November 26, 2022

Volume XII, Number 330

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November 23, 2022

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Episode 5: What’s New In Law Firm Thought Leadership? with Alistair Bone, Vice President for Passle

Welcome to Season 2, Episode 5 of Legal News Reach! National Law Review Web Content Specialist Shelby Garrett sits down with Alistair Bone, Vice President with Passle,  to catch up on the latest in law firm thought leadership trends. What are four strategies for content marketing success? How can current events play a role in brand development? And why is thought leadership more important—and competitive—than ever?

We've included a transcript of the conversation below, transcribed by artificial intelligence. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

Shelby Garrett

Thank you for tuning in to the Legal News Reach podcast. My name is Shelby Garrett, Web Publication Specialist with the National Law Review, and in this episode I'll be speaking to Alistair Bone, Vice President for Passle. Would you mind sharing a bit about your background in legal and what you do at Passle?

Alistair Bone

Thank you very much for having me on, firstly, it's nice to be kind of the interviewee as opposed to the interviewer. Typically, as you might have come across, there's the CMO Series podcast at Passle and I've been heavily involved with that, which is always enjoyable, so nice to be here. A little bit of background for me is that I was previously a professional sportsman playing rugby, I was very fortunate to have done that. But sadly, that all came to an end about three years ago. I then went into headhunting in the world of law, which kind of sparked the initial interest in law firms and professional services. And I learned a huge amount there. But then my sort of interest was really sparked in technology and how that can kind of really enable law firms to further what they're doing. And that's where Passle came along. For me, I love relationships, I love meeting people, I am very much a people person, and this kind of seemed to bring all those different worlds together for me. So yeah, that's kind of how I ended up Passle, and I’m absolutely loving what I'm doing here.

Shelby Garrett

Yeah, I'm really excited to speak with you today. Passle sounds like an amazing tool for professionals, content creation can be an extremely overwhelming process and I think that Passle really removes those roadblocks and kind of simplifies the whole process so that professionals can easily share their expertise

Alistair Bone

Bang on, I mean Passle is a software that has been used by professional services. As you mentioned, we work with Magic Circle firms, Am Law 100, the Big Four accountancies, and fundamentally it's a platform that makes that critical challenge of demonstrating the firm's expertise, getting it out to the market nice and quickly and effectively and fundamentally enjoyably.

Shelby Garrett

Amazing, let's get into a little bit of discussion about thought leadership. Could you give us a nice little definition and why it’s currently a priority for law firms?

Alistair Bone

Yeah, of course, it's a really nice place to start and hopefully I can give a little bit of an overview. When you come to sort of thought leadership, you know, in professional services, being able to demonstrate your firm's knowledge and value to the market is really key. Thought leadership definitely sits at the heart of all successful professional service marketing. Really, when you start thinking about it, nearly every growth initiative, business development target, or marketing activity centers around how well that firm can demonstrate the knowledge of its experts. Fundamentally, they want to put out that knowledge to the market. Now, when you start to consider that in terms of what's happening, we're really seeing that shift of firms becoming far more global, and certainly more digital. So therefore they're really starting to prioritize that expertise online and really invest into the thought leadership infrastructure. That said, it's not happening with everybody. But of the general sort of trends, what we're really seeing is that the places that have really proved progressive, CMOs are doing very well with it, but also firms are trying to really sort of position themselves in a space or a city and sort of elevate what they're doing. So hopefully, that's a nice little bit of an overview of sort of thought leadership and what we're seeing in the world right now.

Shelby Garrett

When firms start to look into thought leadership, what are ways for them to measure their success, in really cultivating that?

Alistair Bone

So when it comes to how they're able to sort of really prioritize their thought leadership and what they're doing, there's definitely a few reasons sort of behind that in terms of how they can kind of start to prioritize it, and why they might be prioritizing it. For some firms, it's sort of central to their ethos in their output of what they're trying to achieve. So if you take, for instance, Reed Smith, they are a global player, they see themselves as a global player in the market, and they want to be first to the market in terms of commenting on what's happening now, what are those new initiatives, what's changing in the marketplace. So that's one way that people are doing it. Again mentioned sort of beforehand, but it can be just that people are wanting to sort of position themselves in a space where they see a really big opportunity. As all law firms know, their clients are really hungry to understand what's happening in their various markets. And something that at the moment, we're really seeing that sort of trend of why people are prioritizing it is areas such as your ESG, or your E-Sports are really nice places that people can focus their thought leadership and elevate the sort of teams around that.

