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Could law firm content become a joke?


Content used to be king, now it’s the joker, says Amy Westervelt (@amywestervelt), a writer for various magazines and co-founder of Climate Confidential (@climatereporter), in a wonderful post from earlier this week.

Over the past year, I’ve contributed a half dozen more stories to Not under my own name, but as a ghost writer for a couple different CEOs. For that work I was paid—no exaggeration— TEN times what Forbes ever paid me to write for its site, but Forbes paid nothing for those pieces. That’s the new media system, with “content” at its core. And by the way, it’s not just Forbes. My ghostwritten posts have appeared on VentureBeat, Pando Daily,, and I’m sure a few more that I’m forgetting.

I was turned on to the post by the PR Director at a major law firm over lunch this week. His point was if people want to be “thought leaders,” they should go out and do it, not create a lie by having other people write for them.

Vestervelt makes five points that I’d hope would resonate with law firms who are considering hiring others to write in the name of the firm or a lawyer. Here’s four, abbreviated by me, admittedly coming from the perspective of a reporter.

  1. It’s not real reporting. Companies willing to pay for content work have a promotional viewpoint. That ought to make the party paying and the reporter feel a little shady and unethical.
  2. It’s not marked as advertorial, but it is. You are being sold to and lied to even more often than you realize.
  3. I’m tired of making rich, white dudes seem more thoughtful than they are. Yeah, I said it. Something about this whole game smacks of sexism, on top of the usual “let them eat cake” attitude corporate types have toward creative types in general (“I know! Why don’t we hire a journalist to write this think-piece? They’re all desperate for cash, they’d be happy to take this on for way less than we pay anyone else.”) Most of the ghost writers and content producers I know are women, ditto the journalists-turned-internal editors and “content strategists” for companies, and 90 percent of their work is for male CEOs.
  4. I just can’t continue to contribute to the demise of my own profession. Every bit of content I agree to produce feels like a tacit agreement that the only value journalism has any more is to make CEOs and companies look good.

No question lawyers and law firms are hiring reporters and journalists to write for them. Rather than the reporters being given attribution, a lawyer or law firm is. It’s shady and arguably unethical.

In the last year we’ve had discussion that law firms ought to consider “corporate journalism” as way to differentiate their content from other firms.

Under “corporate journalism” I presume law firms would hire journalists to report and write for them – whether stories or thought leader/op-ed style pieces.

This is great if the stories go out in the journalist’s name. One, that’s that right and ethical to do. Two, it’s giving credit where credit is due – not just showing that your money is good. And three, it’s supporting a profession, rather than demeaning it,

A law firm can do a great niche publication with the content written by reporters. It’s not an either we do it in our name or we don’t do it proposition.

A niche focused publication covering an area that may not otherwise be covered can do wonders for the firm as far as business development.

Take a look at Food Safety News (FSN), supported by the Seattle law firm, Marler Clark. A six lawyer firm has created the publication of record on food safety issues.

The firm does not take credit directly for the news reported and does not mislead people by saying a lawyer wrote the piece. Reporters get credit.

When the FDA is having hearings on our nation’s food safety FSN is there at the table with the Wall Street Journal, NY Times, and Washington Post. Think a “journalist for hire” who will be reporting in someone else’s name could be there?

If law firms are going to take content to the next level, they ought to do so. Just do it in the party’s name who penned the piece – whether a journalist, lawyer, or business person.

Do it the wrong way and law firm content could really become a joke.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Christian Weidinger

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