Law Firm Blogging and Thought Leadership With Erin Hawk (Part 1)

Law firm bloggingJohn McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  I’m John McDougall and I’m here today with Erin Hawk, the LMA Chapter President in Ohio and the Labor and Employment Practice Development Manager at Porter, Wright, Morris and Arthur, LLP in Columbus, Ohio. Welcome, Erin.

Erin HawkErin Hawk:  Thank you. Good to be here.

 

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Today, we’re going to be talking about influence and thought leadership for law firms. How important is it that an attorney is an authority in their main practice area versus trying to be good at too many areas of law?

 

Erin HawkErin:  That’s an interesting question, John. I have spent the better part of the last 10 years working with attorneys in key practice areas to try to help them better focus their practice and distinguish themselves from their competition.

I do think it’s very important because we’re no longer in an environment where being a “Jack‑of‑all‑trades” is really going to be what’s going to distinguish you and your services from the competitor down the street.

It’s really what you know and how you can best demonstrate that for your clients. It’s really key. Even for attorneys in smaller practices or smaller firms, it’s very important.

John:  I agree, absolutely. Do people generally hire based on a law firm’s brand or individual attorneys? How much influence do attorneys of substance in their website bio pages have on hiring decisions?

Erin HawkErin:  In general, if I were to have to answer either one or the other, it would probably be most people tend to hire attorneys based on the individual attorney’s reputation and the relationships that they have and the core skill set of that attorney. However, I do think that a law firm brand is very key in helping to lay the right groundwork for that attorney to distinguish themselves and have a framework for their practice and a platform for their practice to build from.

Ideally, you’re looking at the big picture, both from the law firm’s branding standpoint, as well as working with individual attorneys on their individual brands and developing their individual niches and approaches with their own clients and how they’re responding to client needs.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  It’s a bit of both actually.

 

Erin HawkErin:  That’s what I think. Really, the law firm brand gives that attorney a platform and establishes their credibility to some extent. But I think it’s really the individual attorney’s reputation that’s going to make a potential client…it’s going to influence their decision.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  What about bio pages? Are they very powerful, moderately powerful? What kind of things should be on there to make them better?

 

Erin HawkErin:  They can be very powerful. I think a lot of firms don’t really leverage them as best as they can. From looking at statistics, it’s one of those parts of a website that’s most viewed by potential clients. It’s very important to really look at that content and how it’s putting that attorney’s best foot forward.

Sometimes attorneys tend to look at that and try to establish their credibility by putting as much content as possible there. That can sometimes dilute the core of the message. They are very important. Looking at that content is key, and really trying to consider how they’re demonstrating their value to their clients or potential clients is important.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Yeah, that’s good advice, for sure. When you first look at an attorney website, how do you know if they or their firm are credible and can be trusted? Is there a way to do that from looking at it on a website?

 

Erin HawkErin:  They say, “There’s never another chance to make a first impression.” We all make impressions based on how professional something comes across. You can make certain assumptions based on the visual impact of a website, or lack thereof, that will add to a person or an attorney’s credibility.

There are a lot of firms out there who certainly have very clear firm cultures. That’s apparent, based on their website and how they present themselves, and how they position themselves to their clients. But there are oftentimes a lot of firms who don’t necessarily take that opportunity to use the website as a platform to distinguish themselves.

We’ve all seen the tired sites with the columns and the gavels. To me, that sends a certain visual message about the type of firm or attorney that site is depicting. It takes away somehow, even though they’re trying to be very professional with their stayed approach, and not really pushing the boundaries on exposing too much of a unique perspective on their design.

But, to me, it just detracts from the potential impact, because it doesn’t really distinguish them. I don’t know, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t be trusted, to me, but it certainly gives you an impression of the type of person or type of attorney that is represented there.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  You want the person representing you to be, whether it’s forward thinking, or certainly at least, deep thinking, to be more than just average. If you come across as average, are you going to win our case?

 

Erin HawkErin:  Right, you want someone that has a fresh perspective. You want somebody that’s looking to solve problems and looking at things with a business perspective. There are certain communication styles and approaches that are apparent, just looking through websites, that you can almost have a sense for how it would be to interact with that attorney.

