Less than a decade ago, a lawyer who decided to start a blog was viewed as a radical with little to gain from such an arbitrary task. Fast forward 10 years and quite the opposite can be seen online. Today, more than 80 percent of AmLaw 200 firms publish at least one blog, not to mention all of the chatter from content streaming into LinkedIn, Twitter, websites, branded microsites, email alerts and Facebook.
Lawyers may have been slow to embrace these opportunities initially, but not anymore. The internet has democratized the way we receive and deliver information in exciting ways, creating valuable opportunities to reach audiences directly with original and useful content. While it’s easy to start a content marketing operation, these channels are heavily saturated and lawyers and law firms are discovering a new paradigm: Doing it well and rising above the noise while finding an audience is a constant challenge.
Being A Thought Leader
The good news: Lawyers traffic in knowledge and information that is useful and interesting, and there is a real demand for the kind of insight and analysis they can provide.
One of the first steps is to define your audience and subject matter. Many make the mistake of assuming that other lawyers are their target audience when, in fact, they should be writing for a broader business-oriented crowd that might include clients and potential clients. That means leaving behind the 50-cent words, footnotes and citations, and the legalese, and instead focusing on providing clear, concise and useful information.
Be Interesting, Useful
Let’s be honest, the vast majority of law-related blogging and content creation is uninspired and leans toward self-promotion. To help determine what’s useful, consider your audience and think like a reporter. Don’t just write about your own successes. If that’s your universe of potential content, then you’ll only be posting a few times a year.
Consider the experience of Goldstein & Russell lawyer Tom Goldstein, who started the SCOTUSblog way back in 2002. Goldstein has acknowledged that his initial motivation was purely self-serving. He wanted to promote his U.S. Supreme Court appellate expertise with hopes that it would cause his phone to ring, but he eventually realized that his expectations were unrealistic.
Instead of shuttering the blog, Goldstein hired a professional reporter and set him loose with the charge to create real, useful and independent reporting. Today, the SCOTUSblog is widely considered one of the very best sources for news and analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court. Even though Goldstein and his firm do no advertising or self-promotion of any kind on SCOTUSblog, he figures that the majority of his business comes thanks in part to his affiliation with the blog. “The independence of the blog has been critical to increasing its credibility, which has been vital to the practice,” Goldstein told Bloomberg BNA recently. “It is a real irony.” Being a thought leader is its own reward; business may follow, but it’s a circuitous and drawn-out process.
Don’t forget traditional PR, public speaking and publishing. Not that long ago, lawyers who wanted to boost their professional reputations were dependent upon such opportunities as public speaking, publishing or traditional PR, all of which are still important and often go hand-in-hand with smart content marketing. Reporters seeking expert sources routinely seek out lawyers who are demonstrating their expertise through content marketing.
It takes work and dedication to be a thought leader, but the good news is that it’s easier than ever. Today, the line between traditional media and so-called brand journalism is murky. Consumers frequently care less about the source and more about the bottom line issue of whether the information is useful. That’s an enormous opportunity for lawyers and law firms who have something to say and a desire to stand out from the crowd.