A different example is actually, you know, we've just launched with Goulston & Storrs, who are a Boston based firm, they're very established there, but they really want to be recognized in the New York market. And so again, for them thought leadership’s going to be key there to kind of really elevate themselves. So hopefully that's kind of a nice little bit of a wrap up. I think the other thing that we really noticed with people prioritizing their thought leadership is, we on an annual basis do something called the Digital Performance Index. Now we take a look at a whole host of online activity from law firms, you know, right through from their website, how they're performing on LinkedIn, etc. And naturally being a thought leadership expert, so to speak, we focus in on that and what we see there is that a lot of firms really sit in sort of amongst their competitors in an area that we would really say is fierce competition. The average attorney in the US and the UK creates one piece of thought leadership a year. So again, firms who want to get themselves out of that fierce competition to be seen as a category leader as kind of mentioned previously, they're the ones that that are sort of starting to prioritize thought leadership.

Shelby Garrett

Sounds like the measure of success might vary depending on what the goals of the firm are. But is there anything that you've noticed that separates successful thought leadership programs from ones that are struggling?

Alistair Bone

Yeah, certainly, I think when you start to measure in what actually makes a successful thought leadership program, as said before, like, those are the reasons that maybe are what made people want to do it. But what's going to make it successful? I think, before maybe answering that, it's worth talking about what is a thought leadership program, because it might differ for people. But fundamentally, you know, it's that sort of concerted effort by firms to demonstrate their expertise to the market. So we're really fortunate that we get to work on a global scale with the likes of Freshfields, Deloitte, and they're all having really huge success. On the flip side, we also see what doesn't work. But fundamentally, success comes down to what we call the four pillars. Within those four pillars, there is the author, there is governance, there's something that we call “Create Once and Publish Everywhere,” and then your feedback. So that's a little bit of maybe an introduction in sort of that thought leadership and what makes it successful.

When it comes to considering the author, if we take the first pillar, you really want to ensure that your thought leadership is author-centric when you're making that publication. So how can you empower them and motivate your authors, your lawyers, your consultants to create that content in a really easy sort of well understood way? The second pillar would be governance. And so it's really important to be able to make sure that there's no friction in the process of actually creating the content. So you know, how do you get those nice, quick, efficient approval processes for the content you're putting out there, you know, making it a matter of hours, as opposed to days? Because you want to be timely, you want to be putting it out there in a really nice format that's responding to what's happening in the market. When we come on to “Create Once and Publish Everywhere,” there's a really nice term we like to refer to, “Cope.” So it's about actually, you know, how are you guaranteeing the reach of that content, you know, you've created this great piece of thought leadership, where's it going from there? So of course, you know, the lawyers have really strong networks on LinkedIn, it's a really nice place to push that out. But equally there's all the sort of online publications. There's obviously yourself, the National Law Review, great place, you know, want that content on there. But also, if I hope you don't mind me mentioning, there's obviously JD Supra, Mondaq, Lexology---again, nice places that you want your content on. So again, how can you really push that out to the market? And then finally, there's feedback. And in some ways, once you've done all of the above, this is actually the most critical part because there's no point in creating thought leadership and that content and pushing it out there if people don't know the benefit of what they've done. And actually, it's got to be in a nice layered way. Because when you think about it, there's multiple stakeholders who want to understand the feedback. So if we take the authors, you know, that's very personal, they want their clients, they want their prospects, they want to know who's been engaging with it. If you take it from the firm's perspective, the management know, they're probably looking at that bottom line, you know, who's bringing in the money for them? So are they getting engagement from those key people? And the third and final sort of layer is actually the marketing business development. So again, when you have a look at all of that feedback put together, that starts to demonstrate the success of all of that time that you're investing into it. So yeah, hopefully, that's a nice way to understand it. But fundamentally, success comes with aligning themselves to those four pillars and making sure you're doing each in the best way possible. And that's what gets, you know, a real virtuous circle of content creation going.

Shelby Garrett

Amazing, that was really great context and a really full theory of success. For firms that might be looking to really transform their thought leadership programs, is there a good place to start? We talked about the four pillars. Is there one first step that they can really use to jumpstart this?

