Use This Framework for Integrating AI Into Your Thought Leadership Content Process
There are opportunities throughout the writing process for humans to partner with AI.
Here’s how to think about that division of labor.
Generative artificial intelligence—think tools like ChatGPT-4, Microsoft Bing, Google’s Bard, Dall-E and Midjourney—is all the rage in the legal world these days, and with good reason. It has implications for both how law firms provide legal services and how firms market their services. Depending on who you ask, AI could, among other things, revolutionize the work attorneys and their colleagues do, upend the billable hour model, level the playing field between small and large law firms and their clients, provide access to justice like we’ve never seen before and, perhaps, maybe, lead to the end of humanity.
Thanks to the promise of generative AI tools in the legal field, busy attorneys and their legal marketing and business development colleagues are already looking to these tools for assistance creating marketing and business development content.
But using AI in the content creation process is not an all or nothing thing. It need not be an “all AI” or an “all human” proposition. AI could provide some assistance or it could handle the majority of the creation process for a piece of content.
As you and your colleagues think about how, if at all, to incorporate AI into the process for creating written marketing and business development content, specifically thought leadership content authored by attorneys, use the following four-part framework to guide you when determining the role a human, an AI tool, or both will play in the creation process.
Pillar No. 1: Topic Generation
If an attorney is writing content in which they’ll be leaning on their experience or opinions, that topic will come from their own minds. They won’t need AI’s help brainstorming one.
But if the attorney is looking to cover a topic that other attorneys have covered but they haven’t and think they should, such as questions clients might have about new statutes on the books or recent developments with industry regulators, AI can helpfully generate potential topics about any subject matter imaginable so an attorney will never be without topics to write about.
Giving a large language model like ChatGPT a prompt along the lines of the following could help get an attorney’s creative juices flowing when the model provides possible topics to write about:
You are an attorney who helps financial institutions comply with federal laws, rules and regulations. You would like to write a 1,000- to 1,250-word article that demonstrates to your clients and referral sources that you are a thought leader in that space. Provide seven possible topics for articles regarding recent developments in the regulation of financial institutions you could write about that would help you achieve this goal.
AI can also identify topics for articles that are popular among a law firm’s target audiences. This can help guide the firm’s content strategy so it can be sure its attorneys are creating content that is interesting and relevant to those audiences.
Pillar No. 2: Substance
If an attorney is writing thought leadership content that draws upon their unique wisdom, experience, or opinions, there’s probably not much work for AI to do. Only the attorney can provide the substance based on the nature of the content.
But if the attorney is writing about a topic that has been covered before by other authors and will not change much based on the attorney’s wisdom, experience, or opinions, such as the “Dos and Don’ts for Creating an Employee Handbook at a Tech Startup” or “How to Litigate a Books and Records Case in [State],” the attorney could experiment with letting AI compile the substance of the information forming the bulk of the article. AI can cull in seconds information that might take hours for a human to cull.
Unfortunately, this pillar is where attorneys and other professionals can get themselves in trouble. If they use AI-sourced information without double checking the accuracy of that information or without confirming that the AI did not plagiarize already-existing content, they can damage their credibility, mislead readers and be staring down the barrel of potential legal liability.
Pillar No. 3: Writing the Content
Many people—myself included—would much prefer to write a draft of an article, blog, or client alert themselves, no matter how long it would take or how many late nights they’d need to do so. In their view, turning to AI to handle the drafting is an in-case-of-emergency-break-glass situation.
But for many attorneys, staring at a blank page when sitting down to write thought leadership content, even when armed with the substance they will be writing about, can be paralyzing. They just can’t get over the mental hump and begin writing marketing or business development content when all they can think about are the billable matters they feel they should attend to first.
For that reason, some attorneys may turn to AI to help them write. There are AI tools available that will create first drafts based on the text in a Word document or PDF a user uploads to it, like an outline or a list of bullet points. Depending on its features, the tool might supplement the uploaded text and concepts with internet research it conducts on its own.
But just like with the second pillar, an attorney might run into accuracy and plagiarism issues if they do not double check the substance of what the AI created, even when they provided the AI guidance as to the substance. Also, today, AI tools can struggle to write in a particular author’s style, even when they are told to mimic that style and are fed examples of previous works employing that style.
For that reason, when an attorney is willing to let AI take a first crack at a piece of content, they should expect to, or should ask a colleague to, review the draft for substance, style and readability. But if an attorney finds that an AI-drafted piece of content is only 65% of the way there and needs a fair number of revisions, that’s still 65% toward a completed piece of content that would have otherwise required the attorney’s nonbillable hours to get to.
Pillar No. 4: Editing and Polishing
Though we rarely think about them this way, spelling, grammar, and style tools like Grammarly, ProWritingAid, and the spell check and grammar tools built into our word processing programs are AI tools. These tools reliably make our written documents better and do not introduce errors without us letting them do so.
An attorney could handle the editing process themselves, ask a colleague to serve as an editor, or they could divide and conquer with AI’s assistance. Most attorneys employ the latter approach without giving it much thought. They write the first draft, look to the built-in AI to make suggestions, accept or reject those suggestions, and then often take another pass through the document to make sure it reads well and is error-free.
Find the Middle Ground, but the Human Should (for Now) Take the Lead
Attorneys and their colleagues can make their marketing and business development content creation process more efficient by integrating AI into it. However, while AI writing tools can offer significant time and cost savings, they cannot (yet) craft content that resonates with the content’s target audiences the way a human can.
For this reason, along with the possibility that these tools can create content that is incorrect or plagiarized, content created by AI with little or no human oversight or editing is not ready for primetime today. This is especially true for the attorney-written thought leadership that is a foundational aspect of most boutique plaintiffs’ firms and corporate defense law firms’ marketing and business development efforts.
That said, I hope you and your colleagues are willing to experiment with incorporating AI into your thought leadership content creation process. Just because you may be concerned about AI’s ability to research the substance of a piece of content (the second pillar of this framework) or “write” content (the third pillar), doesn’t mean you couldn’t explore how AI could help you come up with topics (the first pillar) or improve the grammar and readability of your content (the fourth pillar).
You just might find that you can use AI tools at some point within your thought leadership content creation process to more efficiently create content that resonates better with your target audiences than you would have been able to create on your own.
Wayne Pollock, a former Am Law 50 senior litigation associate, is the founder of the Law Firm Editorial Service, a thought leadership ghostwriting service for Big Law and boutique law firm partners. The service helps these partners grow their practice and prominence by collaborating with them to strategize and ethically ghostwrite book-of-business-building thought leadership marketing and business development content. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission from the August 29, 2023, edition of The Legal Intelligencer © 2023 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877–257–3382 or email@example.com.