and adverbs in everything you write for one week. Before sending anything to anyone, print out your work, examine every sentence and ask yourself, “Do I really need this word? Is there a shorter way to say this?”

Write like Professor Strunk is standing over your shoulder, grasping his lapels and urging you to change the world, one deleted adverb at a time. At the end of the week, send me an email or leave a comment on this blog telling me how it went. I have a sneaky suspicion suspect that you’ll feel much lighter.

Five reasons people like lists

While skimming news headlines, surfing the web or browsing book titles, you may notice a common writing technique: “Top 10 Ways to Burn Fat,” Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.

The technique is using lists and it’s a quick and effective way to create headlines and organize content in a way that piques curiosity and encourages readers to take a closer look. It’s a format I often recommend when teaching our lawyers and professional staff how to write client alerts, newsletters, and blog posts that grab their audiences’ attention and keep them reading past the email subject line. It also works for event titles, proposals and thought leadership reports.

Consider this: if you were a general counsel who received alerts from two different law firms with the following headlines, which one would you read?

1. Dodd-Frank Act Takes Effect
2. Three Ways the Dodd-Frank Act Will Impact Your Business

Here’s why using lists work:

1. They are bite-sized. Organizing that information into a list helps reduce information overload and provides a simple structure that is easy to digest. It’s why I think The NA 5, a weekly summary of five news items from our North America offices, is one of our Firm’s most effective internal newsletters. (To subscribe, contact NA Communications Specialist Mary Kate Martin.)

2. They are scannable. As creatures of the information age, we are bombarded with more content than ever. So what do we do? We skim. Organizing your content as a list makes it easier for readers to scan, and if your points are compelling enough, get them to slow down and engage. (Like you’re doing now, right?)

3. They pique curiosity. Titles with numeric lists evoke curiosity because it’s human nature to want to know what’s on that list. A report about supply chains called, “Five Steps to Managing Third-Party Risk” is likely to make a client wonder, What are those five steps? Are we following them? How easy are they to implement? Hmmm…I better read this report to find out. Congratulations! You’ve just landed a captive audience.

4. They get to the point. When receiving an alert or newsletter about a recent legal development, a busy client wants to know three things:

  • What happened?
  • What does it mean for me?
  • What do I need to do about it?

That’s why the headline, “Three Ways the Dodd-Frank Act Will Impact Your Business,” is more likely to catch their attention than, “Dodd-Frank Act Takes Effect.” The first headline tells them you’re going to get right to what’s most important to them.

5. They speak directly to your audience. When you’re organizing your content into a “Top 5” or “Top 10” list, your writing automatically becomes more focused on your audience. For example, if I were to tell you, “Write a client alert explaining the top three ways the Dodd-Frank Act will affect our banking clients,” you would have to decide what to include and what to leave out. How would you do that? By focusing on exactly what you should be focusing on: the concerns of your target audience.

Publishers across all disciplines use lists for a simple reason: they work. Using a list imposes discipline on the writing process. Rather than writing in a vacuum, you are having a conversation with your readers. As a result, they are more likely to listen. And after all that work you put into writing that important proposal, client alert or email, isn’t that the point?

The power of active voice

Want your writing to be stronger, clearer, and more succinct? Then meet my good friend, active voice. I may sound like a late night television ad, but I can’t help it. I’m that passionate about active voice. Why? Because it’s one of the quickest ways to improve anything you write.

Whenever I advocate for using active voice, I get one of two reactions: “Yes, I know that already.” Or, “Active voice, what’s that?” Passive voice is so pervasive, particularly in legal and business writing, that half of us don’t even know we’re doing it. The other half is afraid of active voice.

“Many lawyers suffer from a fear of naming,” Yeshiva University Law Professor Richard Weisberg writes in his book, When Lawyers Write. “The result is a peculiar kind of sentence in which the noun shows up late, if at all.”

Because verbs are the engine of a sentence, strong writers make it a habit to leverage their power by using them in their active rather than passive form. Here’s the difference:

Active: The executive committee approved the new policy.
Passive: The new policy was approved by the executive committee.

