The 4 frequent flaws of law firm content

Law firms create and circulate extraordinary amounts of content, almost all of it written by lawyers about developments in the law. But the majority of that content is unlikely to produce much if any business benefit, because it’s fatally flawed by one or more of four elementary mistakes firms keep making. Here’s my assessment of the most common problems with law firm content.

  1. Irrelevant to clients. Alex Novarese pinpoints this disconnect in his article about the LegalWeek Law database of firm content. “External counsel are often focused on the ‘narrative’ or intellectual merits of changes in statue, regulation and case law, and produce briefings accordingly. [Clients, however,] are primarily focused on the law in the context of risk and return to their business. That, and minimizing the hassle of their daily lives. Shockingly, they have little love for law for its own sake.” This is an obvious point that’s been well-publicized for years, yet law firm content continues to resemble law school case summaries.
  2. Late to the party. News breaks: a change in the rules surrounding income trusts, or the passage of new regulations affecting environmental standards, or a critical court decision with real-world implications. And then, days or sometimes even weeks later, the law firm publishes an article about it — often suffering from the flaws in #1, spending more time on legal niceties than on client impact, but adding tardiness on top of irrelevance. The best-before date on actionable knowledge is now measured in hours; law firm content needs to meet and beat that kind of deadline.
  3. Titled for obscurity. Writing headlines has never been easy, but in the age of Twitter, you need to be not only catchy and informative, but also fewer-than-140-characters concise when naming your article. A title must galvanize the recipient into opening the email or clicking on a link, and must do so in a matter of seconds before the “read-or-ignore” choice is made. Try to craft a miniature story in the title: something unusual, arresting, or quirky, but above all, relevant to the reader’s world. Avoid mere “Updates” or “Roundups” — they don’t give the reader a specific reason to continue.
  4. Insufficiently customized. Among the reasons for the decline of the daily newspaper and the general-interest magazine is that, rightly or wrongly, people want to receive news tailored to their own priorities. This is especially the case among business consumers of content: if they receive materials that lie outside their specific industry niche, they will assume (probably correctly) that the sender isn’t aware of or doesn’t really care much about what they actually do. Separate email lists are a snap to produce; industry-specific Twitter accounts are free. Use multiple channels to communicate with your diverse client base.

To counteract these four common errors, make the following choices when planning your legal content editorial lineup:

  • Quality over quantity: Reduce the volume of content and redirect your freed-up resources to produce less frequent but more high-quality, thoughtful work.
  • Solutions over commentary: Clients don’t care about the judge’s reasoning; they care about how this development affects their business practices.
  • Prevention over prognostication: Provide checklists or flowcharts for avoiding legal troubles rather than sweeping forecasts of the law’s evolution.
  • Narrative over everything: Tell a story worth hearing, starting with a great title and a concise article that respects the reader’s time and addresses her concerns.

Most law firms are afraid to stand out from the crowd — but that’s exactly what clients want them to do. There’s no easier place for a firm to start standing out than with the nature, quality and format of the legal content it produces.

Comments

  1. Max Kennerly said:

    “Relevance” is a double-edged sword. The “most relevant” content you can produce is 100% marketing drivel aimed squarely at converting the listener into a client. There needs to be some degree of personality and differentiation to avoid running smack into the listener’s marketing filters and looking like a snake-oil salesman.

    @ 7:18 am
  2. Maybe I should have been more precise. “Relevant” in this context means exactly one thing: the content matters to the reader and addresses his or her needs, concerns and interests. This applies to every piece of content that anyone circulates with any hope of being read.

    Here’s an easy rule to follow: if you’re sending out content because it will genuinely deliver value to the recipient, then you’re not going to have any worries about “marketing filters.”

    @ 7:25 am
  3. I agree with Max and Jordan although there is no need to create posts that read like you are a snake oil salesman. To deal with this conundrum I maintain two blogs. One associated with and found on our law firm website and a second in which I can comment on legal developments of interest to me. The latter is more of a hobby and not subject to the pressures of marketing demands.

    @ 8:37 am
  4. I am amazed that point #1 (relevancy) is still so often ignored. Sometimes the “legal update” could be relevant, if only the attorney would go the extra step of placing it in the context of the client’s needs or their reader’s interests, as the case may be. Instead, they post an abstract summary that has no meaning to their readers.

    @ 8:40 am
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