Most lawyers have long since figured out that writing articles showing off their expertise in their chosen field is a safe and productive way to market their services. Some lawyers choose to publish these articles in their firm newsletters, others on blogs, and others in legal profession periodicals. Quite a few lawyers, additionally or alternatively, have realized that the best place to publish content is where potential clients will read it: in client periodicals, business magazines, industry newsletters, and consumer websites.
This is often easier said than done, however. These client periodicals are swamped with submissions from lawyers, so they can afford to be choosy and might take greater editorial licence with the text than most lawyers would like. There are other barriers, too. One of the most noteworthy belongs to the ACC Docket, the highly regarded magazine of the Association of Corporate Counsel.
You can probably imagine the number of BigLaw partners who’d love to display their written know-how to more than 20,000 in-house counsel. The ACC Docket stems this tide effectively with a simple publishing rule: every submitted article must be authored or co-authored by a corporate counsel. It’s an editorial policy masterstroke, ensuring that (a) ACC members have the opportunity to promote themselves to their colleagues, (b) content is always relevant and on-point to in-house readers, and (c) law firm lawyers who want access to this audience must have the strong relationships with their in-house clients necessary to make such collaboration possible.
What I’d like to suggest here is that every lawyer, including those in smaller law firms, could take a lesson from the ACC Docket‘s policy. Why not make this your firm’s content publishing policy, too?
Make it a requirement that one or more articles in your firm’s newsletter or on your firm’s blog be at least co-authored by one of your clients. This is possible across almost every type of law practice, from family law to wrongful dismissal to bankruptcy to trademark litigation to M&A: get the client to tell his or her story as part of a practical guide to navigating similar matters in future. Base it on an actual legal experience by the client, or have the client share his or her first-hand perspective on a commonly occurring law-related matter.
This would have all sorts of benefits for your publishing program. The clients and potential clients who read your firm’s content would respond positively to stories “just like theirs” related by people “just like them.” They would identify more closely with the familiar co-protagonist of these articles than they would to a faceless stranger in some case comment from the Court of Appeal.
The articles themselves would be heavy on personal narratives, actual facts, real challenges and practical solutions (although of course, sensitive or confidential information would be omitted or anonymized). Accordingly, they would also be lighter on the jurisprudential detail in which lawyer-authored articles frequently get bogged down. These two changes alone would improve the quality and readability of most articles prepared by law firms for their clients.
Best of all, this policy would strengthen the relationship between the lawyer and the client. Even setting aside the positive feelings engendered for clients asked to tell their stories to the firm’s clientele, co-authoring any written work requires close collaboration, frequent conversation, and the friendly (when carefully administered) give-and-take of drafts and revisions between the writers. The lawyer will often learn things about the client’s interests and experiences that didn’t emerge during the actual matter itself; the client will get first-hand exposure to the lawyer’s expertise and experience in similar matters.
This wouldn’t have to be a permanent policy: there could be a special issue of the newsletter or month of blog posts featuring clients as co-authors, just to try it out. We’ve seen what lawyer-authored content looks like, and most people would agree it’s not usually Pulitzer material. Think about turning to your clients for an injection of first-hand experience and real-world relevance to your law firm’s publishing efforts.