Thirty years ago, listing your law firm in the phone book was not negotiable, you had to do it. Fifteen years ago having a website was considered essential (the phone book was optional by then). Today, most firms understand that content is what gets your firm noticed. A website on its own is akin to being invisible.
There is no shortage of information about content marketing. But much of it is taken from other industries and awkwardly applied to law. This results in a lot of legal content, but not much new business for the firms that produce this content.
Today, a key difference between those firms that succeed in new business development, and those that fall behind, comes down to content strategy. Firms that spew out a plethora of disjointed blog posts, thought leadership pieces, and law firm announcements, will lose out to the firms who create truly effective, strategic content. Sadly, many marketers are guiding law firms to do the former.
This article explores content marketing best practices from the perspective of a law firm seeking to win new clients.
Content marketing is the process of promoting a business through the sharing of information in order to educate and solve problems for an audience. This is a powerful approach for legal marketing because lawyers are already in the business of information- What better way for a lawyer to “advertise” than to share their knowledge and expertise.
Good content marketing is primarily about benefiting the customer first, and the company second
Traditional advertising, like billboards or TV commercials, work through interruption, delivering a message that the viewer may not want or need in that moment. Content marketing is different because it is non-intrusive. Its purpose is to offer a useful bit of information that is ready to be found by people who need it, like the bakery on a busy street with the smell of fresh bread drawing in hungry customers.
When you think about it, this is the optimal way for lawyers to market their services. Nobody thinks about lawyers until they need one. Traditional marketing is wasteful because most people who see your messaging, are not in need of your services at that time. Content marketing solves this by capturing people’s attention at the best time, when they are already curious about a topic and looking to solve a problem.
Another benefit of content marketing for the law industry is that it is an engaging and educational tactic. Law services are complex, and clients often need to an extended explanatory period to help them decide on who to hire. When law firms offer helpful content, they are educating their potential clients, building trust, and demonstrating expertise. This gives the client confidence and certainty about engaging the lawyer.
Content marketing is also beneficial because it can be the most cost effective way to market a law firm. Normal advertising stops working once you stop renting the billboard or running the radio ads. But a good legal article can generate regular leads for years, yielding an incredible return on investment. It might be time consuming and costly to produce content initially, but once that content is published it works for you day and night into the foreseeable future at no additional cost.
The cornerstone of a good content strategy is in choosing the right topics to write about. Too many firms seem to publish with seemingly little regard for strategy. The goal to aim for, is to get attention from the target audience, provide them with useful information, and convert them into clients. This may sound obvious, but those that manage the content campaigns often get distracted by the allure of getting a big readership. This might seem like an impressive achievement, but does that readership match the firm’s client profile? Does the content relate to services of the firm? More to the point, does this impressive readership, actually yield new clients?
For firms to be more successful, we advise them to be very precise about who they are targeting. The more specific a firm is about who their potential clients are, the less of a guessing game it becomes about what to write about.
It is also very important that the content is directly connected to the services of your firm. If you write about your client’s industry, this might attract attention from the people you want as clients, that is a good start. But if your article does not address a legal problem that your firm can solve, you’re simply giving away free information without benefiting your firm. This is a common mistake that firms make when they adopt a “thought leadership” approach to content marketing.
If you focus on a very specific audience with very specific needs, a high proportion of readers are likely to sprout into leads.
Content marketing may be about helping people, but always remember to ensure that your efforts support your business goals. There is no point writing helpful content for the masses if it fails to yield new clients. In short, aim to generate leads, not just page views.
We have mentioned the importance of choosing your topics based on your target audience. Similarly, good content keeps the needs of your target audience in mind throughout. The goal is to step into the shoes of your potential client and help them overcome their legal challenges.
Focus your content directly on the problem at hand. Use plain english, and get to the point. Do not use your content as an opportunity to tell your life story, or to show off your knowledge of legal history and caselaw.
Lawyers typically have good language skills, but years of academic and legal training does not necessarily prepare them to write for a general audience in a practical and user-friendly way. It is best to keep your writing simple, and with a laser focus on being helpful to the reader.
George Orwell’s rules of writing are relevant:
Lawyers that wish to improve their writing skills would be well served to peruse one of the following books:
Everybody Writes by Ann Handley
*The Economist Style Guide* (particularly the Introduction which is only a few pages long. Available freely at the link provided)
Realistically though, we recognise that lawyers seldom have the time to master marketing skills. Creating strong content is time consuming and most firms will need to either have in-house writers and editors, or will need to outsource this function. The next section outlines some best practices for delegating the tasks associated with content marketing.
