Law Firm Thought Leadership

How to Become a Legal Thought Leader


Professionals in the legal industry are sitting on the marketing golden ticket, and most of them don’t even know it.

Legal firm marketing faces several challenges in the 21st century. Their trade has a negative reputation among the general public, and clients who have to pick a lawyer generally play phone-book roulette and go with the first attorney who returns their call. A narrow set of specialties aggressively markets to the public, such as the accident settlement and debt consolidation niches, but the rest might as well be faceless as far as the public is concerned.

Thought leadership allows you to stand out from that gray background blur. Just getting a soapbox to talk to the public for five minutes does so much to give your firm a face and a voice, most importantly a brand identity. Not only does thought leadership help up you increase word of mouth recommendations and enhance your reputation, but it helps you rank higher on Internet searches your clients are likely to perform.


New Challenges in the Legal Market

What makes it harder for legal firms to market their services in the 21st century? For one thing, businesses have been creating products to encourage more potential clients to have a “do it yourself” attitude. Software tools like LegalZoom and ContractWorks let small business clients produce legal documents and contracts. Legal practice has changed in many fields into process managerial and technological practice.

The law firm business model also doesn’t do a lot to encourage long-term value. Lawyers don’t retain residual equity in a firm when they leave, so they’re often less motivated to contribute to the firm’s long-term standing. The legal firm biosphere encourages individuals to extract maximum short-term value from an engagement.

Last, the ongoing (oh no here it comes!) COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the market, in ways that are subtle and long-term. There are radical changes to business structure, with whole industries going under—goodbye movie theaters, casinos, and sports! This impacts the economy, which impacts every client in one way or another. Meanwhile, courtrooms are inextricably changed, when they’re open at all anymore.

Developing a content strategy that establishes yourself as a thought leader can help you overcome these challenges.


What Makes a Thought Leader?

A thought leader is an expert in a field who speaks out to the public, being recognized as an authority on their industry. Who do you think of when you think of space, physics, and science? Chances are Neil deGrasse Tyson leaps to your mind. How about computers? Maybe you thought of Bill Gates or the late Steve Jobs. If you’re looking for cooking advice, there are several celebrity chefs you might have caught on the Food Network.

An industry expert is recognized enough that if a reporter with a story in that field is looking for a quote, they’ll seek out that expert and ask their opinion on the subject. It’s quite possible to get that “famous” even in your small town practice because the legal industry thought leaders are pretty rare to come by.

The way you do this is by doing something you probably like to do already: give your opinion. Publish it online. And then keep giving it and giving it. The more you talk, the more the public listens. Building a reputation as an industry thought leader is a long game, taking much time to gain steam. But it’s valuable in the long run because that content sits there farming new clients to you year after year.

Why We Need Legal Thought Leaders

Let’s boldly assume that you pay attention to the news and general media. You might have heard how social media and public awareness are fraught with issues. Indeed, a lot of the news nowadays is just about the news…

It seems like any subject that isn’t general knowledge is up for grabs now, from vaccine denialists to flat earthers. In short, the world needs more experts, and it needs those experts to have a bigger megaphone than the layman spreading misinformation.

In America, legal issues are a matter of civics, and civics are woefully under-taught in the American education system. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni points out that the decline of civics education leaves students less prepared to be informed citizens. The National Education Association holds that civics education in the public school system has lost its way, not missing so much as misguided.

Lack of civics awareness leads people to not know their legal rights. This article points out many personal liberties that most people aren’t aware of. No doubt, many of these ring true to you, if you’re practicing in the field of personal defense or civil rights. These facts are the things that you have to tell clients over and over again.


Google and Your Audience

The Google search engine works by indexing content it finds on websites and matching it against keywords the user types in. We’re skipping over a world of details in that definition, but that’s the nutshell. In general, you want the content on your website to match up with the queries your potential clients will be searching for.

Google, believe it or not, wants to help you! It got to be number one by giving people the results they want, and they support themselves by helping businesses market. Google’s webmaster guidelines underscore this point: build the content for people, then optimize it for search engines. High quality, well-researched, authoritative content, presented in a well-organized form, wins the Google prize every time.

By posting informative content, you’re providing potential clients with the information they want, and encouraging others to link to you while citing you as an expert. That’s called “backlinking,” and it’s important because Google partially ranks websites based on their inbound links, out of the dozens of other ranking signals they use. Google looks for links that indicate that somebody found this content to be useful, informative, or helpful.

So we’re sold on the idea of becoming a legal thought leader. Now how do we go about that?


