John McDougall: Hi, I’m John McDougall, and I’m here today with John Grimley of Asia Law Portal. He’s a consultant to law firms on international business development. We’re going to be talking about today about web compliance and content marketing for international law firms. John, do you feel at risk for breaking Bar rules when you’re developing content for international law firm websites, such as blog posts or social media updates?
John Grimley: In everything I do in a profession that is governed by strict Bar regulations, particularly if you’re working in an international context, you always have to be concerned about this. That’s why whenever I do help clients, irrespective of whatever jurisdiction they’re in, we have a discussion about what is and what isn’t permissible pursuant to local Bar regulations, and we act in complete accordance with that. I think one of the countries that’s covered by Asian Law portal is India. India is in the process of more greatly expanding the ability for its lawyers to engage in social media than they have been in the past.
At the moment, and the Bar regulations at the moment are being studied. At the moment, India, lawyers are not permitted to have fully active social media engagement with active websites and blogging.
Some have been using third party vendors to do that at the larger firms but that’s in growth. I do try to focus on that. I do talk to my clients honestly on what is and isn’t permissible.
John M: Where do you find the official info about what you can and can’t say in terms of compliance for online marketing? Is it different than what you’d find in the US?
John G: It tends to always be the same. It’s the local, regional, national bar associations which are promulgated rules, directives, and other guidance that is relevant to social media.
What oftentimes you find too, which is very refreshing is that many jurisdictions around the international jurisdictions around the world are quite open to social media engagement by lawyers. It’s fun when you see that.
Malaysia is a country that you see significant social media engagement by lawyers, for example. Hong Kong, Japan, not as much by lawyers but there’s a real personal affinity for social media engagement by lawyers in Japan. It’s certainly one country that I’d love to cultivate more in terms of lawyer engagement, as a profession.
John M: Are they attorneys in the US versus these other countries one more engaged in social than others? I know a lot of attorneys here are pretty timid about social?
John G: I would say the US, in terms of the world, is probably pretty close to one of the leading nations using a significant amount of social media engagement among European lawyers, among lawyers in Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America.
I think among lawyers, Americans isn’t any less active than most countries you come across.
John M: Are there any types of content you avoid? Any types that you focus on? For example, not giving legal advice.
John G: That’s a great question. I really tend to help clients focus on what I believe and what is probably the most important things to a prospective client’s business given the laws are becoming more competitive whether or not you’re in a major international law firm or you’re in a small firm.
What is important to the client is the most important thing for lawyers to be talking about on social media. If you follow the Twitter feed of some of the major global law firms, they tend to talk about issues related to foreign direct investment.
Foreign direct investment, which is very important to clients, whether large or small, it has a direct impact on a law firm’s ability to grow its practice, not just internationally but domestically. It does apply to small law firms.
Small law firms have to try to remain competitive by getting on social by becoming actively engaged in social. They need to do it in a manner that’s going to be effective.
It’s effective if they’re talking about things the client has an interest in or they’re ideal potential referral sources have an interest in communicating to a client.
John M: Is that different if it’s, for example, a personal injury lawyer, a mass tort, a mesothelioma, or more consumer stuff versus the big health care, employment, IP lawyers. All the more corporation lawyers looking for make, get the interest of a general counsel, et cetera?
John G: Yeah, there’s no question about it. My client based tends to be lawyers, business‑focused lawyers, whether they’re law international law firms or solo practitioners, or anything in between.
They tend to be focused on capital markets practices, energy practices, intellectual property. All of the practices that go around helping businesses in local or international jurisdictions.
I don’t tend to focus on practices like some of the ones you just enumerated. I believe probably for them, it would be different.
John M: Do law firms outside the USA do more or less content marketing?
John G: I say they do less which is one of the reasons why I’m trying to forge ahead particularly in the Asia‑Pacific market because statistics that have been published indicate in all likelihood the Asian‑Pacific legal market is going to double in size between now and 2017.
I think it will significantly grow after that. Content marketing is not really significantly utilized in that market by lawyers, except in, frankly, rare cases.
What you do also have is a situation in the Asian‑Pacific region where more and more most consumers of information and that will include C‑suite executives are getting their news and information from Internet mobile devices.
John M: It’s a very big change. People outside the US, are they forced to, if they’re doing content marketing to do it in multiple languages?
John G: Some do in multiple languages. What’s very lucky, in this case for me, oftentimes English is commonly used among people all around the world, first of all.
In many countries, in Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, you’ll find that English is a dual working language along with the local languages which is very helpful.
You do see law firms that will utilize multiple languages on their website or on their blog in order to attract and retain clients in multiple jurisdictions. It’s really fascinating to see that when you do see it.
John M: Yeah, I would think it would be hard though, as well. If you go to the Philippines, or to Japan, or different places. There’s certainly English is spoken reasonably well but it’s another thing to speak conversationally and write a blog post without a lot of typos or grammar issues.
That must be a challenge for international law firms. I would think that the ones that do that well because, like you said, maybe they’re a little behind the US in general.
The ones that get out ahead of that curve and do a good job with hiring people to clean up the English, so it’s not only decent but is reasonably tight. I would think they would have a huge leg up.
