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Dispelling Thought Leadership Myths: Content Marketing Basics for Lawyers – Part 1

Despite a changing legal marketplace, many myths persist about how to best present yourself and your firm to potential clients.  Many of those myths revolve around content marketing--that attorneys should not waste their time, that time is better spent on racking up those billable hours or simply concentrating on being the best attorney possible.  However, those myths do not stand up to scrutiny in today’s legal marketplace as a well-thought out content strategy can be a major asset to any attorney looking to build a book of business.

Myth 1:  The Billable Hour – My Time is Better Spent on ‘Real Work.’

More and more law firms are not only emphasizing billable hours, but the need to build a book of business,is it billable lawyer according to Michele Ruiz[i] , the author of Content Marketing for Lawyers - How Attorneys Can Use Social Media Strategies to Attract More Clients and Become Legal Thought Leaders.  Since all attorneys are now viewed as rainmakers, prioritizing some of the time spent on business development for implementing a content marketing strategy can save time in the long run. Several pieces of really good content that is promoted and shareable (i.e. people want to share it) can lead to others helping you with your business development.

Myth 2: Law Firms Survive on Referrals - Investing in Thought Leadership Marketing is a Waste of Money and Time.

But how do you build a business development culture when at many firm’s 20 percent of the firm's clients contribute to 80 percent of the income?  If these folks already know you, why do you need to invest in thought leadership and other business development efforts?  Another frequently cited source of new business, is through word-of-mouth referrals, mostly from other lawyers or past clients[ii]. An internet footprint can make a referral decision easier. A thought leadership strategy can provide potential referrals with a sense of your professional expertise, providing a digital resume of your knowledge that doesn’t expire. Additionally, effectively distributed  thought leadership keeps you top of mind with past and present clients.

Myth 3: You Don’t Need to Prove Your Knowledge to Business Sources Who Already Know You.

Increasing competition and the high turnover rate in the legal profession[iii] has heightened the need to keep attorneys, law firm names and associated expertise in front of current, past and potential clients.  It’s a far easier sell, to refer an attorney or firm, if the potential client has heard of you. Demonstrating expertise and a grasp of emerging legal issues via thought leadership is more compelling than traditional advertising.  Additionally, thought leadership is evergreen, meaning it sticks around for a while unlike advertising or speaking engagements. A good body of quality thought leadership can also make it easier to get speaking engagements.  Remember, lawyers are evidenced based creatures and most corporate law firm hiring decisions are made by legal professionals. A good body of thought leadership not only keeps your name out there, it can also serve as proof of your expertise and help you stand out from the crowd clamoring for business.

Myth 4: The Sales Funnel Does Not Apply to Professionals.

Traditionally it was thought that a steady flow of client work would come if the lawyer almost exclusively focused on being the best lawyer he or she can be, and that sales was for products, not for professional services.  It’s a brave new world, and according to Ruiz a smart content strategy can move the needle on revenue gener­ation – both in the number of new clients that you attract, as well as the retention of current clients and for obtaining referral business. Three out of 4 consumers seeking an attorney over the last year used on line resources at some point in their search process.[iv] Casting a wide net with on-line content marketing and social media helps you be memorable at the time a client needs legal services and allows your expertise to reach geographically farther than before.

Sales funnel for lawyers
Illustration adapted from:  Content Marketing for Lawyers - Ruiz

Once you’ve convinced a reader that the information you’re providing is valuable, they will be far more likely to follow you on social media, via RSS feed or open your email newsletters. You are building name recognition and developing a level of trust about you and your knowledge. At this juncture, it far easier for a potential referral source to think of recommending you and far easier for the potential client to reach out to you, when they have a need, if they’ve heard of you. 

In part 2, we outline the basics of a thought leadership program for lawyers. 

[i] I recently had the opportunity to participate with Michele Ruiz, on the NAMWOLF Marketing Best Practices Committee Panel:  Everything’s Bigger in Texas: How to Make Your Website a Big Success.  The panel was a part of NAMWOLF (National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms) 2016 Annual Meeting & Law Firm EXPO Set 14 -17 - Houston,Texas  In addition to Michele, who is the President & CEO, Ruiz Strategies, I’d like to extend a big thank you to other panel members:  Mayra A. Jimenez, Marketing Director, AlvaradoSmith,  Amy Kurson, Managing Partner, Reyes Kurson, Ltd. and Lisa Delaney, President/Co-Founder, Power Design.

[ii] The Smartest Marketer Around: What New Associates Should Know About Marketing, ABA’s Law Practice Magazine by Allison Wolf of Shift Works Strategic Inc. Vol. 33 Issue 1

[iii] Roughly 10 percent of large U.S. companies named new general counsels between the start of 2013 and 2014, leading to the largest chief legal officer turnover in at least 13 years, according to BTI Consulting Group's upcoming Benchmarking Corporate Counsel Management Strategies report. According to the NALP foundation Keeping the Keepers II: Mobility and Management of Associates, one in five laterals (18.9%) had departed their law firm employers at or near the end of their second year of employment and firms of 251-500 attorneys reported the highest lateral attrition, with more than half (52.3%) of their first year associates gone by the end of their third year of employment.

[iv] LexisNexis 2012 Attorney Selection Research Study, conducted by the Research Intelligence Group, focused on consumers who sought an attorney in the past year. Results show that more than three quarters (76 percent) of adult Internet users in the United States seeking an attorney turned to online resources at some point in the process. While referrals from friends and family remain a key method for finding an attorney, the study finds consumers are now just as likely to conduct an Internet search as they are to turn to people they know during the information gathering phase of the attorney search process.

Copyright ©2021 National Law Forum, LLCNational Law Review, Volume VI, Number 349



About this Author

jennifer schaller National Law Review  attorney legal publisher and speaker on Law Firm SEO and Legal Thought Leadership
Managing Director

Jennifer Schaller, Esq. is the Managing Director and co-founder of the National Law Review on-line edition.  Prior to the National Law Review, Jennifer most recently served as in-house counsel / director at CNA Surety. She also served in various marketing and business development roles as a vice president of Aon Services Group.  Jennifer started her legal career as an insurance coverage attorney with Smith Amundsen, LLC in Chicago, IL and in risk management at various insurance organizations.

In 2019 Jennifer was the Chair for the Chicago City group of the Legal  Marketing...