In every practice area, there are countless lawyers who are well-known, highly experienced and knowledgeable. However, few of them are true “go-to experts.” These are the attorneys who regularly write and speak publicly and their contacts and organizations repeatedly refer or seek them out as a resource.
While attorneys cannot call themselves “experts” (and neither can their law firms) for ethical reasons, they can take steps to develop and promote that reputation as a de facto expert to gain exposure and drive referrals. This takes significant time and effort but law firms can help attorneys succeed with some of these tips.
Thought leader vs go-to-expert
These two terms are often used interchangeably but are not the same. Traditionally, thought leaders focus on providing a point of view on legal issues, discussing innovative solutions and/or seeking to influence the law. As “leaders,” they also draw a following. Others listen to their opinions. Go-to-experts are usually concentrating on showcasing their in-depth experience to attract clients. However, there is an overlap and regardless of which term is used, much of the advice is the same.
Law firm considerations
Firms benefit from having a go-to expert because it helps increase their visibility, differentiate them from competitors and bring in new business. Experts also tend to build relationships and trust with their audience. However, before positioning an attorney as a go-to-expert, firms should answer some key questions:
- Who is the firm targeting? The firm should understand the target audience and their demographics, needs, concerns and other pertinent information.
- Is the area of expertise a good fit for the firm? The attorney’s specialty should be in line with the firm’s strategic objectives. If it focuses on a new area, the firm must assess whether the target audience and subject matter are worth devoting resources to build.
- How many others are experts in this area? Ideally, an attorney should specialize in a niche where there are fewer competitors. If there is significant competition, it is essential to find other ways to enhance the attorney’s reputation or otherwise help the attorney stand out.
- Does the firm have adequate marketing and editorial resources to support the attorney? Positioning an attorney as a go-to expert is a long-term commitment. If the firm lacks the people, time and money to provide support, the endeavor is likely to fail.
Marketing a go-to-expert
The first step is to focus on the content. Experts must create and share valuable information consistently. That includes articles, blogs, newsletters, client alerts, eBooks, white papers, research reports, video, radio, live events, webinars and content curation. Content should be timely, insightful and relevant to the target audience. Firms will most likely need to provide the attorney with internal or external assistance to ensure a regular stream of content.
To make sure the information reaches the right people, the attorney and firm need to utilize all marketing channels including:
- Owned distribution channels. Owned channels are the ones the firm controls such as its website, blog, social media, direct mail and email. Content should be promoted consistently and optimized for search engines to be effective.
- Earned distribution channels. These refer to publicity by third parties that the firm does not pay for, such as being invited to speak at a conference, getting an article in a publication, being quoted in the media and similar recognition. While such opportunities are the most difficult to get, firms must devote significant resources to this because they are invaluable in demonstrating expertise and bolstering credibility.
- Paid distribution channels. Otherwise known as advertising, paid channels include print, Google and social media ads, sponsored content and other avenues. Advertising can be useful, but expensive. Firms must monitor results closely to assess the return on investment.
- Social media. While it is an owned and paid distribution channel, social media is also a tool for “listening” to what clients, prospects, competitors, industry and media outlets are discussing. This helps with content creation and promotion. Social media can also be used to find and build relationships with industry contacts, influencers, organizations and prospects.
- Networking. Making connections and staying top of mind with them is essential to becoming a go-to expert. Choosing appropriate organizations and becoming active in them can also aid in establishing credibility and trust. Attorneys should ensure that contacts understand what work the attorney does and who can benefit. Firms should also provide collateral materials and support to aid the attorney in educating and following up with contacts.
Importantly, all of these channels should be leveraged to reach both existing and new contacts.
Becoming a go-to expert is a long-term commitment. However, successful firms know the investment is worth it to thrive against the competition.
Edie Reinhardt, Esq. is principal of RDT Content Marketing, which specializes in helping attorneys showcase their expertise and target their marketing to attract more clients. She can be reached at [email protected]