It’s called list journalism – and it’s getting slammed all over the place.
And I’m a number one offender.
List journalism is just what the name suggests – writing a story using bullet points or numerical lists to convey content.
“10 Ways to Prevent Hair Loss.” “100 Best Lawyers of All-Time.” “7 Degrees of Separation From Honey Boo-Boo.”
Critics complain that list journalism is lazy. They say it’s the verbal equivalent of junk food. They argue that some stories are too simply complex to be broken down into neat little lists.
They have even come up with a new word – listicle - to describe this phenomenon.
Listicles and the Law
Why all the hate?
Personally, I enjoy listicles. I think they work well for blogs and other formats that thrive on brevity and summary. I like them even better when they come with pretty pictures.
In fact, I would go so far as to argue that listicles can make you a better lawyer – by helping you express complicated ideas in digestible, bite-sized nuggets. Here’s how:
- We organize the world in round numbers. “We say it takes 30 minutes to get to work and ask where we see ourselves in five years,” according to Fast Company. “Rain Man knows when 246 toothpicks fall on the floor, but most of us would hazard a guess of couple hundred (and a clean 250 came in the box). High school students are much more likely to retake the SATs when their scores fall just below a double-zero ending. Baseball players hitting .300 – the threshold for a fine season – often remove themselves from a final at-bat to avoid dropping to .299.”
- Our brains are wired for Top 10 rankings. According to the Journal of Consumer Research, we are suckers for the “Top 10 effect.” We tend to rank things in groups of 10. Items that come in at number 11 or below seem vastly inferior even if they are actually not. “Our own experiences sort of led to this impression that if it’s not in the top 10, then it’s in the next category,” says one expert. “[N]umbers generally are considered to be equidistant, but subjectively they’re not.”
- The Internet runs on lists. A Google search ranking is nothing more than a list of popular web sites. When we talk of “optimizing” our search ranking, we simply mean moving higher up that list.
- Take this simple test. Run a Google search of the number 76. Then search for the number 75. You will get vastly more hits for the latter. Numbers ending in five and zero yield more results. That’s just another illustration of the value in packaging information in familiar numbers.
- Moderation in all things. Don’t overdo it. Sometimes a topic demands more explanation that a summary list can provide.
10 Ways To Invite a Malpractice Claim
Finally, no self-respecting blogpost on lists would be complete without … well, a list.
So here’s a good one from Mark Bassingthwaighte, the risk manager at Attorneys Liability Protection Society, on 10 ways to commit malpractice:
- Fail to document the scope of your engagement.
- Fail to keep your client informed.
- Fail to do today what can be put off until tomorrow.
- Fail to do your homework.
- Fail to confirm that a file is now closed.
- Fail to maintain some minimal level of attorney oversight of client property.
- Fail to supervise staff.
- Fail to plan for the unexpected.
- Fail to properly manage billing and collections.
- Fail to successfully manage the client relationship.
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 919-619-2441.
- Fast Company Design http://www.fastcodesign.com/3024538/evidence/why-we-love-top-10-lists
- ALPS http://www.alps411.com/blog/mediating-social/shortcuts-to-avoid-ten-practice-tips-new-guide-from-alps?sthash.3b9UuBLC.mjjo&goback=%2Egde_2691620_member_5836180713551970305
- Field of Schemes http://www.fieldofschemes.com/2013/12/26/6507/end-of-year-lists-the-lazy-journalists-way-to-earn-a-paycheck-while-sucking-down-eggnog/
- The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/media-network/media-network-blog/2013/aug/12/5-ways-listicle-changing-journalism
- Psychologies http://www.psychologies.co.uk/self/why-we-love-lists.html