May marks the release of the Am Law 100, the annual ranking of the nation’s highest-grossing law firms by The American Lawyer magazine. And the latest results continue to show a trend that’s been underway for the last few years.
The Am Law 100 appears to be separating into two distinct classes. One is an elite tier of perhaps 20 global players, with growing revenue, higher productivity, and increasing profits. Group two includes everyone else — largely national and regional firms that are experiencing slower growth and competing with the larger firms and one another for the remainder of the legal market. As one consultant told the magazine, we may be seeing the “Magic Circlization” of the Am Law 100, with a few giant firms cemented at the top.
So where does this leave the 80 percent of the Am Law 100 that’s not in the “elite” tier? The consultant, David Barnard of Blaqwell Inc., told The American Lawyer that profit growth won’t be the only way firms challenge their elite counterparts. “Growing 10 percent a year in profits is amazing. The depressing thing is, you do that, and you are still not out of the chasm,” Barnard said. “So how do you get out? You have to be distinctive.” Barnard and other consultants suggested to The American Lawyer that firms “focus on an industry as opposed to a practice area. … Having a niche, or several, is a path to distinction.” The magazine continued: “Clients are the ones demanding this specialization, going to the few firms who are exceptional in a certain practice and handling the rest of the work in-house or through other service providers.”
As firms develop new strategies to grapple with these fundamental changes in the marketplace, they’d be well-served by concentrating on improving the quality of their content marketing efforts — in particular, if they hope to effectively demonstrate a unique grasp of industries and subject matter.
During the last several months, as we’ve discussed content issues with in-house counsel, we’ve found that many of them long for insights and analysis that will help them do their jobs. We believe law firms are already in the publishing business (whether they know it or not) and may be perfectly positioned to offer this kind of material to clients — and, in the process, showcase the distinct talents of their lawyers.
To do so, however, will require many firms to perform higher-level math when it comes to their offerings. Here are few questions for marketers to ask, and an observation or two, about making content more valuable to clients.
Know Your Content
Have you cataloged, and do you understand, the content that your firm produces? How does each piece of content serve your firm’s business strategy? Does it attract an industry audience of current and potential clients? What are the intended results for each piece of content? Is it delivering on those results? If a firm is producing content, but doesn’t have a sense of its purpose, it’s wasting time and resources.
Identify Your Audience
Sophisticated commercial publishers generally profile the average readers of their content. Such profiles usually include information about income, gender, location, level of education, and other demographic factors.
A law firm may not care as much about an in-house counsel’s income, but it should gather basic information about the readers it is reaching and that it hopes to reach. For instance, what are the trusted sources of information for decision makers in an industry that the firm hopes to dominate? What are the specific legal or regulatory concerns of those decision makers? How do members of the audience read material? Is it on a smart phone, a desktop, a tablet? This kind of information can help the firm produce more relevant content that potential clients will actually want to read.
Don’t Follow the Herd
Law firms (and lawyers) aren’t known for their risk taking. When it comes to content, however, telling the same story that everyone else is telling will hardly help a firm stand out from the crowd. I recently looked at 30 client alerts issued by law firms in the wake of a major regulatory decision. They each offered a dry recitation of facts about the decision and little or no analysis. It made me wonder, what was the point? Did any client appreciate reading a drier version of what The Wall Street Journal told them a few days before?
The answer, I would guess, is an emphatic “no.” The best material from firms – the content that is uniformly found to be the most useful, according to the in-house counsel to whom we’ve spoken – is that which says something. If you’re a busy in-house lawyer, and you’re looking for a quick analysis of a court or regulatory decision, you might appreciate a smart, well-reasoned alert from a trusted source who helps you understand what something means for your industry. An alert that regurgitates what everyone else has said is more likely to seem like spam.
Industry surveys, studies, and white papers on select topics can help establish your firm’s brand as a source of credible and unique information for a sector. Too often, though, the impact of these efforts seems muted or short-lived. At best, a firm may receive an initial burst of readers, and perhaps, even, media coverage. Then the material goes into a dark corner of a web site rarely to be seen again.
Many firms have yet to learn how to leverage material over time to keep engaging their clients in a signature piece of content. A long-form piece can provide the basis for a series of blog items, charts, and analytical articles. It can be excerpted or serialized on a website. It can generate podcasts and videos. And these short-form and multimedia approaches may engage even more readers than the underlying long-form content.
In the long run, a content marketing strategy can be a highly effective weapon in a firm’s fight for distinction over extinction. If you’d like to learn more about how Good2bSocial and the Legal Writers Bureau can help your firm create distinct content for your firm, please contact us