Law firm newsletters? Burn them says leading Canadian legal publisher

Law Firm NewslettersThat’s the word from Jordan Furlong, Editor-in-Chief at Canadian Bar Association’s National magazine and Executive Editor at Canadian Corporate Counsel Association.

The necessity and effectiveness of law firm newsletters have been long overrated. Partly this is because the content is written by lawyers, and is therefore a reliably tortuous read. Partly it’s because a general legal update is of limited interest and use to clients, who don’t really have time for FYI documents that don’t deal directly with an immediately relevant matter.

But mostly, I think, it’s because law firms have never given newsletters the attention, support and priority to be anything other than pretty mediocre and indistinguishable from one another (if I took the banner off two random law firm newsletters and switched them around, could you tell the difference?)

Jordan makes some compelling points. Here’s a bulleted list, but do read his whole post.

  • Law firms think their newsletters are competing only against other law firm newsletters for clients’ attention. They’re not. They’re competing against every business and industry publication their clients read, usually produced by large publishing companies with decades of experience. Unlike law firms, these companies don’t regard their periodicals as a sideline, a nice marketing tool – they treat them the same way law firms treat their work product, as the lifeline of their businesses.
  • If you’re not producing truly great client publications that command clients’ attention and generate respect in the field, drop them. Take the time and energy you’ve been sinking into these increasingly irrelevant publications and invest them in business development activities that have a chance of actually producing a worthwhile return.
  • If you are going to publish content, create a Publishing Division within the firm, and mandate it to create publications that can legitimately be mentioned in the same breath as the leading client industry periodical and become a must-read information source for your clients, one that your competitors are pitting their mediocre content against.
  • Top-notch editorial, graphic and web talent is out there by the truckload, often underpaid and underemployed – recruit it and retain it with the same intensity of effort you pour into finding associates who’ll be gone in less than three years. Create an editorial board, drawn equally from your sharpest lawyers and your most valued clients in the industry you want to dominate.
  • With blogging, get 20 lawyers who are passionate about practice areas important to your strategy, who can and will write frequently and engagingly, and let them charge their blogging hours as billable-equivalent time. Establish your firm as the authoritative blogging source for your clients, and reap the rewards that come from being the trailblazer and front-runner in an emerging area.

Bottom line Jordan says if you’re not producing your best, stop doing it. ‘You wouldn’t send out mediocre, ‘good enough’ legal work to your clients. Don’t pollute your brand by settling for mediocre, ‘good enough’ client publications.’

Want an example of what Jordan’s describing? Look at the Climate Law Update published by Thelen. Breaking news, insight and commentary on climate change and sustainable energy. This blog publication rocks.

Kevin Livingston, Thelen’s National Manager of Public Relations, tells me Climate Law Update is already beating the AP on some stories and receiving kudos from clients as well as the media.

Sure, tell me you can’t do it. ‘We’re law firm. Our lawyers are too busy. Our lawyers will never do it. I’m too busy. I have a CMO who doesn’t get any of this stuff. We don’t have any budget for it.’

Fine. Keep producing the mindless self serving newsletter copy that more than one in-house counsel has told me is a joke. One in-house counsel asked me if the marketing people in law firms knew that in-house counsel were lawyers too. The point being they can follow basic legal issues on their own.

For those of you unwilling to accept mediocrity, take advantage of the forces working to your advantage.

  • More people are getting news and information online than off.
  • Niche publications can be be published and distributed online in a cost effective fashion, something impossible before the advent of blogs and RSS. See the Long Tail theory.
  • Bloggers, lawyers included, are being treated as journalists and reporters. Interviews of people your target audience wants to hear from are easily attainable. Blog posts can be repurposed via RSS syndication to display at major publications (NY Times, Forbes, WSJ) and industry periodicals.
  • Niche information for you to comment on and further distribute can be streamed to your desktop via RSS for free.
  • Journalism grads, who were paid poorly before and who are are now starved for jobs with in a declining newspaper industry, are equipped to manage a firms news production and distribution.
  • The cost of Internet publishing tools (not content management systems) are minimal. They’re called blogs.
  • A beautiful design for your publication or blog can be designed and developed at reasonable one time charge.
  • Effective publishing on a niche topic costs less and offers greater returns than traditional law firm PR and communications.

Sure, you don’t understand all this stuff. That’s okay. Get someone to help who does.

Effective publishing can be done and those law firms who take advantage of the opportunity are going to do more effective marketing and PR than their competition. And at a lower cost.

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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