Alistair Bone

I think there's a few different places that they can start with, but in some ways, it's actually quite simple. I've mentioned those four pillars there, and actually it's about assessing those four pillars. Are you engaging your authors? You know, is it very easy for them, if you remove those barriers to entry to make sure that they can create their content? Again, when it comes to governance, you know, have you addressed those workflows? Is it again, a simple process for them to be able to actually create that content? And then get that out there? Once it's done, where are you putting it out? And finally that feedback, are you actually providing feedback to people? I think by taking that step back and taking a look at the sort of overall process of your thought leadership program, and looking at those four pillars, that really allows you to then hone in on actually, “Okay, we're not enabling and empowering our authors to create content. That's why it's not actually happening. So therefore, we need to do that and then we can start to go from there.” It may be that you're doing all of this, but there's no feedback. You know, maybe you give something small once a year. I know that if I was doing something I'm putting time and effort into and I got no feedback and didn't really know the value that I was adding to people, then I probably wouldn't want to continue doing it. So again, it's just a nice way to kind of really address it. So I think that's a really nice place for people to start when it wants to come to, you know, transforming their thought leadership program, or even beginning it.

Shelby Garrett

Yeah, that's a really great point. I feel like there's a lot of excitement when starting something new, but you have to take that kind of honest and realistic assessment of what you currently have going on to develop that full game plan. Thank you. That was amazing.

We talked about measurements of success, but are there additional tools and resources that are available for firms that are looking forward to making these changes?

Alistair Bone

I mean, if you look at it from our perspective, on the Passle website, I mentioned it at the top, but the CMO Series podcast is a really nice place for anybody at any level in smart marketing and business development to listen to what's happening in the market be it from, you know, what it's like to be a new CMO, be it data, developing your team. So that's a really nice resource hub. If you think about thought leadership, we have various resources in terms of one-pagers that you can come on, and you can learn a little bit more around what's happening. Similarly, feel free to reach out, you know, we're always here to have conversations and discuss what we're doing here at Passle and how we're helping a number of different firms with their thought leadership programs and forming that infrastructure for them as they move forward.

Shelby Garrett

Absolutely. Yeah, your website is a great resource, I listened to a couple of those podcasts and you guys have quite the range of guests as well, that are very happy to share their expertise, which is great.

Alistair Bone

Yeah, we're really fortunate from that perspective. And it's been a really nice thing to do. I say, normally, I'm sat interviewing people, but it allows myself and my colleagues to ultimately make some great friends throughout the legal world. So it's been a real success.

Shelby Garrett

Yeah, with those connections you've definitely built a lot of knowledge that's accessible for people in that podcast as well, which is wonderful.

Moving away from the firm focus, but kind of looking at more of a macro lens, what are some of the current trends that are happening in law firm thought leadership programs?

Alistair Bone

I think, you know, if we take it back to the start, the biggest trends that we're noticing is just people, one focusing on key areas. So, you know, be it new practice areas, such as their ESG, or their E-sports, that's where people are certainly starting to focus in on. I think the other place is that people are looking at it as career development, which is a really nice place to, you know, help elevate what attorneys and lawyers are doing, as they kind of come through that natural path where you become associate, senior associate, you're not necessarily doing a lot of business development until you get to partner. So again, it's a nice chance for you to start to be seen in the network and be seen as those experts. The other place that I think people are starting to focus in on is realizing that there's always a place for your big white papers. They're fantastic. There's so much time, effort, money goes into them. They provide a huge amount of knowledge, but what the market wants on the whole, and certainly what us as individuals out there want in this world now is that nice, short, digestible, timely content. So actually, you don't want to be writing much more than maybe sort of 200, 500 words. So again, that's a nice shift that we're starting to see that people understand that value from that perspective.

Shelby Garrett

 Yeah, absolutely. I have a background in public libraries and having this information available online with these different topics is just so valuable for everybody sharing that information, and your expertise.

Alistair Bone

It’s that chance to kind of dip into different areas of people's expertise. You know, something's changed and, you know, the interest rates have moved here in the UK, how's that affecting your mortgage rate? And what's the law behind that? Or, you know, unfortunately, there was the big storm, you know, Hurricane Ian down in Florida recently, you know, maybe an employment lawyer might want to put out some recent content or something around, “What are your employment rights around working from home?” or whatever it might be. So it's a really nice way to kind of start engaging with people, you know, don't have to look at it in the lens of simply being the law and client alerts and that sort of thing. So as you said, you can dip into these different things and learn something.