It’s wise for attorneys to consider the personality of their website, and how they can best leverage that to underline the trust that their trying to achieve with their clients.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Those are great thoughts, again. What are a few of the most important thought‑leadership activities for attorneys, such as blogging, public relations, being an author, bio pages, client alerts and newsletters, and/or social media?

 

Erin HawkErin:  All of those are great activities. It depends on the nature of their practice and the nature of their target market. Certainly, if they can be quoted in the media and be a source for some national press, I think that gives a lot of credibility to them and their perspective.

What I’ve found is that, a lot of times these days, the press are looking to the blogs, and the thought‑leadership coming out of law firms, to really target who they want to interview for those cases, or for those articles. They all go hand‑in‑hand in some ways.

Certainly, the third party adds a lot of credibility, but it’s really looking at…if somebody’s out there googling your name, what are they going to find about you and how you’re being positioned in the market?

Looking at that full spectrum of communication tools, they tend to go hand‑in‑hand, at least in terms of the blogging PR and the article authoring, as well as having opportunities to do webinars and presentations. The client alerts are tired these days, and kind of everybody wants things immediately. They’ve become a little bit less important.

We certainly use them, and as we send out e‑alerts on specific topics, but we primarily use our blogs these days to try to push content out, and so the older forms of communication are a little bit less effective. Social media, again, if you do it right, and you are involved and active on Twitter or other tools, it’s certainly very helpful.

It’s not to do it just to do it, because then it just kind of looks…if you’re out there and you’re not using it well, sometimes it can have a negative impact.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  I agree. A couple of points in there I wanted to highlight. I like what you said about public relations, and I would agree with that. I was at the National Publicity Summit in New York City, last November. You pay basically $6,000 and you can go and meet a hundred journalists in three days, so you meet somewhere around 30 a day.

It’s pretty amazing. It’s great if you’re an author. I have a book on web marketing, so I went. I went up to “Good Morning America,” “Fox News,” and radio shows and magazines. You say, “Here’s my book and these are some story ideas.” Before the publicity summit started they had the media, each day about 30 media would go up in front of microphones, they each had their own mike in front of the crowd of a hundred people that had paid to go to this program.

They were talking about what’s important and how you can get more attention, and they said they much more likely to consider someone for a story if they’re strong blogging, using social, if they have YouTube videos where they can see them talking on video, what they’d be like to interview if it’s for TV. I found that amazing what level the journalists would say expressly that they like it if you…they need to pick people that are going to be worthy of writing a story with them or being interviewed on the radio or TV.

If not, they’re going to have a dull story. Your point was a good one that I’m a firm believer in.

If a law firm is on the fence, “We don’t really want to blog and get involved in all this,” well, one question to ask might be, do you want media attention? Because that one little thing alone might be pretty powerful.

Erin HawkErin:  We’ve seen with our blogs and with other firms that have really successful blogs that even a small firm can have great success if they have attorneys who are invested in blogging and getting some really great media attention around some key topics that otherwise may not have come their way.

I do think it’s looking at the complete package and all the benefits that come from establishing yourself as a thought leader in certain key areas and by writing content. It’s going to snowball into these other benefits based on our experience.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Yeah, I agree. The last thing, very briefly. The client alerts and newsletters. I am not as familiar with that compared to blogging for attorneys, et cetera. Can you just elaborate a little bit more? For example, client alerts. How does that work compared to blogging?

Erin HawkErin:  It’s how we used to approach that back in the olden days before blogs. That was really how we communicated updates to our clients, was sending out either paper or email alerts on particular updates or important developments, or putting it into a monthly or periodic newsletter that was mailed out. Then we moved to doing it via email.

What we found is, while there are certain key areas where perhaps we’re not really blogging, where we would do an alert that’s really a very targeted piece going out to a very targeted mailing list…we do have a reason to still do alerts on occasion. But in most cases, a lot of the attorneys are writing so much more regularly and there’s so much more content going out on our blogs that we are really trying to target our key messages out to the readers that we’ve developed in those key areas, too.

