Updated: Jul 29, 2019
Thought Leadership Marketing for Lawyers
By Liza Vasquez CMC ICF and Jeffrey F. Silber CPA MBA CMC
Certified Master Business and Life Coaches
Personal Branding is about saying to the world “I’m an expert.” However, skeptical clients are seeking genuine experts, not the self-proclaimed ones. This situation creates a great opportunity for lawyers willing to put in the work.
The market for legal services is ready for what we call “Thought Leadership Marketing” because it can help you stand out from all the other lawyers who are screaming “Look at me.”
First, What Is a Thought Leader?
A lawyer is a Thought Leader when she/he is an industry expert or is an expert in a specific area of law which crosses industry lines; and when he/she shares that expertise with a target market for the apparent purpose of educating, inspiring and increasing business performance.
Of course, the underlying message is “You see, I am a genuine expert on this subject.”
In order to be able to make this claim, Thought Leaders must truly immerse themselves in specific industries or highly specialized areas of law and learn everything there is to know about how to create legal solutions which align with the most pressing business challenges of the day.
Thought Leaders must stay on top of those issues that the key players in that industry are focused on and, more importantly, Thought Leaders anticipate what is coming next.
The single most important reason to become a Thought Leaders is that clients are looking for them. And the second reason is that genuine Thought Leaders are few and far between and as a result, clients are willing to pay the very high fees that Thought Leaders command.
Nowadays, prospective client goes first to the Internet in their search of an answer to a legal question. If you can insert yourself into the online dialogue with answers to the difficult questions of the day, you are more likely to be top of mind when the clients are looking for outside counsel.
Positioning Yourself as a Thought Leader
By writing, speaking and otherwise sharing insights that are tailored and contextualized for a particular audience, you can build authority and influence, and position yourself as someone worth paying attention to.
The alternative is to remain quiet and hope that your reputation among the people who know you will be enough for you to be hired from among the countless army of other attorney in your practice area. A far better approach is to create your own Personal Brand as the go-to expert in your area of specialization.
But … It’s Not Up to You to Decide
If you spend any amount of time online, you have undoubtedly noticed that more and more people are claiming to be the Thought Leaders or expert on some aspect of law. Self-proclaimed titles such as “hero” or “brilliant” or “genius” are overused clichés and increasingly ignored. When the others create this noise and overreach, there is a greater opportunity for those lawyers who do the hard work to stand out for the right reasons.
Accordingly, it’s more important than ever to actually be an expert and to show - not tell - how your expertise solves the problems of those potential clients you hope to serve.
You are a thought leader only when people follow you; When your articles are cited by others, when your proposals become law; When what you have written has impact - then you are a Thought Leader. Until then, you are just another lawyer who has occasionally gotten his name in print.
The difference between publishing something and being a Thought Leader is the difference between trying (which is better than nothing) and succeeding.
Five Steps to Thought Leadership
If you have decided you want to be a Thought Leader, here are the steps to get started:
Define your audience. Thought Leaders do not communicate with everyone. The approach of a Thought Leader is more like a laser. Thought Leaders choose a specific target audience with common interests and concerns. Thought Leaders speak directly to this target. They define a niche not only for their practice area but also for their Thought Leadership efforts, and over time, they come to be seen as a valuable resource. Instead of being perceived as an outsider who is looking to crash the party, a Thought Leader is welcomed as a trusted advisor who is looking to add value to the conversation happening within an industry.
Share your wisdom. Don’t just report what is happening – create the narrative. Take the time to think deeply about the issues and go beyond the case summaries, statutory updates and surface-level analyses which others are producing.
Do not describe what happened, explain its implications to your target market. Many lawyers are fearful of this approach because they think that they are giving away the information for which they hope to charge their clients.
Not to worry. Prospective clients do not intend to do the work themselves. They are looking to hire the most qualified expert for the job. This approach will show them it is you.
