Public Relations: Motivating lawyers to write ‘expert’ articles
By Ellen Keiley
Producing articles that exhibit a lawyer’s expertise can have a huge impact on building trust, attracting clients and improving a firm’s visibility. Many lawyers, however, are just not motivated to write professional pieces. They already do a lot of legal writing, professional columns are time consuming, some lawyers don’t like the process or don’t have confidence in their abilities, and others simply don’t see the return on investment. Not every lawyer in a firm needs to be an author, but for those hesitators who show an interest, there are practices that can get the process off the ground.
Many lawyers simply don’t know where to start. They may be overwhelmed by figuring out a topic, or they have a topic but can’t find the time. Others may be cautious about making errors or afraid the article just won’t be very good.
Often, attorneys benefit from coaching or meetings with a public relations or marketing professional who can get to know the lawyers’ interests, how they want to market themselves and to whom, and how to fit writing into their already busy schedules.
First, the attorney should determine the target audience. Is it other private practice attorneys who can make referrals and raise the author’s visibility in the legal community? Perhaps the audience is in-house lawyers, clients, potential clients, or business owners. This will shape the tone of the article and determine the target publication. If the target audience is non-lawyers, the author should avoid legalese and write so that the average person can understand it.
Brainstorming is a great way to come up with topics. The professional can ask the lawyer what issues are impacting their clients. Are there common problems or trends? Are there new laws or regulations that need explanation? What world events will have an impact on current and potential clients? Timeliness and relevance are often key to getting an article published. But “evergreen topics’ are also worthy. A little research can go a long way.
Another option is for an attorney to develop a niche or focus on a narrow area of law and consistently write about it. This can position the lawyer as an expert in a given field and may lead to the media reaching out for quotes, potential client work, or invitations to speak at events.
For attorneys concerned with accuracy in a fast-changing environment, peer review can help. So can bringing on a co-author who can share the burden of research.
After the topic is determined, a good strategy is to develop a high-level outline that acts like a roadmap and can minimize writer’s block. Content can then be filled in according to the outline.
A good practice is to set a goal and develop a plan and timeline. Maybe it is writing one article per quarter or two articles per year. Blocking time on the calendar for writing can be very beneficial and help the attorney discover the best time to write, such as weekends or mornings.
Lawyers are often pleasantly surprised with the finished product, especially if they see it published in major media and colleagues or clients mention seeing it. Don’t forget that content can be re-purposed. It can be used for a presentation and vice versa. An article can also be handed out at a seminar, webinar, or event. People appreciate handouts and takeaways, and they create an invitation for follow up and contact after the event.
While building a client base is not easy, article writing is one form of marketing that can help lawyers reach audiences they normally wouldn’t reach. At the very least, published works help raise both lawyer and firm visibility, are a nice enhancement to a bio, and provide content for sharing.
Ellen M. Keiley is president of EMK Consulting Group, which offers public relations, business development coaching, marketing services, and training for law firms and other professional services firms. She can be contacted at [email protected].