Shelby Garrett

Yeah, absolutely. The new iOS update for Apple with the ability to delete text messages and e-Discovery that's, like, so intriguing to me. And yeah, just as like a public person. I think that's like, extremely interesting.

When we're looking at all of these big changes, like you've mentioned the hurricane, have you seen law firms kind of shift their content marketing approaches, in light of that?

Alistair Bone

I think on the whole, we are seeing people just start to engage in maybe a slightly different way. I mean, I've been fortunate enough on some of those podcasts to have great conversations with people in the industry for a long time and they kind of talked about what they've seen the marketing functions of law firms do and the real shift. But I think now people are starting to realize that ultimately it really is about elevating your attorneys and what you're doing and therefore how can you push out, ultimately their knowledge? I think the other thing to consider in the world we're all now living in is that a lot more people will be working from home, you know people, or law firm should I say spend a huge amount of money on the infrastructure of offices, office spaces, people aren't necessarily coming into it, you're not necessarily having your clients come into it so that online presence is becoming ever more important. So again, what you're putting out there on the website, what your attorneys are able to do, what your consultants are able to do becomes that bit more important. So yeah, there's definitely I think that more of a shift online to being able to elevate what people are doing.

Shelby Garrett

Yeah, that kind of ties into with the smaller or the shorter pieces that are being created, you could kind of shift your topics more quickly. Looks like we are nearly coming to a close. But I do want to pull this all together and talk about where Passle exactly fits in and helping these law firms create and share their thought leadership. I know you kind of walked us through the tool that you guys have and your Chrome plugin previously. But if you could explain that a little bit more for our listeners?

Alistair Bone

Sure, well, I'll give a very brief overview of how Passle works for people who don't know. Passle is a piece of software that quite simply goes onto the laptop. And as they removed all the barriers of entry for the attorneys, the consultants, your experts to create the content. So it can be used in a host of different ways. Not only you can write content but you can do your podcasts, you can do your videos, you can host PDFs, you can embed different content, there's so much that you're able to do with it. And once you've got over the fundamental hurdle of people being able to create the content, you can then do a host of different things then in terms of starting to form that infrastructure on the website. So be that plugging into the attorneys’ profiles or consultants’ profiles, plugging it into the practice areas. Yeah, kind of the world's your oyster, once you get up and running with it, which is, which is really cool. If you want to launch with Passle, the way that we always do it, because we know this is tried, tested, and works incredibly well is we do a Proof of Value that we run over the course of two months. It's all about that behavioral change, you know, taking a group of 20, 25, attorneys, consultants, experts within your firm, and getting that shift of going from, “I don't understand thought leadership, I don't know how to create content, I don't necessarily want to, I haven’t done it before,” to overnight, shifting them into actually understanding the benefits that come from thought leadership and what they can do with it. So that's kind of the launch process. I don't want to bore people too much with it. But hopefully, that's a bit of an overview of Passle and where it kind of plugs in. But it's a very exciting time for us. And we're very fortunate to be working with some of the world's global firms and some real leading players there.

Shelby Garrett

Yeah, absolutely. I, when you were talking about the four pillars, I certainly could immediately connect it to what you were showing us earlier through your demonstration.

Alistair Bone

I think that's the thing with Passle is that once you have the opportunity to see it, everything clicks, and you understand the value that it's going to bring and how easy it is because it's not just on the attorney side. If you take the marketing, the BD, the communications team, we obviously elevate everything that they're doing and make it very easy for them. But also because it's all focused in on one sort of screen. You know, when you have that Passle posts, that completes the content you've created approved, the marketing, the BD teams get a notification, it's all in one place, they can top and tail it, do what they want to before it's going live on to the website. So you remove that arduous process of back and forth again, which is a really nice place to be. So it's not just about the attorneys. It's actually about the marketing, the BD, comms teams and elevating everything they're doing as well.

Shelby Garrett

It certainly is daunting for lawyers to create their own content. And it's a large task and Passle makes it a bit of a smoother process I think, at least from what I've seen.

Alistair Bone

Everybody has the impostor syndrome, whatever you do. Once you get over that hurdle, you know, it's pretty smooth sailing.

Shelby Garrett

Yeah, absolutely. How has Passle’s technology been able to help firms succeed over the years? I know we've covered it throughout. But if you could really like, bring that all together in a nice little package for us?

