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

Claire Razzolini, a business immigration partner at Gibney Anthony & Flaherty, is fundamentally an introvert, and writing allows her to express herself and what she knows thoughtfully and deliberately in a very controlled kind of manner.

And it really sharpens her thinking. Like her idol Bob Dylan, who sings “I’ll know my song well before I start singing,” Claire aspires to know her subject well before she starts giving advice. She does that by writing about immigration law. Writing helps to deepen her understanding of rapidly evolving issues, and reading provides insights into the broader industry impact. For her, the two go together: it’s impossible to be a good writer without being a good reader.

Why do you write?

Writing helps me practice law more effectively because it enhances my understanding of the subject area. As part of my daily practice, I write about immigration developments – informally to support members of my firm and formally to provide critical information to my clients. I've always done that, but in the last few years immigration issues have just exploded which made it more and more important to figure out what was important, how it was going to impact clients, and get that information out there.

...I was surprised to see how widely the posts were read and who the readers were.

I think a lot of people were experiencing significant anxiety about the lack of predictability in immigration, and I felt it important to help quell that apprehension and give people some tools to navigate this landscape in a very tumultuous time. The written word was a good way to help people understand the developments and tackle the problems rather than just being inundated with information.

How do you decide what to write about?

In the last few years it was more of a case of the topics picking me!

Developments coming from the government and from the administration really drove what we were writing about. In some respects that was a bit more reactive than we like to be, but we tried to look into how it was all going to play out: is an issue going to be litigated? Do we think that we are going to have to deal with this down the road?

...my work is successful if it provides intelligent, actionable information that helps people strategize and solve problems.

We don’t want to always write about things that have already happened, but our clients were forced to deal with the issues as they happened, and we wanted to help them navigate what was a very unpredictable time. So we’d try to use the developments as a launching point to help them better understand and plan for this lack of predictability.

We never expected business immigration to be prioritized in the way that it was, where there were significant changes to rules and policies – on visa restrictions, international travel, public health, and other issues – in such a short period of time, many of them through executive orders that seemed to drop on Friday at 5:00 pm. Things are changing quickly under the new administration, too, and our clients still need information and guidance on how to respond.

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

To tell the truth, my expectations were really not high: I almost had to be persuaded to make my writing more public than internally facing. I expected that people were already inundated with information, and that I would not have many readers outside my own firm.

...it’s helped demystify business development and networking, and grow my practice by writing passionately on things I care about

I certainly understood it was important to write – our firm contributes to the conversation in the immigration space – but frankly, I was surprised to see how widely the posts were read and who the readers were. That of course inspires you to do more of it.

It's been much more successful than I would have guessed. And it’s helped me demystify business development and networking, and grow my practice by writing passionately on the things I care about. I wasn’t expecting it to happen like that.

How has your writing supported your business growth?

At a fundamental level, it's raising my profile and the profile of our firm. Writing and publishing really put us out there and led to brand recognition, to our name being associated with this area of law.

I was always writing, but I wasn't pushing out the content. JD Supra made that part easy...

That in turn has led to speaking opportunities, to connections with other subject matter experts, to invitations to join bar association committees, and to opportunities with clients and prospective clients, for example when someone reads an article I wrote, connects with me on LinkedIn, then starts a conversation that leads to a business relationship.

JD Supra has played the central role in this – I was always writing, but I wasn't pushing out the content. JD Supra made that part easy: I produce the content and it’s automatically disseminated.

The exposure is organic: once an article is out there you see that people are reading it and care about it. That is energizing in its own way, but it leads to conversations which lead to relationships which sometimes turn into client relationships. JD Supra makes the connections, it’s a bridge to other people who are interested in and impacted by the same things as me.

How do you measure the success of your written work?

For me, my work is successful if it provides intelligent, actionable information that helps people strategize and solve problems.

One measure of that is an engaged and interested audience: if an existing client references something I've written and that becomes the jumping off point for tackling an issue or a problem, or if one of my colleagues within the firm comes to me and says that an article is super helpful, that’s a success to me.

I'm not trying to write marketing content ... I'm trying to convey information that’s important to my clients...

And, of course, when I write something that sparks a new relationship or a conversation or even a connection with another practitioner, that's success because I've just expanded the room to reach more people and talk about something that's important to both of us.

Why do you think you’re so successful at connecting with readers?

I try to write incisively and in a direct voice. I’d like to think that my writing reflects the fact that I really care about what I do and that I'm really interested in what I do.

I never want to get too comfortable or make assumptions about my readers. The analytics help me keep an eye on this...

I'm not trying to write marketing content, instead, I'm trying to convey information that’s important to my clients accurately and precisely. My goal is that readers hear a reliable voice in my writing that they can trust.

How do you use the readership reports and data you get from JD Supra?

They help me understand my audience. I like the automatic alerts that tell me who and what industries are reading my work, particularly because they tell me what other content those people are reading – sometimes I get a little blindsided by what I think is newsworthy or interesting – because it helps me understand the full scope of issues that concern my readers.

I try very hard to approach my topics from the perspective of what exactly does the reader need to know?

Often I’ll discover new topics this way, things that are quite compelling to me that I want to write about. It can spark my imagination and make me think outside my comfort zone. I never want to get too comfortable or make assumptions about my readers. The analytics help me keep an eye on this, and subsequently really expand the room in terms of the audience that I’m reaching.

What advice do you have for lawyers who aspire to become thought leaders?

Read and write about what you care about. It's that simple. In doing that, you will connect with others who care about the same things and you can build working relationships from there. If you care about an area, just talk to people and write to them about it. Everything will flow from there.

I try very hard to approach my topics from the perspective of what exactly does the reader need to know? There are things I’m interested in, but what the reader wants and needs to know might be a lot more narrow than that.

I’d also say don’t write like a lawyer. That’s really, really hard for us lawyers to let go. One of the most beautifully written Supreme Court opinions, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, was written by Justice Robert Jackson who, as it turns out, didn't hold a law degree. I've often speculated that he was a beautiful writer precisely because he didn't hold a law degree. His opinion is utterly lacking in legalese and astonishingly eloquent and effective. I try to keep that in mind, and I think it will serve all authors well if they can let go a little bit.

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With two decades of experience advising in the area of U.S. Immigration and Nationality law, Claire Razzolini represents established global companies in the biotechnology, healthcare and pharmaceutical, digital media and entertainment, financial services and consulting, information technology and telecommunications industries. She holds the lead spot among the top ten authors in JD Supra's 2021 Readers' Choice awards Immigration category. Follow her writing here.

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