How bylined articles can fit into your firm’s marketing and business development efforts
Bylined articles give lawyers a platform to demonstrate their knowledge
to their target audiences. So why aren’t you writing more of them?
“You’re joking, right?” the franchise lawyer asked me.
“Not at all,” I said.
“So instead of convincing an editor or reporter from [a franchise industry trade publication] to write about the legal issues to consider when buying a franchise as the U.S. economy reopens post-COVID-19, we can just write an article about those issues ourselves and they’ll publish it?” the lawyer asked incredulously.
“You’ve got it,” I replied. “Your article cannot be overtly promotional. But if it is written well and provides valuable insights, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t accepted for publication.”
“How much will this cost us?” the lawyer asked.
“Not a dime,” I said.
“Get out of here,” he replied. “Why wouldn’t the publication ask us to pay? Isn’t this basically an ad?”
“It is not an ad,” I said. “That’s why you and other contributors do not have to pay. You are providing the publication informative, sophisticated and non-salesy editorial content that is obviously cheaper for the publication to publish than hiring writers to write. Plus, you and your fellow contributors have deeper knowledge of these legal issues than editors or reporters from the franchise industry trade publication will ever have.”
“Are there opportunities to submit these kinds of articles beyond the franchise industry trade publication?” the lawyer asked.
“Absolutely,” I replied. “Virtually every industry is served by multiple publications. Most of these industry trade publications are constantly on the lookout for fresh, non-promotional content that will educate their readers.
So there’s a good chance that other franchise industry publications would be interested in articles about relevant legal issues written by you in nonlegalese. You might also want to consider trade publications that serve industries where franchisees operate, such as the restaurant industry. Of course, legal industry trade publications like your local ALM publication would be another great place for you to publish an article.”
“How exactly do I go about securing a publishing opportunity with an industry trade publication?” the lawyer inquired.
“Tell your law firm’s marketing or business development folks you are interested in writing an article for an industry trade publication. They’ll be thrilled and will probably reach out to those publications to determine if there are opportunities for you to contribute, as well as the word limits you’ll be up against. If you don’t have a marketing or business development team to do this for you, you can easily do it yourself.”
“OK, this all sounds great but these articles won’t fly with the Wall Street Journal or New York Times, or even [the lawyer’s hometown daily newspaper], right?” the lawyer asked, convinced he had backed me into a corner.
“Yes and no,” I replied, sensing what he tried to do and smiling as I narrowly escaped that corner. “Those publications are not going to run a 1,000- to 1,500-word article about buying a franchise unless you buy an advertorial. But they might run a 700-ish-word op-ed from you about a franchise-related issue in the news if your commentary adds to the public discourse regarding that issue.”
“How common is this practice of lawyers writing articles?” the lawyer asked, continuing the deposition.
“The practice used to be more popular with lawyers before blogs and email newsletters became in vogue,” I told him. “Don’t get me wrong, blog posts and email newsletters are vital components of a law firm’s marketing and business development efforts. But oftentimes, the people reading those blog posts and email newsletters already know the lawyers and law firms publishing them. When lawyers craft these bylined articles and third-party publications publish them, those lawyers are getting their knowledge and insights in front of people who may have never heard of them before — but could be in need of their services someday soon. These days, it seems fewer lawyers are contributing articles to publications that accept them. That means there are many opportunities for other lawyers to contribute articles.”
“Do these articles require more effort in their research and writing than blog posts?” he asked.
“A bit, but certainly not to the point of being prohibitive,” I said, anticipating a “this sounds like a lot of work” defense. “Bylined articles typically have word limits ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 words, but most publications do not require citations or footnotes. While many blog posts are shorter than 1,000 to 2,000 words, I’ve read my fair share of ones that fall squarely in that range.”
“So what’s the downside?” the lawyer asked, in a last-gasp effort to find a weakness in this marketing and business development tactic. “There’s got to be a downside here to these articles.”
“The only downside, if you could call it that, is the time involved in securing opportunities at publications to contribute articles and then actually writing the articles,” I replied. “But the good news is that either or both of those tasks can be delegated or outsourced.”
“Sounds like something we should consider doing more often,” the lawyer said, to as much his surprise as mine. “I’ll see what my colleagues think and whether they’re interested in going down this road more often than we have.”
* * *
I’ve had a number of conversations like this the past few months with lawyers with different practices at different-sized law firms who wanted a venue to strategically showcase their knowledge (in written form) beyond their firms’ “owned” media channels like their websites, blogs and social media channels.
These conversations often begin with the lawyer thinking I am pulling their leg about contributing articles to publications that will publish them at no cost to the lawyer or their firm. The conversations often end with us brainstorming how these articles can help the lawyer demonstrate their knowledge of their practice area to a discrete target audience full of potential clients and referral sources.
There was the asbestos lawyer who wanted to reach workers’ compensation lawyers who are traditionally great referral sources for him.
There was the construction lawyer who wanted to reach potential clients like developers and contractors.
There was the managing partner of a midsized personal injury firm who wanted to communicate to his local legal community, particularly current and potential referral sources and potential employees, that his firm had weathered the COVID-19 storm and remained a potent force in that community.
The asbestos lawyer went on to publish an article in his local daily legal newspaper about a state Supreme Court decision that allowed workers suffering from mesothelioma to sidestep his state’s workers’ compensation laws and bring a negligence cause of action against their employers.
The construction lawyer went on to publish an article in a construction industry publication about proposed changes to her state’s “Right to Repair” law.
And the personal injury firm managing partner went on to publish an article in his local daily legal newspaper about the lessons learned leading a law firm through COVID-19.
Bylined articles are great marketing and business development tools beyond allowing you and your colleagues to show off legal knowledge and insights to target audiences through a third-party publication. They are also easy to repurpose. You and your firm can easily redistribute or republish the articles on your firm’s website, blog, email newsletter and social media accounts.
Bylined articles are also great networking tools. You can ask current or potential clients or referral sources to co-author an article with you. Sure, you’ll almost certainly do the heavy lifting, but you’ll begin or continue building relationships with your co-authors in a unique and meaningful way.
Depending on the size of your firm and its practice areas, you and your marketing and business development colleagues could take a strategic, long-term approach to bylined articles. Your firm could develop an editorial calendar that lists opportunities throughout the year for you and your colleagues to write and publish bylined articles in various target publications.
Quite simply, bylined articles provide a unique platform upon which you and your colleagues can show (not tell) potential clients and referral sources how knowledgeable you all are about the areas of law you practice and the industries you serve. Once you and your colleagues solve the “I’m too busy” problem that plagues lawyers’ efforts to market themselves, bylined articles can be key components of your law firm’s strategic marketing and business development efforts, no matter its size or practice areas.
Wayne Pollock, a former Am Law 50 senior litigation associate, is the founder of Copo Strategies, a legal services and communications firm, and the Law Firm Editorial Service, a content strategy and writing service for lawyers and their law firms. The Law Firm Editorial Service collaborates with today’s and tomorrow’s rainmaking lawyers to ethically craft knowledge-conveying, book-of-business-building marketing and business development content. Contact him at email@example.com or 215–454–2180.
Reprinted with permission from the May 11, 2021, edition of The Legal Intelligencer © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877–257–3382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.