The Write Stuff: How One Law Firm Motivates Its Attorneys to Write for Business Development

by JD Supra Perspectives
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[The latest in our series of inside perspectives by marketing, communications, and business development professionals doing excellent work at law firms today, with a perspective on creating a culture of thought leadership:]

As legal marketers, the very basis of everything we do involves getting attorneys to do things they absolutely do not want to do, nor were they trained to do. I am generalizing of course, and there are many exceptions, but any legal marketer will attest to these same challenges to varying degree.

As the first marketing and business development professional at my law firm, it took a while to “turn the ship” toward the ways of firm-wide business development. Ten years later and with much success, we still have challenges, especially in a marketplace that keeps changing, but we are pushing forward.

One of my biggest obstacles has been convincing the attorneys to write.

Now keep in mind that my law firm is a litigation firm, so the attorneys do write all of the time—they write briefs and motions. So when Marketing darkens their doorway asking for articles, there may not be a ton of enthusiasm, and I get it. However, I still have to do my job, and a big part of that is getting attorneys to do things above and beyond their "regular" job. 

Use the carrot or the stick?

Explaining the business development benefits of thought leadership has been a big part of the effort. Circling back to my first few years at the firm, I initially needed articles to populate the website. Not having much luck, I sought the help of our managing partner, and we discussed ways to help motivate writers. We came up with a solution, discussed it with the rest of the Executive Committee, and the “motivation vehicle of choice” was approved.

Each firm associate is required to provide at least one article for business development purposes each year.

Thus, in 2011, the Associate Writing Requirements were born. Admittedly, they were somewhat hardcore. Each firm associate is required to provide at least one article for business development purposes each year. Failure to do so automatically disqualifies them for bonus consideration. I sent the email out and then presented the policy at an associates meeting, as well as the importance of the role writing plays in building their resumes.

Needless to say, I was about as popular as the plague for a long while.

Every January, I would send out a list of the associates and their individual deadlines. I staggered the deadlines so that we could post articles each month. I would ensure those who had early deadlines in February or March in one year received September or October deadlines the following year.

If trials or case deadlines came up, I was very flexible on adjusting those deadlines, and the attorneys were most appreciative. I had to be fair and, well, it helped with my personal PR among the associates.

How the firm's process works

The associates must run the topic by their supervising partner and me before they draft it.

I walk them through a series of questions (which change, depending on the focus) to vet the topic, including:

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Why would a client or potential client care about this?
  • Is there an impact to future cases?
  • Is this a growing trend?
  • Is it Florida only or does it have national significance?

The supervising partner reviews the draft before I can post it or submit to a publication. Partner approval takes care of quality assurance and safeguards against possible substantive misapplication of the law. I am happy to report that we are in our sixth year of the program, and we have enjoyed 100% compliance.

Seems harsh? Maybe. But you do what you have to do. In all fairness, we have many associates, just like at any other firm, who are self-motivated and do not need requirements. They get business development and understand the role writing plays. Others just needed a little bit more encouragement.

What about the partners?

The same requirements certainly would not work on partners, so the challenge remained … until JD Supra came along.

We subscribed to another news aggregator for a few years, but after talking with JD Supra and comparing the two programs, we determined that JD Supra was a better fit for our firm's target audience. Within the first six months of our subscription, we have already seen an increase in articles … from partners.

Now, there is more to this: 

Late last year, we created formal Practice Marketing Teams (PMTs) in seven core areas of our practice. Each PMT meets monthly and is tasked with developing its own business development strategy, execution and metrics tracking.  

When one of my employment attorneys sees that her article is being read by in-house counsel and HR executives of major companies ... it certainly motivates her to continue writing.

The PMTs have been great incubators for article topics and offer accountability for getting the articles drafted. This, coupled with the viewer analytics provided by JD Supra, has really helped engage the attorneys. I dare say they are often excited about getting their articles out there.

When one of my employment attorneys sees that her article is being read by in-house counsel and HR executives of major companies, and that it is being shared by viewers on social media, it certainly motivates her to continue writing. And the associates are seeing the benefits as well. JD Supra has become part of the everyday vocabulary in our business development meetings.

Litigation is a tough practice to market as it is always tagged as one of the “highest legal spends” among corporations. Thought leadership is key to raising the firm’s profile, particularly when a litigation firm is competing against BigLaw firms in several areas.

A rising tide floats all boats

As a solo marketer, I have to pick my battles strategically.  Fortunately, firm leadership has been very supportive, and business development is becoming engrained into our firm culture more and more each year. My next project—roll out a CRM.

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[Marisa Gonzalez Eubanks is Director of Marketing and Business Development at law firm Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell.]

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