Alistair Bone

Yeah, sure. I think what might be the best thing to do, and I thought it might be able to answer it earlier but didn't have the chance to was, you know, what actually makes a successful thought leadership program? So maybe if I can demonstrate some of the successes people have had, that kind of demonstrates what's happened over the years. I think success can be defined in multiple ways for different people in terms of what your ultimate outcome is from a thought leadership program. But what we've seen is it really differs over time. So in the initial instance, you know it’s that overnight change the behavior change in in the attorneys, you know, you go from individuals never having created content to writing and understanding value. We launched with a law firm here in London called Forsters. One of my fantastic stories I absolutely love from it was one of their senior partners who didn't like technology, had never used it, didn't want to engage with it was part of our launch, the Proof of Value. Not only did he write four pieces of content, which again was a huge change, he started using LinkedIn. And even then he got himself an Instagram account, because he understood the value of technology all of a sudden, obviously slightly different to your work stuff. But again, a really nice story of kind of people seeing that change. You then kind of start to look at what's happening over the next couple of months. And as you get deeper into that sort of thought leadership program, and more success starts to come in terms of the impact on people's diaries. You know, they're starting to have conversations with clients, they're starting to meet prospects, you know, they get engaged with all of the right people. Additionally, and I sort of want to touch on it, as well is there's that career development I mentioned earlier when you were sort of saying some of the trends, but there's a real understanding for sort of the associates,  senior associates of how they can help develop their career. So again, a really nice example there was there's a lawyer, a senior associate called JJ Shaw at a firm called Lewis Silkin in the sports team there and he was sharing with us that actually, you know, from creating content, putting it out there to his network, he started to have people come back to him asking him to post panels to sit on different talks, which is amazing, because all of a sudden, he's being seen as that go-to expert, and people are actually engaging with what he's doing. So again, a really nice development tool. And then I just think longer term, it's fundamentally about winning business. And once you start winning the business, everything you're doing with that big thought leadership program makes sense. So again, we've got a lot of anecdotal examples. One that I know I can share with the public was from Alvarez & Marsal, one of the big US consultancies, and we were fortunate enough to sit down with Linda Orton, who's the former CMO there. And she shared with us that Mike Carter, who was again, a former Senior Director there had done this post around anti-money laundering, he put it onto LinkedIn, she'd actually invested a little bit of spending into that to sort of elevate what was happening, you know, something like 50 quid, not a huge amount of money. That then led to a conversation, which then led to business and over the past couple of years, that's actually generated 12 million in revenue. So all of a sudden, admittedly, there's a whole host of work that went into that. But it's that understanding that by being seen as those go-to experts elevating what you're doing, you know, the business starts to come. So hopefully, you know, I know, I've broken it down there, but that gives an idea of how actually, we've helped firms over the years, and particularly now, just really forming that thought leadership infrastructure for people.

Shelby Garrett

Yeah, amazing. I can certainly see the building the confidence aspect of the technology that you have making it simplified, but also seeing those results really would build your confidence in creation.

Alistair Bone

And it spans throughout firms, because someone else sees that and they want to get involved and do something around it. So it's really nice.

Shelby Garrett

Yeah, it's wonderful. Before we wrap up today, are there any final thoughts that you would like to share with us?

Alistair Bone

There's probably one or two, I just want to keep it really succinct. I think just the main thing is that thought leadership really is for everybody, and is something that everyone should be considering at the moment, I think, whether it’s that you're really wanting to stand out in a specific field or elevate some of the great work that you're already doing, you know, whether that is the marketing or BD teams or for the attorneys, there's so much that you can invest into it. And you know, that online presence has never been more important. So I think those two things are probably the key takeaways for me that hopefully it resonates with people as they listen to this. And you know, if there's anything that you want to do in terms of understanding more than please feel free to obviously reach out to me via email or on LinkedIn or equally you can visit home.passle.net. There are plenty of places that you can get some information, but hopefully this has been some worthwhile information for people to listen to.

Shelby Garrett

We can't thank you enough for joining us today and sharing your thoughts. Thank you to our listeners as well for tuning in. We will see you all next time.

Conclusion

Thank you for listening to the National Law Review’s Legal News Reach podcast. Be sure to follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts for more episodes. For the latest legal news, or if you're interested in publishing and advertising with us, visit www.natlawreview.com. We'll be back soon with our next episode.

Copyright ©2022 National Law Forum, LLCNational Law Review, Volume XII, Number 304
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