John Corey, president and co-founder of communications firm Greentarget, has recently been traveling around the country to speak to law firms about content marketing. At each stop, he’s been asking for a show of hands: “How many people have a dedicated strategy today?” Throughout the year, the number of hands going up has been slowly trickling up.
According to Greentarget’s 2014 digital and content marketing survey, just a quarter of law firms have a documented content strategy.
As a follow-up question, he asks, “How many of you envision having a dedicated content strategy between now and the end of the year, or are working on that now?” Additional hands go up. He predicts that between 30 and 50 percent of law firms will have a dedicated of content strategy by the end of the year.
Law firms have money—lots of it. And as Corey’s experiment suggests, an increasing number of them are investing that money into content marketing instead of traditional advertising.
“If you look at law firm websites, you see firms like Goodwin Proctor blogging about intellectual property issues, or Foley & Lardner blogging about the automotive industry, or BakerHostetler and Covington blogging about data privacy,” says Norm Rubenstein, partner at Zeughauser Group LLC. “The list of firms that have blogs is now probably longer then the list of firms that don’t.”
But creating content as a law firm brings challenges. Lack of a content strategy is one, but pushing change for how law firms—a traditionally risk-averse bunch—write and market themselves may be an even bigger one.
Writing, but not like a lawyer
Lawyers are, for the most part, smart and educated individuals. They have opinions and knowledge on a number of topics and industries, particularly the ones they specialize in. For law-firm marketers, their lawyers are “a treasure trove of intellectual insights to draw from,” said Corey. But they face a difficult task: writing comprehensive stories non-lawyers can understand.
At some law firms, lawyers have adopted the discipline and style required by professional journalism in order to create accessible stories for current and potential clients.
Corey recommends law firms adopt a six-step framework for implementing journalistic practices in their writing. This approach combines an organization’s market intelligence and subject-matter expertise with the credibility and the narrative techniques of professional journalism. Here are the steps Corey and Greentarget propose:
According to Greentarget, this approach allows organization to “act like media companies” —demonstrating thought leadership and building brand awareness along the way.
Thought leadership, not advertising
Hiring a lawyer or a team of lawyers is a huge investment for companies and individuals; as such, many law firms’ marketing efforts tend to share more characteristics with B2B content marketing than any other industry.
“Compared to consumer brands where maybe there are more nuances, a B2B model tends to be more effective in focusing on the specific people making the decision to go with a particular law firm,” said Peggy Heffner, manager of media relations and communications at Dechert LLP.
This is mostly done through thought leadership aimed at decision makers, meant to differentiate specific lawyers and firms as particularly knowledgeable—and therefore worth hiring.
Dechert LLP, for example, recently went through a rebrand. Like other B2B brands, it concluded that one of the best ways to raise the firm’s profile is through thought leadership, rather than pouring its budget into advertising
“We really wanted to focus our resources towards producing thought leadership that would distinguish our firm, as well as demonstrate our deep expertise in what has become an increasingly crowded marketplace,” said Michelle Lappen Vogelhut, director of marketing and business development at Dechert LLP.
Lawyers display their skills by writing articles peculiar to their field of expertise. Marketers, meanwhile, push for lawyers to dissect the latest laws, bills, and consequential cases and discuss the implications they might have for their clients.
But how to get this thought leadership seen? Firms, of course, have websites, microsites, and blogs—but LinkedIn seems to have recently taken over as the platform of choice.
LinkedIn: The lawyer’s best friend
Where is legal intelligence marketed? These days, it’s mostly on every ambitious ladder-climbers favorite social network: LinkedIn.
Regardless of age group, about 60 percent of lawyers have used LinkedIn professionally within the past week. Overall, 37 percent said they had used it within the past 24 hours. That number is higher than the number of lawyers who’ve used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube combined, according to Greentarget’s survey. In addition, LinkedIn’s publishing platform, Pulse, is providing further opportunity for lawyers to spread their content wide and fair.
For most companies, the company’s social media account is the main focus. That’s not the case for law firms. What matters the most to them is their specific lawyers’ profiles, rather than the firm’s.
“My understanding is that most people who are engaging in LinkedIn are not engaging with the firm’s content—they are engaging in the content of individuals,” said Mary Young, legal strategist at Zeughauser Group.
But producing content as an individual in the legal field comes with challenges. There are restrictions on attorney advertising, but they usually do not prohibit lawyers from publishing articles about legal subjects.
The real risk for lawyers is not an obstacle to publishing articles on legal issues, but the consequences: People may do what the lawyer suggests, and it may not work, creating “malpractice” liability. Lawyers try to protect themselves from this type of liability by making it clear in the publication that it is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship or be legal advice.
For lawyers and law firms just getting started on LinkedIn who’d like to avoid these perils, Young has three suggestions. She recommends lawyers have a profile they consistently update and optimize. “A profile that says someone went to Harvard Law School and has been practicing circus law for 35 years is not sufficient to convince a client to hire,” she said. A strong profile needs to tell clients what the lawyer does and what they love to do. It should feature a professional photo and links to any recent articles or speaking engagements.
In addition, she advises for lawyers to start publishing their own content as well as articles from others in their firm and any outside content that they deem interesting.
Lastly, she suggests that lawyers join groups. Forming or participating in groups actively allows for clients to communicate with lawyers directly.
Content strategy for law firms is new. Things up until this point were reactionary—lawyers waited for a particular case to come down and produced an article accordingly. Now, the focus is on how firms can be a resource for their clients.
“Everybody is in the social content business today,” Corey said. “But not everyone has something to say.”
Blog now, or forever hold your peace. Just be sure you have something important to say.