Does your law firm have a legal content strategy? (First published in Managing for Success)
5th January 2015
No longer can law firms rely on articles and publications to demonstrate their expertise and market themselves efficiently. With an array of multiple formats for your content now available, from webinars to social media presentations, how can a law firm define a strategy that is manageable but effective enough to compete with rival firms?
In this informative article, Sue Bramall explains how law firms can implement an efficient content strategy. She looks at the types of content of firms should be exploring, how to achieve top quality content and how to plan and project manage.
The expression ‘content is king’ is not new, but there has been increased focus recently on content strategies for law firms. This is particularly so since Google started announcing the changes to its search algorithms and sharpening its processes to weed out ‘black hat’ practices such as link farms and keyword stuffing.
Without a shiny product to display, it has been necessary to rely on articles and publications to demonstrate mastery in an area of law. Historically this would have taken the form of a book or fairly substantial paper. Now content needs to be dispensed in multiple formats to capture the attention of clients and contacts with a broad spectrum of different media preferences.
Speed is of the essence in our busy lives, and we are getting used to a multi-layered presentation of content – the briefest executive summary is usually accompanied by a link to a more detailed analysis with further links to related material.
It is no longer possible to send your article off to the editor and get back to your work. To ensure that your material gets the widest possible readership, you also need to make sure all legal articles are posted on your website, optimised for internet searches, blogged, linked and tweeted.
Developments in technology have made it possible to distribute your content in a variety of presentational formats. A PowerPoint presentation and a set of notes delivered to a room of people, can now be delivered as a webinar. The audio visual files can be uploaded to YouTube, hosted on your website, with a link emailed to anyone who was unable to attend the live broadcast. The talk can be transcribed and recycled as an article. All this can all be shared via social media.
Know your clients
This fragmentation in delivery is necessary because different sectors of your target audiences will each prefer different media outlets.
Just consider the plethora of devices in your own home or office. How do you and your colleagues like to keep up with the news? A straw poll is likely to indicate a range of habits and views about which format is most convenient, accessible or reliable.
For example, the banks’ firewalls prevent access to certain types of media, and webinars and videos are not always appropriate in open plan offices. On the other hand, an in-house lawyer with one of the emergency services recently told me that she was in need of much better mobile solutions as most of their staff were on the road 24 hours a day.
Even the most ardent lovers of print media will confess to a growing use of online facilities.
It is worth carrying out a survey of your clients and contacts to ensure that you have your finger on the pulse of their media preferences or corporate policies, as this could give you that competitive edge.
Choosing subjects for legal content
Given the investment of time, and potential production costs, it is important to ensure that any legal content commissioned is “on message”.
First, your marketing strategy should have identified priority services that require promotion based on their potential to generate profitable business - is the focus on private client content or business client marketing?
Remember when everyone was writing about cookies? This might have been a topical subject, but was hardly going to lead to a commercial instruction worth several thousand pounds. Might that time have been better spent on a topic to generate enquiries for ‘shareholder disputes’ or ‘selling a company’?
Too often topical subjects are chosen at the expense of finding a new way to write or talk about an evergreen need that has greater profit potential.
Any proposals from solicitors for new content should be measured against this. For example, if the planning law team has set an objective to grow work from judicial reviews, why are they planning a webinar on another topic? Instead, the marketing plan should define the content that is required to position the firm as an expert in judicial review.
USP, core messages and values
If your firm has gone to the trouble of defining its unique selling point, its core messages and values, then these need to come across in your content.
If you say that you are ‘straight-talking’ make sure that your articles are not full of jargon. If you say that you are friendly and approachable, does the written style convey this?
If you say that you are client-focused, does your content speak directly to your clients more than you talk about yourselves?
How do you compare with other law firms?
At a basic level, how does your content compare with that of your main competitors? It is easy to carry out a quick review of your main competitors’ websites. Is your law firm's website content as comprehensive? Are your credentials obvious? Is it easy to find the relevant lawyer to contact?