Find your voice. Keep in mind that you have to have something relevant to talk about. It may seem obvious, but you want to focus on creating interesting content that provides value while highlighting your specific subject matter expertise. By demonstrating your knowledge in a focused and useful way, you establish yourself as a Thought Leader. However, the world of legal information is full of boring, technical, jargon-filled written material that completely lacks any personality.
You are not in law school any more. You will stand out by peppering your writing with your personality. Write in the first person. Many aspects of the law tend to be dry subjects. On the other hand, the application of the law and its use in real life situations is never boring. Make your writing very lively, enjoyable reading.
Be consistent. It takes time for an airplane to reach its full cruising altitude and plenty of energy to maintain that altitude. It is going to take some time to become a Thought Leader and the process of remaining a Thought Leadership will never end for you. It is a marathon. Thought Leadership requires consistency over a long period of time.
Publishing one article on a big social media platform may get you lots of “likes” but that does not make you a Thought Leader because real Thought Leaders continue to appear in magazines, blogs, make speeches, they appear at seminars and on panel discussions, in webinars, in YouTube videos and are quoted in other people’s blogs and writings all the time.
Be generous and cultivate a following. You cannot be a Thought Leader in isolation. You are only a Thought Leader when people follow you. Build connections on social media and engage with your followers. Share likes and comments on other people’s content. Share your wisdom freely. Be helpful. Be responsive. Do these things consistently and people will follow you and ultimately this will lead to high paying legal work.
Thought Leadership Marketing also benefits your law firms
Today nearly all potential clients research law firms, look for legal advice, and read reviews online, long before they actually speak with a lawyer and certainly before they make a decision. That is why it is essential for you to be a highly visible Thought Leader creating opportunities to open up a dialog.
The Impact of “Visible Experts” and Thought Leadership Marketing
Marketing through Thought Leadership not only benefits you as an individual lawyer, but also it benefits your law firm. A recent surveyed of over 1,000 individual legal services providers and 130 “visible experts,” sought to understand the impact that Thought Leadership Marketing on their firms. The results showed that law firms which use Thought Leadership Marketing had five major benefits.
Faster growth. Thought Leaders single biggest impact is their ability to drive firm growth. Highly visible Thought Leadership activities attract clients who want or need greater expertise. These highly specialized, very lucrative and more qualified leads become easier to generate. Law firms are able to close potential clients more quickly and with far less effort.
Higher billing rates. There is a direct relationship between the visibility of a subject matter expert’s through their Thought Leadership and their billing rate. Visible experts of every level command premium rates. The greater the expertise and visibility of the expert, the greater the billing rate.
A Stronger brand. If you can combine Thought Leadership with greater visibility, your firm’s Brand will become significantly stronger. Your Brand not only drives growth and profitability, but also it results in a more valuable firm. And when you make Thought Leadership one of your primary marketing strategies, you create a strong differentiator (specialized expertise) and a strategic focus.
Top talent. The best people want to work with industry and practice area leaders. Thought Leadership is a great way to demonstrate the quality of your law firm and attract the best quality trainees, interns, junior and senior associates and even lateral-hire partners, all of whom want to become Thought Leaders themselves or to connected to important Thought Leaders. Top talent is always in high demand. That is why Thought Leadership is a potent recruiting tool.
The best opportunities. Subject matter experts not only attract the best new clients and the most talented people, but also, they more easily form the best strategic partnerships and business relationships. When other organizations look to an industry potential partners, they look first for Thought Leaders - leading Brands tend to want to work with other leading Brands. High-visibility experts report that they have their pick of teaming and partnering relationships, marketing partnerships and other strategic business opportunities.
Thought Leadership Marketing Makes It Easier to Get and Stay Ahead
Thought Leadership marketing is a powerful marketing tool for both individual lawyers and their law firms. It can be fun and rewarding, too. It is all about being the expert who brings a fresh, insightful perspective to pressing contemporary problems, or who anticipates emerging trends both positive and negative, for the benefit of the clients.
Often, a Thought Leader’s perspective is at odds with conventional wisdom, perhaps even controversial. But a successful Thought Leader can turn that new insight into tomorrow’s best practice.
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