A Voice of Friendly Expertise

We read a few legal blogs and cite some favorites from time to time. Through blogging, over the long term, you develop your public personality or the personality of your firm. There are several ways we see legal bloggers distinguish themselves:

  • Idealism: Not being happy with the status quo
  • Insight: Being at the cutting edge of top news stories with clarification
  • Candidness: Giving frank, behind-the-scenes views
  • Casualness: Putting a friendly, human face on the stuffy legal profession
  • Stimulating: Exploring little-known nooks and crannies of legal niche fields

In the same manner that you make a legal argument to a jury, you can work on the public using any number of appeal factors. Appeal to their curiosity, offer help to those who are lost, or be a trusted voice of reason in the middle of a mad hothouse debate. Meanwhile, you use keyword research tools to build your content around the search terms your potential clients are likely to use.

After that, you have only to take these next steps to compose content:

1. Define Your Target Audience.

Is it best to write a general-purpose law blog or drill down into a niche? It’s always better to focus on a niche. Users aren’t likely to search for general law terms, but “rights during house arrest,” “fight traffic citation,” or “divorce and custody rights” are more relevant terms to potential clients’ needs.

You may want to keep a spare pad around when consulting with clients and note their most common questions. You can also do a bit of keyword research to find out how clients stumbled on your website in the first place, using this to get inspirations to create more focused content for the next search.

Staying up to date on current legal trends and issues is also an invaluable source of inspiration. Almost daily, a news story breaks that could use a legal expert’s insight. This is a great way to “go viral,” getting lots of backlinks in a short time because you have insight on an issue which people are discussing online.

2. Share on Multichannel Media.

Just because you have a WordPress blog on your site doesn’t mean you should stop there. There’s a whole range of ways to reach your audience, not all of whom read blog posts:

  • Webinars: A podcast / broadcast / Zoom lecture
  • White papers: Publishing for a more professional market (corporations are clients too)
  • Publishing to third-party sites: Guest-posting in your university’s alumni blog or a legal advice column in local news media
  • Podcasting and webcasting: Awesome fun to do, popular with a select audience
  • YouTube videos: Still puts a friendly face and voice on your firm
  • Social media: Blasting out little bites of information on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn

If you do go with video or audio content, be sure to get it transcribed and have the text on your website too. Google indexes text but has so far not realized its eventual plan of indexing audio and video content.

3. Be Yourself.

We’re not going to assume a stereotype, but most of the lawyers we’ve seen have at least a touch of ham in them. You have to be good at public speaking in most cases if you see the inside of a courtroom. If you deal with witnesses and juries, you even need to have a few “people skills.” Half of legal work is writing and talking (and reading) anyway, so lawyers develop natural communication skills as part of the job.

It’s OK to loosen up, write in the first person, and have a sense of humor. Injecting just a little zip and personality can take a boring subject like the law and make it fun and interesting. The general public has little to no understanding of the mechanics of law, so just about everything you have to say is likely something they haven’t heard before. You’re automatically interesting whenever you’re teaching people something new.

At the same time, curate your “blogger persona.” Who are you to clients? You’re their trusted advisor, their experienced veteran in their corner, their ace-in-the-hole. Project that into your content creation.

4. Don’t Stop!

This is where a lot of would-be greats retire to mediocrity: it’s tough to keep going and going. Everybody has a month of good blog posts in them, but the sign of a true natural adept is somebody who keeps blogging at the same pace years later.

“Content is king,” as we say about content marketing, but content also wins based on sheer volume alone. The best policy is to stick to a semi-regular posting schedule. Pace yourself out so you don’t burn out. Don’t apologize if you miss an installment, just jump back in. By keeping a regular schedule, you encourage readers to bookmark you (follow you, subscribe to your channel, etc.) and come back.

Consistency leads to authority and the sheer volume pulls in more search engine hits. It’s a little adventure because you never know what will be a hit. All our bloggers swear that they can pour their heart and soul into a timeless masterpiece and get 30 views, while a casual off-the-cuff rainy day post goes worldwide viral.


The Golden Ticket of Legal Content Marketing

Another astrophysics scientist, the late Carl Sagan, wrote a book titled “The Demon-Haunted World,” attempting to teach people critical thinking in what he pessimistically saw as a modern version of the Dark Ages. We’ll grant that things aren’t quite looking that grim! Maybe it’s social media’s fault, maybe we really do need to govern it more closely. Social media’s problem is that it spreads falsehoods faster than the truth.

The bottom line is that right now, we need experts who know what they’re talking about. The digital world is starving for facts and fed on a diet of shadows. Not only will your thought leadership be a marketing beacon that brings you steady clients, but it just might do some good in the world. We know there are lawyers out there who had that motivation in the first place.


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