'Need to Know' From My Clients' Perspective — Q&A With Top Thought Leader Monica Riva Talley

JD Supra Perspectives

[The latest in our ongoing series of discussions on successful thought leadership with recipients of JD Supra's Readers' Choice awards:]

Attorney Monica Riva Talley understands the value of writing. A former advertising executive, she started her career using words to articulate brands and convey meaning. Today, she’s a director (i.e. partner) at Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox where she heads up the firm’s trademark and brand protection practice and is the lead author and editor on the firm’s “MarkIt to Market” newsletter.

Talley aims to consistently deliver useful content relevant to the world of trademark law that her clients can use to better protect their brands, with thought leadership that is thought-provoking, educational, and ideally fun to read.

How did you get started?

I used to write ad copy and develop advertising concepts. So when I went to law school, I was delighted to find the area of trademark law because it really connected well with my background in advertising.

It’s important that my work connects with clients: I consider myself a part of their team...

I've always loved writing in a way that gets people's attention and is hopefully entertaining to read, but also educates the target audience or persuades them to agree with the point I am making – and that includes all the different types of writing you do as a lawyer, like briefs, arguments, letters, articles, etc.

So it’s probably not surprising that when we decided to combine the two things I really enjoy – trademark law and writing – I was very excited about being able to deliver thought leadership on all the fascinating and interesting trademark cases that were coming through, often involving well-known household brands, in an entertaining and thoughtful way.

We conceived of the newsletter as a vehicle for communicating useful practice tips within the context of the fun side of trademark law, in a format that our clients could easily access and read. And hopefully even entertain them.

What inspires you to write?

Well, there are lots of cases that come through every day and issues that come up in the course of our work: we have a big, robust trademark practice at our firm. So we're always dealing with different strategies for clients, like new rulemaking or challenges for clients doing business on a global scale.

...if I were a business owner or a brand owner, what would I need to know?

Subjects come at us from a wide variety of sources: something on the news, a big court decision, or a ruling that's come down from the trademark office. I’ve even had ideas come to me from something I’ve seen at the grocery store!

We flag these throughout the month, then build our list of articles around the top issues at the intersection of law and business that our clients need to know about.

I’ve always approached our thought leadership from the perspective of our clients: if I were a business owner or a brand owner, what would I need to know? What’s the key takeaway in layman’s terms? In business terms? How do I frame the issue in a way that’s relevant and fun to read?

What does success mean for you as a writer?

It’s important that my work connects with clients: I consider myself a part of their team and want to make sure that they have the benefit of all of my knowledge. For me, success is having my writing convey my passion for helping my clients grow and protect their brands.

I’d like to help make them as excited as I am about doing the right thing by their brands. I’d like to entertain them of course: our lives are filled with all kinds of things that are not fun. And I’d like to engage people in a way that helps them relate to the law and understand why it's something to embrace.

What’s the value for you of publishing content?

Publishing has definitely helped me connect with clients and create deeper relationships with them. I feel like my clients are my friends, I want to know them and maybe they want to know me, and writing is perhaps an easy way to do that. For me, what makes law worthwhile and engaging is connecting with people and solving their problems, and my thought leadership often helps develop those relationships.

It’s also helped establish me as a go-to source for reporters who need to understand developments and trademark law in a way that their readers can understand. I think it helps build your credentials all the way around.

I’d also put in this category the opportunities our thought leadership program has created for people on my team to get their name out there, to contribute to the conversation, and to learn about the law. We have even recruited people to my team because of it, people who were associates in other practices.

I love getting the analytics reports from JD Supra...

And finally, I get a lot of external feedback that’s very positive. It’s always very satisfying to learn how many people read our work, to be on the phone with a client or a prospect, or at a conference or talking to a colleague in another area, who says they saw something I wrote. And I love getting the analytics reports from JD Supra: “1,600 people read your article and here are three of the notable ones.” It is so interesting to read which topic or article resonated with a particular audience.

What were your expectations when you started and how have they changed?

Initially it seemed like a very daunting task to put out a newsletter every month that contained new content, was engaging and thought provoking, educating and entertaining, and brought value to readers.

...not every article has to be a 5,000 word legal treatise to be helpful

It's gotten so much easier as we've gone along, not only the writing itself, but also the understanding of the value your work provides: not every article has to be a 5,000 word legal treatise to be helpful. You can write a 500-word analysis of something new and noteworthy that gets the discussion started, and that is enough.

Do you have any advice for other lawyers who want to be thought leaders?

First, don’t force out a voice that is not you: if you're not somebody who gets a lot of joy out of the funny headline, don’t try to become that person when you write. Stick to what works for you and don’t try to fit into another mold.

Second, editing and overseeing the written work of others makes you a better writer. I am now able to make my own writing much more pithy and straightforward than ever before, very quickly, because I spend my days editing other people's writing.

...when you’ve written on a subject, it's very easy to use that material to put together a CLE webinar, turn it into a client presentation or update, or...

Third, when you write often, you're always keeping your eye out for new developments and fresh perspectives. You easily recognize the takeaways and other information that you should be sharing with clients. Writing is a very good way to train yourself to be on the lookout for that information and help your lawyering all around.

And finally, writing is always worth the effort. Beyond the benefits you get from learning – and sharing – new information that’s valuable to your practice and your clients, you can find multiple ways to reuse that content. For example, when you’ve written on a subject, it's very easy to use that material and research to put together a CLE webinar, turn it into a client presentation or update, or incorporate it into a broader client alert. It's never a ‘one and done’ situation.


Monica Riva Talley heads Sterne Kessler's Trademark & Brand Protection Practice. She holds the lead spot among the top ten authors in JD Supra's 2021 Readers' Choice awards trademarks category. Follow Monica's latest writings here.

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