In active voice, the subject performs the action. In passive voice, the subject is acted upon by someone or something. Why is using active voice preferable?

The first reason is clarity. When you write in passive voice, you often drop the subject of the sentence, which makes it unclear who is doing the action. For example, you’ll write, “The new policy was approved.” That leaves your reader wondering, by whom?

The second problem is passive voice is wordier than active voice. We all know the feeling of having to reread a sentence multiple times before its meaning sinks in. Passive voice is often the culprit. Not an active voice convert yet? Here are more examples of how it helps your writing.

Example 1

Passive voice: Significant steps have been taken to improve intellectual property protection in Malaysia.
Active voice: The Malaysian government has taken significant steps to improve intellectual property protection. 

What’s wrong with the first sentence? Nothing, really. It’s not grammatically incorrect to use passive voice. The problem is we don’t know who has taken steps to improve IP protection in Malaysia. In the second sentence, it’s clear.

Example 2

Passive voice: The largest number of cross-border IPOs were issued by companies in the technology industry, with 41 listings in 2014.
Active voice: Technology companies issued the largest number of cross-border IPOs, with 41 listings in 2014.

If you read these two sentences aloud, which one rolls off your tongue more easily? The second, one, right? Adding even a few extra syllables to your sentences prevents people from reading your document quickly, which may encourage them to skip over key points.

Example 3

Passive voice: In the absence of accurate official statistics, data on acquisitions are used to describe recent trends.
Active voice: In the absence of accurate official statistics, we used data on acquisitions to describe recent trends.

Another reason people use passive voice is the mistaken belief that it’s unprofessional to use first person in a report like the one referenced above. That somehow hiding the fact the report was written by actual people gives it a more objective, authoritative tone. To the contrary, using “I” or “we” in legal and business communications and reports imparts a sense of accountability and confidence that you and your team stand behind what you’ve written.

Example 5

Passive voice: There are many challenges in managing corporate legal departments in today’s global economy.
Active voice: General counsel face many challenges managing corporate legal departments in today’s global economy.

Starting a sentence with “there are” is one of the weakest things you can do. It’s the reason one of my journalism teachers forbade us from using that phrase in our papers and circled it in red ink whenever we did. She argued we could always find a stronger way to construct the sentence using a subject and active verb. She was right, as you can see above.

Is using active voice always preferable? No, sometimes using passive voice makes sense, such as when you want to emphasize the object of the sentence or the subject of the sentence is irrelevant or unknown, like in these examples.

But using passive voice should be the exception, not the rule. The last thing you want is readers laboring through your sentences. Make them work too hard and guess what will happen? They’ll stop reading. And no one wants that.

Try using active voice for just two weeks and see what happens to your writing. I promise it will become stronger, clearer and more succinct. Or your money back.

LinkedIn: How to make your profile stand out

I’ll never forget the day I received a friend request from my 85-year-old grandma on Facebook. Grandma has always been a technophile, but now a social media maven too? Sure enough, there she was smiling at me from her profile picture, with her wire-rimmed glasses, leopard-print blazer and perfectly coiffed hair.

What did this experience teach me? That the whole world is online. I say this because some people still think having a good LinkedIn profile only matters if you are job searching. Not so. LinkedIn is the professional equivalent of Facebook, with fewer crazy cat videos. And its popularity is growing.

In a 2015 digital and content survey of U.S. in-house counsel, 70 percent said they use LinkedIn to connect with outside counsel, up from 56 percent in 2014. Nearly 40 percent of those in-house counsel said they use LinkedIn to research outside counsel. That’s why it’s worth investing a few hours perfecting your profile. It may be the first impression you make. Here are 10 tips to help you make the most of that impression.

1. Complete your profile

Picture2Fill out as much of your profile as possible. The more information you include, the more
connections you’ll make. This means listing all your former and current employers in the Experience section, your undergraduate and graduate schools under Education and all the organizations you belong to. The more information you provide, the more ways people from different parts of your life can find and connect with you.

2. Create a custom URL

Betsy URLWhen you create a profile, LinkedIn will automatically generate a URL for you. But it will be lengthy with numerous letters and numbers. Instead, change it to your first and last name so you have a clean URL to use elsewhere, such as in your email signature or on your business card. If your name is taken, try adding a middle initial or your middle name. No matter when you created your profile, you can edit your URL at anytime.