Planning ahead for great legal content
As part of your marketing planning process, you need to consider what types of legal content you need, how much is needed and how often, for:
- newsletter – print or electronic;
- media – feature articles or news releases;
- social media posts – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+;
- seminars or webinars;
- thought leadership / white paper;
- book – whole or contributory chapter;
- podcasts; and
This is likely to vary by practice area and each team should be able to plan their approximate requirements.
Once you have planned your specific content requirements, the next step is to agree a production calendar with clear responsibilities and dates for submitting:
- agreed topic outline;
- first draft;
- final approval; and
Planning ahead will ensure that you can take advantage of key external events. The progress of new legislation is an obvious area, but think laterally and try to find events or themes that tie in with your overall strategy.
Structure your content plan according to manageable time scales and ensure it is in a format that everyone can access.
Choice of author for legal content
Not all your content needs to be written by your solicitors who could spend their time more profitably on client work or face-to-face business development.
With hundreds of firm’s requiring similar content for private client and commercial services, economies of scale mean that you can acquire a supply of high quality regular content for much less than a fee earner could bill in the time taken to write an article.
When assessing your options, there are a number of factors to consider:
- who it is written by (lawyer or copywriter);
- quality – make sure you request samples;
- exclusivity – how broad is your area?
- originality; and
- flexibility – can you request specific topics?
In niche areas of legal expertise, where such economies of scale are not available, there is still external support available. Depending on the topic, a professional support lawyer or specialist legal copywriter can ghost write your first draft based on one or two telephone interviews with you and directed research.
Given that such niche areas of law are typically billed at premium rates, this can be very helpful.
Style guide - writing on the law for marketing is different
Typically articles will be coming from a range of authors for your website or newsletter. In this case you need to ensure consistency of the tone of voice, and this can be achieved with a style guide.
You may have strong views on how formal or informal you would like the firm to come across. If so, it is worth specifying whether you prefer ‘do not’ to don’t. Do you want articles written in the third person, or do you prefer to address readers more directly?
With an agreed style guide in place, you should be able to encourage a common writing standard and be able to delegate more of the proofing.
Images are necessary alongside most written content, and to ensure a strong and consistent style it is advisable to invest in a collection of high quality images
This includes your team portraits. These are very important, especially in social media. Few of us like having our photographs taken, but the many lawyers without a photograph should note the advice given at my son’s school to “beware of anyone online without a photograph”!
Use a professional photographer or video crew
Whilst digital cameras have made it much easier for us all to take pictures or create home movies, resist the temptation to try and do this yourself. A quick perusal of LinkedIn quickly reveals the people who try to economise by using a selfie. And some of the DIY videos on YouTube do the law firms no favours at all.
Do not under estimate preparation time required for videos or animation. Scripting, filming and editing to a high standard is very time consuming.
Placing your video online and expecting the world to find it is not enough. There are lots of legal videos online with fewer than 50 views. You will need to plan a programme to promote the video and drive viewers to find it.
Legal content for Google
Your content will perform best for you if it is optimised for Google. This requires an adjustment in writing style and structure, as you need to ensure that your content appeals to technology as well as human readers. For example, creative headlines that do not include any words relating to the topic are wasted.
When writing or checking articles, make sure you have a list of your priority search terms to hand. If your aim is to be found for “employment lawyer in Salisbury”, make sure that you use those very words somewhere.
An approval protocol is also required to ensure that everything that goes out in the firm’s name is of an appropriate standard and in house style. Avoid having everything approved by one partner as this is likely to result in a log jam.
Make sure that there is careful control of all your digital assets and keep a central log who has access to various media outlets, logins etc. Remember to diarise a regular review of your social media policy and access rights.
Check that all content goes out with a date stamp and a relevant disclaimer.
Delegate and define processes
Ensuring that your content is distributed across all the relevant channels can be time consuming and inefficient if you do not have processes in place, or are not familiar with the various software packages.
But, by ignoring one or more channels, you may be ignoring those clients who prefer to receive their communications in that way. Generating great legal content is only half the story – you also need to make sure it reaches your target audience.
A clear legal content strategy will ensure that your content is used to maximum effect.Back to Blog
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