Law firm newsletters – do or die

Jordan Furlong on the futility of most law firm newsletters.

Law firms sometimes seem to think their newsletters, print or e-mail, 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. So it’s not surprising that in this competition, law firms are outgunned from the start. …

The bottom line is: if your firm is producing anything that isn’t expected to be, and isn’t held to the standard of being, the very best, either stop doing it, or do it right. 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.

I’d extend this argument considerably. With the ubiquity of law news and blog sites and the much-discussed move of news reading habits from print to online, law firm newsletters in whatever medium are competing with the best online news and blog services in the UK and often globally, whether these are produced by large or small publishing companies, by large or small law firms or by individuals.

In particular, the multi-topic (small) law firm newsletter must be doomed. In print such newsletters may still have some useful life locally on the reception table and delivered by snail mail to existing customers. But the web savvy will be getting their news from elsewhere – likely way beyond your patch.

To begin to compete, firms must not just report news which is readily available online from numerous other sources, but display real expertise in particular practice areas and engage their readers. This means either more professionally-written, up-to-the-minute, analytical, subject-specific fare such as is produced by the leading publishers and innovative law firms and/or the less formal, more personal, more engaging blog, encouraging conversations with readers.

The former is a tall order for most small- to medium-sized firms; as Jordan points out, this requires condiderably more resources to be invested in their publications.

As to blogging, it will be no surprise that I feel this is the most effective route for the smaller firm. But it is important to recognise that simply blogging news that can be found elsewhere is unlikely to improve your online presence much. I commend those firms that are blogging their news rather than just mailing out print or sending email newsletters, but you are competing with the very best nationally and any first-mover advantage (few firms are doing this) will be short-lived. Law firm blogs need to be focussed (usually on a particular practice area), to have personality (usually meaning it’s not “the firm” but individuals or small groups that should blog) and to be engaging (providing comment and analysis and stirring things up a little) or to deliver some other value that cannot be found elsewhere.

Blogging is low cost and effective. Given the will and the right approach, it won’t be difficult to make your mark.

2 thoughts on “Law firm newsletters – do or die

  1. Thanks for the link, Nick! You’re absolutely right to extrapolate the point and emphasize the global nature of the competition faced by newsletters. We tend in the law to limit our thinking to the legal universe, when in fact clients access (thankfully) a much larger collection of material.

    This is actually a point I make to our magazine’s editorial board — we’re not (just) competing against the other four national lawyer periodicals in Canada; we’re competing against the New Yorker, The Economist, Vanity Fair, Field & Stream, whatever it is that lawyers feel like devoting their limited time and attention to — and that doesn’t include newspapers, books, TV, websites, and whatever’s on their iPod.

    If any lawyer publication today can capture even a small percentage of a client’s real attention, that’s a tremendous accomplishment.

  2. Lucid thoughts, but the situation’s even worse even worse — newsletters represent real risk to law firm’s reputation and client relationships.

    The problem is as much that clients do read ‘em as that they don’t.

    I did some research with senior in-house lawyers and heads of legal recently. I aksed them: “If you read a publication that doesn’t seem to offer an insight or grip the issue, does it affect your view of that practice group?”. The answer was a resounding “yes” – not that surprising if you think of your own experience, but a sobering thought—

    Reputation-and-relationship risk is another reason to consider turning of the publication-tap – to paraphrase mother’s advice, “If you can’t think of anything useful to publish, don’t publish at all”.

    Simon Carter

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