Many law firms completely separate lawyers from the content process. The in house marketing team, external public relations agency or marketing agency are often given the responsibility for writing articles.
We caution against creating a content factory that is disconnected from your legal professionals. Legal article need to be precisely aimed at potential clients. The content has to be genuinely useful to those potential clients if it is going to result in new business. For this to happen, your legal experts need to be involved in the content process. The lawyers have the legal knowledge, and they are best positioned to identify suitable legal topics.
An ideal content production team would include a senior lawyer providing the initial rough outline for an article. Then a more junior team member (clerk, associate, paralegal) may flesh out the article. (Some firms would use a legal research or legal editors to do this fleshing out process. Both options are fine). Then ideally a professional copy writer or editor should polish up the article and prepare it for publishing. In addition, a content strategist would ideally oversee process and guide it towards success.
This team structure is not written in stone, there are many variations to this approach and even firms with smaller budget can find resourceful ways to operate. But the key is to be deliberate about how you delegate responsibilities associated with content marketing. If you work with a marketer or PR agent make sure that they take the time to collaborate closely with your lawyers so that the content is informed by legal expertise.
In addition to assembling a content team, a good content process will help ensure that the content marketing strategy runs smoothly.
We advise firms to have a system for storing content ideas. There are sophisticated software options for this, but a low cost cloud solution like a a Trello board, or Google Docs can work fine. (At Onyo we use a tool called Notion and our database currently has over 40 article ideas and drafts which we incrementally edit and publish).
A central repository for your content allows for easy collaboration and tracking. It should be frictionless for a lawyers to store an article idea and make some notes as the thought arises. Other members of the team should easily be able to see these drafts and make their own edits and comments. The easier the process, the more likely it for a culture of content to set in.
When a firm is getting started with content marketing, we advise them to hold some workshops to get people on the same page. Workshops are also a useful way to generate content ideas. Attorneys can jointly discuss topics and a facilitator can make notes and document these so that they are not forgotten.
For a larger firm with distinct practice areas it is best for each division to hold a separate workshop.
SEO is the practice of orienting your online content to rank higher on a search engine results page so that you receive more traffic. The aim is typically to rank on the first page of Google results for search terms that mean the most to your target audience.
This is a whole topic in itself, and for the most part you should be able to rely on your web developers to handle the technical aspects. There are however a few guiding principles that should be understood by all members of the content team:
A good piece of content that ranks of Google can generate traffic and leads for years. But this kind of success usually take some work, not only in terms of authoring good content, but in nurturing and optimising content after it is published. This means:
We have mostly discussed content marketing as it relates to legal articles. But content is a broad term which includes other forms of media like webinars, videos and brochures. Factor these into your content marketing strategy.
The most under estimated content asset is your services pages. We advise firms to take great care in how they describe their services, focusing on being concise, highlighting benefits, and being specific about who the service is for. Consider breaking down your service descriptions into a hierarchy such as practice areas > services > sub services. This may make it easier for readers to find the applicable service and to understand how each service fits within your overall offerings.
It goes without saying that your website should be well designed and easy to navigate. Your content marketing will not be effective otherwise. There are a few important pointers that are quite specific to law and which often get overlooked by most web-design agencies:
It is natural for lawyers to feel somewhat intimidated by the marketing side of things. To simplify the process we suggest an approach of starting with your services, and expanding outwards from there.
Step one is to look at your services and then produce content that directly supports those services. If one of your services is corporate mergers, write a stellar article explaining how corporate mergers work. Make the article truly helpful to corporate counsel and directors who want to get familiar with the legalities of corporate mergers. And then of course mention your services in a non-forceful way at the end of the article or in the sidebar. Do this for all your services.
Step two is to write more granular articles that elaborate on the articles in step one. So you've written about corporate mergers, now write articles that drill down to each step of the process (valuation, due diligence etc).
In step one you were casting a net. In step two you are widening that net by expanding your content footprint.
Make sure the articles in step one and two link to each other and that they both link to the relevant service. The service page itself should link to the article in step one.
You have now created evergreen content assets that can attract leads for years. The trick is to start at your services, and create content around these services in a way that is truly helpful to your potential clients.