The fact that creating and distributing content is getting cheaper — “Look, Ma, no trucks, no printing presses!” — has not been lost on major brands penned the The New York Times’ David Carr this week in a piece entitled ‘Publishing, Without Publishers.’

Luxury brands have always advertised in the likes of Vogue, Esquire and Architectural Digest and tried to impress their editors enough to get mentioned in the editorial pages, as well. But now companies like Richemont (owns Cartier, Piaget, Dunhill and Montblanc) are reaching out directly to consumers — and cutting out the middlemen.

Steve Rubel, SVP of Digital for Edelman public relations, told Carr “Brands, especially those centered around lifestyle interests or luxury, are increasingly becoming media companies.”

Reading Carr’s piece I couldn’t help but think of large law firms and the brands they’ve established.

Rather than advertise in mainstream magazines and trade publications, why not publish directly to in-house counsel, executives, and referring lawyers? Rather than have public relations and communications professionals pitching stories and lawyer’s names to reporters and editors to gain editorial copy, why not publish directly to enhance the reputation of your law firm’s lawyers and trusted and reliable authorities?

What brands might serve as at least food for thought for law firms?

  • NET-A-PORTER.COM, owned by Richemont, is the world’s premier online luxury fashion retailer. Rather a typical e-commerce website, it presents its products in the style of a fashion magazine which is viewed by over 2.5 million women each month.
  • The Gilt Groupe, a bargain hunter’s paradise for the luxury-minded, is adding editorial elements every day and watching visitors spend more and more time there.
  • Best Buy has been watching its in-store sales shrink under pressure from the Web and has responded with On, a digital mag-a-log with editorial content and advertisements from other brands.
  • One Kings Lane, an e-commerce company that sells designer home décor and furnishings, just acquired Helicopter, the hotshot design firm that helped start the well-crafted and much-missed Domino magazine, as well as doing work for mainstream publishers like The Wall Street Journal, Hachette, Time Inc. and Hearst.

I’m not suggesting that large law firms become a media company. But self publishing in ways that the Internet, especially mobile, enables, is a golden opportunity for law firms to leverage their existing brand.

Lawyers are the ones who get hired, not the law firm itself. But being part of a major law firm with a well known brand, enhances the lawyer’s reputation and can make the lawyer more attractive.

It can be the same for publishing. Publishing with a major brand behind you (think Baker & McKenzie, DLA Piper, Jones Day, White & Case) is a leg up for lawyers and reporters who may be blogging or doing stories on a publication backed/branded by the law firm.

How might it be done?

  • Blogs are a start. Some large law firms have north of 20 blogs already. The number of large law firms with 10, 15, 20, or more blogs is going to grow significantly.
  • Law firm networks with a magazine like presence showcasing their lawyers who are blogging and micro-blogging. Micro-blogging via Twitter will serve as a legal information network of news and information being shared as well as a means for users to discover lawyers to follow.
  • Magazine like sites dedicated to a niche or industry with both original reporting supported by the firm and feeds from blogs and Twitter. Look at Food Safety News published by Seattle’s Marler Clark, the nation’s foremost food poisoning law firm.
  • Flipboard sections aggregating, under the law firm brand, specific blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Google Reeder feeds.

Law firms have a leg up over fashion ware or consumer electronic companies when it comes to publishing. As Adam Lavelle, the chief strategy office of iCrossing, the digital marketing agency owned by Hearst, told Carr, “….[B]rands that are authentic, not shameless or opportunistic, have a chance to create content that people will pay attention to.”

With large law firms paying millions of dollars each on advertising, PR, and communications, it’s only a matter of time until we see law firms creating their own online media outlets. Doing so will save money and leverage their brand.

  • Kevin – I suspect many firms think they already do this given the voluminous amounts of alerts, newsletters, and increasing levels of blog and multimedia content they have on their websites.
    Of course their websites serve multiple purposes and often do a poor job of organizing and show-casing their content in a way that is easily accessible for its target audience, and frankly much of the content is poor in terms of being interesting, insightful or attractively delivered.
    The gold standard for professional services firm publishing that law firms should perhaps aspire to is
    Does any law firm have the ambition and the willingness to make the kind of investment in research, analysis, writing and editorial expertise needed to reach that standard? And will firms expand their perspectives to discuss broader business issues rather than just the legal complexities?
    It will be interesting to see if and how firms evolve their “content” strategies.

  • I was thinking the same thing Paul as I writing this – that law firms think they are already publishing effectively with email newsletters, alerts, articles, and the like.
    Those are a far cry from the type of online media play I am talking about. And like you mention that are not being published in a means that is uer friendly.
    It may not be as far a stretch from a time and expense standpoint as firms may believe. Law firms have great knowledge managment groups and law librarians as well as lawyers writing already. Hiring a person or two who knows reporting, editing, and publishing could be very cost effective as compared to what is being spent currently on marketing and PR.
    The greater stretch is getting their minds around it.