3. Upload a professional photo


Your profile is seven times more likely to be viewed if you have a photo, according to research from LinkedIn. People like to put a face with a name. So upload a professional headshot, not one from your Caribbean cruise or one in which it looks like your date was cut out. And to avoid looking like a 1950s film star, make sure it’s in color, not black and white.

4. Write a descriptive headline 

Picture6When you are setting up your profile, LinkedIn will ask you to create a professional “headline” that will appear beneath your name. Many people put “Lawyer at Baker & McKenzie” or “Attorney at Baker & McKenzie.” I would encourage you to be more specific by using your title and including the type of law you practice, such as “Baker & McKenzie Associate advising on IT law” or “Employment Partner at Baker & McKenzie.” If your title is self explanatory, then just use that unless you want to earn bonus points by adding your professional objective such as, “Marketing Manager who helps corporations build award-winning brands.”

5. Use first person

Me-myself-and-I[2]A LinkedIn profile is more personal than a bio or CV, so you should use first person in your summary, experience and any other sections you include. This is social media; it’s as odd to use third person on LinkedIn as it would be to use it on Facebook. So embrace the almighty “I,” as in “I’m an associate at Baker & McKenzie who advises clients on private equity law.” You should also use complete sentences rather than CV speak. For example, say, “I am a business development manager who helps our banking practice groups win clients” rather than “Business development manager who helps the banking practice group win clients.”

6. Create a summary

Picture2Many people only list their jobs in the Experience section and leave the summary field blank. That’s a mistake. The summary is your opportunity to introduce yourself. Think of it as your elevator pitch. Who are you as a professional? What do you have to offer? What are your greatest accomplishments? In one or two paragraphs, sum up the answers to these questions to provide a snapshot of your career.

7. Describe your experience

experienceThe trick to filling out the Experience section is providing just the right amount of information, not too little and not too much. Some people only list their titles and employers without any explanation. Others describe each job in excruciating detail. The best balance is listing all of your recent jobs with one-paragraph descriptions of each. When writing these descriptions, strive to go beyond explaining what you do by including why you do what you do. For example, most people write something like, “I advise multinational companies on mergers and acquisitions.” To take it a step further, provide an explanation for why you advise multinationals on mergers and acquisitions, such as, “I advise multinational companies on mergers and acquisitions to help them expand their global footprints, improve efficiency and acquire new talent and product lines.”

8. Take advantage of additional sections

sectionsLinkedIn offers a number of additional sections you can use to make your profile more complete. If you do pro bono or volunteer work, you can list those projects in the Volunteer Experience section. If you or your practice group has won awards,  be sure to include them in the Honors & Awards section. You can also list the organizations you belong to, as well as the languages you speak. The more information you provide about yourself, the more complete the professional picture you provide for viewers and the more connections you will make.

9. Get recommendations

Getting recommendations is important because they allow other people to speak for your work. They are essentially your online references. Recommendations are different from endorsements because they require that those who recommend you write a brief summary of their experience working with you, not just click a button that says they endorse you for a certain skill. You should strive to have at least five recommendations from a variety of people who have known you at various points in your career. If you’re new to the job market, get recommendations from your college professors, fellow students or those you worked with during internships.


10. Update your profile every three months

Picture1Now that you’ve created a strong profile, make sure to update it any time you have more news to share about your career training and accomplishments, such as new awards, promotions, educational achievements, and important projects or deals. We all get busy and forget to do these routine tasks, so it may help to put a reminder on your calendar every three months to prompt yourself.

By implementing these 10 tips, you’ll have a polished, professional profile that is guaranteed to stand out from the rest. For additional guidance on how to use LinkedIn’s more advanced features, such as sharing content, adding publications and joining industry groups, view the LinkedIn PowerPoint presentation and user guides that Global Web Marketing Manager Alyssa Miller and I have posted on BakerWorld. It’s easy to build and maintain a strong online presence once you get the hang of it. Rest assured, if my grandma can master social media, so can you.