When you think of legal services, “transparent” and “accessible” probably aren’t the first words that come to mind. If you're like us, you’re more likely to envision confusing contracts and impenetrable language. But lawyer Hannah Samendinger shows that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Hannah founded her firm Samendinger Law in 2019 after first working in the legal tech space. Now she focuses on helping freelancers and small businesses succeed through a “more human kind of legal service.”
One tool she uses to do this is her mini newspaper, Legal for Designers. A zine might be an unexpected format for a guide to legal terms, but that’s the point. “The newspaper allowed me to distance myself from what people think of when they think of the law,” Hannah explains.
Below, we flip through Hannah’s newspaper and she tells us how using the zine helps her keep it real with clients (and she shares a few tips for clearer writing!)
Communication is key
I spend a lot of time making sure I am communicating clearly and thoroughly with my clients. When I was in law school and a new lawyer, I struggled with my personality as a lawyer being totally different from my personality in my free time. So when I started my firm, I decided to just communicate in a way that felt more natural and real.
With all of my writing, I want to make sure people know who I am. The copy on my website, for example, reflects feelings I had interacting with the legal industry and things I heard from friends and clients.
It’s important for me to be able to communicate my clients' rights and style of work in a way that makes sense for them — both to my client and to their client. A well written contract, which reflects your values and tone, makes you look organized and professional and can help you get paid.
Many people assume contracts have to be full of legalese. Sometimes more technical legal language might be necessary, but most contracts can be rewritten in plain English. A less technical contract can be really helpful for making sure both parties actually understand what they are agreeing to.
One reason I chose to print a newspaper was to reflect this approach and make what I do as transparent and as accessible as possible.
Making the case for print
Using a newspaper helped me be much more flexible in how I present my ideas. I had tried writing blog posts, but I honestly found that to be a real drag. It didn't feel like the best platform to try to communicate the footnotes of these areas of the law. The newspaper allowed me to distance myself from what people think of when they think of the law, and learning about the law.
My brother Nicholas designed the newspaper — he suggested a zine format and really got the ball rolling. The main challenge was what to cover! I feel like there is so much content, so I had to figure out how to present my ideas in a way that was comprehensive enough to be helpful, but not too overwhelming.
I started with a document full of a lot of different topics and rabbit holes. With Nicolas’s help, I was able to take this long list of notes and make it feel much easier to work through.
I thought about what topics were best illuminated through examples and could be summarized fairly easily. Some legal topics have a lot of nuance depending on where you are and who you're working with, while others are pretty similar throughout the US (and sometimes beyond). I opted to include information that I thought would be both the most helpful and the most clear with relatively limited context. Legal For Designers is the result!
I sent out the newspaper in conjunction with a class I taught (also called Legal for Designers) and the feedback has all been positive. I think everyone appreciated getting some digestible legal tips in a format that felt and looked so nice. And I got 5 - 6 new clients from the class!
Being able to hold a tangible thing at the end also felt like it brought legitimacy to the idea — instead of all that work just dying on a blog in the depths of the internet.
Hannah's tips for more accessible writing
Show, don’t tell. If your writing topic is dense or dull, keep it short and sweet — and give lots of examples!
Keep it real. People can tell when you are full of shit, so being honest about your feelings, what you know and (more importantly) what you don't know really resonates.
Be thoughtful. Making small and intentional changes to your wording, like opting for “they” instead of "he/she" in a contract or other writing, can go a long way.
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