Newsletters. Everybody’s overwhelmed with information right now. Everybody’s so used to getting updates and information so quickly when something important is out there and developing that’s going to impact their business, the old newsletter that is being sent out on a monthly basis has a different type of content in it.

It’s just gotten harder for people to really have the time to devote to reading those types of publications. Not that there may not be a reason for them in certain instances, but in our case, we’ve really moved toward investing our time and resources in our blogs and our blog content, because we feel it’s important to get out there in front of the issues and be one of the first to communicate with clients and potential clients around a topic.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  You’re killing two birds with one stone, right? Instead of sending it only to an individual client or a list of clients, if it’s on the blog it’s public. But you can also send that link in an email, right?

 

Erin HawkErin:  Right.

 

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  If you want to send it directly to someone you can still do that, but why not also make it public?

 

Erin HawkErin:  We encourage that. We encourage our attorneys when an issue comes out and there’s a blog posted to push that content out to particular clients who that is going to be particularly relevant to, or to share that content via social media or LinkedIn or other resources so that we can try to broaden the awareness of our thought leadership content that we’re developing on a regular basis.

It does seem to have more legs than a newsletter that typically goes out via snail mail and make it brought around to people but is of limited value. It also lends itself to more of a conversation with clients and to really having the ability to have more of a two‑way communication tool rather than us just pushing content.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Meaning you get blog comments or meaning they respond in an email or somehow else?

 

Erin HawkErin:  I think both. With a blog, you can get feedback directly from the blog through comments or other sources. As we just discussed, if I’m an attorney sending out a particular blog post to key clients, it typically would generate an email back since it was with a personal note.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  It helps it take it to a business development level and makes it helpful in a lot of ways.

If a law firm comes up frequently in natural search results versus ads, does that say something small maybe about their authority? How important is Google in general to attorneys?

Erin HawkErin:  Google is extremely important, because as we’re all competing for that top real estate in the Google search, the more content out there that is true content and not ads, back to our point about talking about that third party credibility, it feels more true and rings more true with people and really adds to your credibility by coming to that listing honestly, so to speak, based on the content that you’re generating.

There are different mechanisms within Google that feed your status in that search and how you can come up higher in the search based on content. But with blog content and other content where you’re providing resources and perhaps linking with other blogs and connecting with other people, all that certainly helps with that algorithm and making you more visible.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Yeah, certainly. Are you aware of Google and its authorship program and various social media sites like Klout.com and how they’ve patented algorithms to determine if someone is a trusted author and influential person?

 

Erin HawkErin:  Honestly, I’m aware of it, but I don’t know if I know the details behind it. It’s certainly something that we’re all having to become more and more aware of and what those algorithms are and how to impact what your ability to become more visible, but I don’t know that I could speak to it specifically.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Have you seen…how you see faces show up in the Google search results? That’s driven by Google+, so if you have a Google+ personal profile, then Google will show your face potentially with your blog posts or different places you’re writing.

Our point with that question is more around…because there are a lot of people sort of faking it to get in the search results, it’s good for attorneys to be aware that, to some degree, they should be paying attention to the fact that so many people are gaming it with Internet marketing. That it’s important to have a strong presence, have an authentic writing presence, have social media that builds your clout score, which is somewhat important.

But all of those things are just sort of an interesting move towards how do we make the Web and the search results more authentic and less a bunch of fake personas out there?

Erin HawkErin:  We are trying to build our Google+ platform for those very reasons, because as we look at targeted content and we look at how we can better present our thought leaders within the firm or cross a number of areas that may or may not fall within our blog content kind of categories, how we can leverage Google+ for that too.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  It’s good to hear you’re doing that, for sure. That’s the end of the first part. We’re going to have a real quick musical interlude and then we’re going to go into part two.

 

Erin HawkErin:  Great.

 

About John McDougall

John is the CEO of McDougall Interactive, publisher of The Legal Marketing Review and an authority on internet marketing for law firms. His team of over a dozen people helps law firms understand how to create a comprehensive internet marketing strategy and how to use of SEO, Paid Search and Social Media to generate more, and better, leads.

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