What the Top 200 US Law Firms Do Right: Trends in Thought Leadership & Social Media Strategy
Writing thought leadership content is an important part of many law firms’ marketing strategies. Thought leadership content allows attorneys to share their expertise, connect with current and future clients and create a brand for themselves. However, articles and blog posts are not the only way attorneys can share their thought leadership. Video, podcasts and social media posts are additional avenues for attorneys to pursue.
According to the 2021 Thought Leadership Index from Passle, a professional services marketing platform dedicated to legal and consultancy firms, law firms created 60 percent more content in 2020 than the year before. Passle’s report analyzed thought leadership and social media activity from the top 200 US law firms in 2020, finding that these firms created over 70,000 pieces of content last year, with many firms shifting their focus to YouTube.
The report found that by volume alone, Baker McKenzie produced the most thought leadership content in 2020 with 4,164 posts, or .88 per attorney. Squire Patton Boggs followed at 2,794 posts, or 1.82 per attorney.
When it comes to social media, Baker McKenzie came out on top again with 310,000 followers on LinkedIn, while personal injury practice Morgan & Morgan came out on top with YouTube video views of over 8 million. The firms with the most followers on Twitter included White & Case with 64,000 followers, DLA Piper with 41,000 and Latham & Watkins with 37,000.
The National Law Review sat down with James Barclay, CEO of Passle Inc., and Sam Page, Marketing Director for Passle to discuss the trends from the report, and how law firms and their attorneys can apply these insights to their own thought leadership and social media efforts.
How Can Law Firms Create More Thought Leadership Content?
At first, producing regular thought leadership content may seem like an intimidating task. Firms must develop a strategy for content production, and perhaps more importantly, find time for attorneys to produce that content. However, with the right knowledge and careful planning, the process becomes less daunting. In a profession with ever-growing workloads and ever-shrinking turnaround times, how can a law firm enable attorneys to produce effective thought leadership?
To streamline the thought leadership creation process, it is critical to understand what kind of content creates the most value for a law firm. The term “thought leadership” may call to mind significant investments of time - white papers and lengthy reports, which show a depth of knowledge and are great for SEO - but this is not necessarily the case. According to Passle, effective thought leadership can also range from 100 to 300 words.
“The audience for a lawyer, as a general counsel, is other lawyers inside large businesses,” Mr. Page said. “Those people are really busy themselves. They don't have a lot of time. They won't read multi-page reports with 50,000 words. So the effective content that you see a lot of people creating is short.”
“It has to come from the lawyers,” Mr. Barclay added. “They've got thousands of hours of experience. That means that when they talk about a subject, they get right to the nub of it. And it's usually that the more niche it is, the better, because that's what their clients pay them by the minute for.”
Ensuring attorneys have a stake in the content they create is a vital aspect of thought leadership. “If you can make it quick and easy for lawyers to create authentic, timely, expert-led content, then those lawyers will find their voice and they'll use their voice, and they enjoy it,” said Mr. Barclay.
The simplest way to accomplish this is to build around the firm’s pre-existing goals and items. Many attorneys in the United States and the United Kingdom use thought leadership as a tool for appraisals, as it allows them to demonstrate to clients their areas of special expertise. Further, thought leadership can also be a mechanism for promotion. Mr. Barclay explained:
“If you're running an event, do a video and say, ‘Come to our event.’ It takes two minutes and it's authentic because it's your attorney who's speaking,” he said.
Law firms may also choose to develop governance and approval processes for the thought leadership is published. Many attorneys suffer from impostor syndrome, which sometimes cripples their ability to produce timely content. Official protocols and workflows not only maintain a high quality of work, they also allow lawyers to develop their voice in a streamlined environment.
Ultimately, the metric for success is much lower than one might expect. According to Passle’s report, in 2020, the average law firm produced 800 total pieces of thought leadership content. This amounts to only 0.8 pieces of content per attorney. Though generating content on a regular basis might seem a herculean task, these statistics show that an effective thought leadership plan is relatively low-commitment. In practice, if every attorney at a firm produced one thought leadership insight a month, that law firm would already be well ahead of their competitors.
How to Create a Successful Law Firm Social Media Strategy
Another important aspect of thought leadership content creation is social media. Having a presence on platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube allows law firms and their attorneys to have a platform to showcase their expertise and connect with current and future clients. When it comes to thought leadership content, empowering attorneys to have a voice on social media can make a huge difference.
“It’s very difficult to tell a late 40s lawyer, ‘Go on Twitter. Get on Twitter or get on LinkedIn. You must do it.’ But if you say, ‘Hey, create something that's going to be really interesting to Bob, Jennifer, Eileen, and your other key clients. Generate a piece of content, and then of course, make sure you share it with them and the best place to share it with them is LinkedIn. Then ... that all makes sense,” Mr. Barclay said.
Attorneys and law firms can also think of social media as another asset the whole team can leverage. For lawyers in a certain niche, social media can be a powerful tool to bring in new clients and connect with existing ones.
“Attorneys don't want to sell, they're not salespeople. They want to talk about what they know. And then of course, what they know is really, really, really valuable to the people who they're trying to influence,” Mr. Barclay said. “And that's what's neat about attorneys is that they're not going online trying to sell something. They're going online talking about their tiny little niche, and that's exactly what their audience wants.”
One of the key things Mr. Barclay and Mr. Page said the top performing law firms do on social media is create an authentic image. For lawyers and law firms wanting to stand out in a crowd of others online, including a bit of personality into posts can go a long way. Lawyers can appear more authentic if they keep in mind who their clients are and what they need when creating their thought leadership content.
“It's got to be authentic, it's got to be timely and it's got to showcase some of you. Again, folk don't tend to employ a law firm, they don't talk about their law firm, they talk about their lawyer. It's a very personal one-to-one relationship,” Mr. Barclay said.
When it comes down to it, lawyers often need a reason to use social media, Mr. Page said. What often motivates lawyers to use social media is the ability to create content and have a voice. As the Passle report shows, the most successful law firms have both a strong social media presence and a solid content strategy.
“When lawyers have a voice, when they are able to create content, they have a reason to use social media. So if they are told to be on social and they just hover there without a purpose, it's difficult to see a reason to do it, [and] it's difficult to find any sort of outcome,” he said.
What Makes a Strong Law Firm Content Strategy?
In the new era of virtual engagement, it is vital that firms take steps to control their online presence. Mr. Barclay explains how focused, regularly published thought leadership articles are central to a firm’s success.
“Most attorneys we talked to don't have hundreds of clients. 80 percent of their billable hours in any one year comes from 15, 20, 30 clients,” Mr. Barclay said. “If [you] can give them a great piece of authentic online content, then of course that's a fabulous vehicle for recommendation referral, which is where new business comes from."
By understanding these trends and taking control of their online presence, attorneys can easily communicate their expertise, maximize their referrals and increase their revenue. The most successful firms understand that small investment of 30 minutes to one hour can reap tremendous benefits. Oftentimes, the best way to facilitate these investments is through a group effort. The most successful law firms also empower not just the partners of the firm to create thought leadership, but associates and law clerks as well.
“The essence of those firms that reach the top of that list, is that they enable a wide range of their fee earners to create content,” Mr. Page said. “They're not just relying on the select few partners that tend to come from a similar background, [and] have a similar way of thinking and a similar view of the world. The firms that succeed are generally the firms that enable their associates, or even their trainees, to create content and to have a voice within the firm.”
Rachel Popa also contributed to this article.