magazine column dull + cats. What makes a compelling magazine column? Hmmm, let’s see. The truth probably lies somewhere between these two.

What makes a compelling magazine column? Hmmm, let’s see. The truth probably lies somewhere between these two.

I started out thinking today’s post was mainly for the lawyer readers. But now I’m not so sure.

In a few weeks, I’ll be presenting in Chicago at the American Bar Association’s annual Bar Leadership Institute. That’s where incoming leaders (often Presidents) of bar associations gather to get a crash course in numerous elements that go into guiding associations of attorneys.

My charge is to lend insight into what makes A-1 written materials—op-ds, letters to the editor, and the oft-feared President’s Message.

For the uninitiated, the President’s Message is a column-length essay published in a bar association’s magazine, newspaper or newsletter.

That message gives more agida to incoming leaders than virtually any other part of the job. And why shouldn’t it? Bar leaders are adept at many parts of the new job: They know how to run meetings, garner support and reach consensus (OK, “adept” may be a stretch). But how many of them have written a column?

Of course, most people have a good column in them. We have a powerful hankering to share the One Big Idea that has guided us, in life and practice. Without doubt, we can hit that column out of the park.

OK, that takes care of Month 1. Whatcha got for the other 11 months of your year? Gulp.

magazine column visual - Is it too much to expect bar leaders to write less and to think visually? Probably. Because law.

Is it too much to expect bar leaders to write less and to think visually? Probably. Because law.

I’ve read and edited President’s columns since 2000 (and I write my own monthly column; here’s January’s), so I have a pretty strong sense of what makes a good leader essay. But many of you read them; what do you think?

Because one of my messages to the presidents will be to crowdsource great ideas, today I am practicing what I preach. So …

In publications you enjoy (legal or not), what causes you to read a column (rather than a feature article)? What draws you in? What repels your gaze? Put another way:

  • What is the one piece of advice you would give a column writer?
  • What kind of content or approach do you find draws you in and leads you to respond?

If you have a thought that is not captured in my questions, please feel free to share that instead.

I am developing my presentation now. I’d be pleased to share your insight with the BLI attendees. And if I use your idea, I will credit you in my PowerPoint—so there; you, too, will be published!