John G: There’s no doubt. If you juxtapose, let’s say, Japan with, let’s say, Indonesia or Malaysia, you’ve got a significant amount of English language prevalence in Southeast Asia, whereas in Japan, there’s no question that the business language is Japanese.
However, those Japanese lawyers, even in a country where the predominant business language is clearly Japanese, business lawyers who have a cross‑border focus of any kind, most certainly always speak English because English really is the predominant language of international commerce.
It is helpful to have the ability to really hone content in English to attract an audience. If your law firm, in a place like Japan, being able to articulate yourself online in blog posts in English to an audience around the world that is interested in the third largest economy in the world, is extraordinarily valuable.
John M: Yeah, and I think what you’re saying also is we have to get our act together here in the states and open ourselves up to different countries, as well and do a better job having multiple languages with unique content and for different cultures.
A little surprise, you’re saying even small firms. We’ve done Spanish for mesothelioma law firms, things like that, but it sounds like you’re saying even opening yourself up, even as a small firm, to Asia.
John G: Yeah, John, there’s no question about it. If you look at the numbers, global trade is increasing significantly year‑on‑year. Global trade between, for example, the European Union and the United States increases 10‑fold every decade and has done for the last couple of decades.
But you’re seeing significant inbound foreign direct investment in the United States from places like China which is increasing all the time. What that means is that not just the global international law firms are impacted by this, but local law firms, small law firms, this is important to them too.
It’s not just because more business is coming from overseas, but because in a competitive legal landscape, when you have more business coming from overseas, you can only win if you increase your international exposure via social media, because it’s not a particularly expensive medium. And you’re also diversifying the income stream into your law practice where it’s not just a domestic income stream.
You’re also looking at international business, which for many American law firms, will be a completely new income stream. It’s something if they’re not paying attention to it they really ought to, creating your blog around international audiences, writing for international audiences, writing for that potential client base, using multiple languages if you want to get very detailed. It’s all a very good thing to do.
Social media is an incredible leveler. It’s a global leveler. It allows even the small law firm to compete on a global basis with large global international law firms if you choose to do so.
John M: That’s fascinating. I think like when I travel to different countries, and we have some people that do some work for us in India and the Philippines, we always say when we start an email, “Namaste,” for India, hello in Hindi, and then “Kumusta,” which is hello in Tagalog or Filipino language.
This is a little off the cuff, do you know how to say lawyer in Japanese for example?
John G: I do. A lawyer in Japanese is a bengoshi.
John M: A bangoshi or a bengoshi?
John G: Bengoshi.
John M: Bengoshi.
John G: Yeah.
John M: OK, interesting.
John G: I love to learn foreign languages. Even if it’s a country I’ve never been to before. It’s one of the things that I think is exciting about building an international practice. Beyond the financial rewards of it is the ability to interact with people from different cultures from all around the world. It is really interesting and really enjoyable.
That’s another thing that it adds to a lawyer’s practice is you would just add a really incredibly enjoyable personal aspect to your practice that you might not have had otherwise, were you not trying to focus on international markets. I love the exposure to other countries and other cultures and learning languages. It’s great.
John M: I think that’s a great point. What are some steps? For example, could you make a page for, even if it’s one page for Spanish or Japanese speaking people?
Getting started as a small law firm say or mid‑sized firm, if you don’t have your firm site in multiple languages, is it a good idea to start with maybe even a page just to show, like when you learn just hello in another language.
It goes so far to break down the cultural barrier and they see you’re trying, and instantly they love you for at least poorly saying hello in their language. I assume maybe like a one‑page in each language at least shows you’re trying. Would you say that might be a good way to start?
John G: Yeah, it does. I think that is have something on one of your greetings pages that is in a language of a country you’re trying to focus on is essential. But, what is most essential is to create an ability to identify how you can help companies and clients from those countries by blogging about issues, and opportunities, and dangers that are of particular importance to them in your home country.
America lawyers are so lucky. They sit atop an economy that is the largest economy in the world, and is the recipient largest amount of foreign direct investment in the world, which is growing all the time.
For American lawyers the choice is simple in a competitive legal landscape. If you want to distinguish yourself in this market, one of the tools in which could do that is to focus on ideal potential overseas markets, which are a significant amount of foreign direct investment in the United States, and focus on those markets.
Sure, beginning with, “Hello,” beginning with a simple greeting in a language is one thing, but it’s vital to blog in English, blog in your own native language about the opportunities and dangers in your marketplace, so as to appraise foreign companies and form potential referral sources about these opportunities that exist.
Then, you’re communicating to a foreign audience from your blog 24/7, all around the clock, in their low local time. You don’t have to worry about time zones when you’re blogging. People are going to read you all the time.
That’s another reason to get online, because of the simple scale of the world and the different time zones, the ability to do business overseas is really important for lawyers. If they use blogs, they’re going to be able to do it. If they don’t they’re not. It’s going to be very tough.
Or if they do it, they’re going to have to do it the old‑fashioned way. Which is get in an airplane, which is how some rainmakers did it, and travel to foreign jurisdictions, all the time, trying to generate business, which, in a modern, interconnected world, I don’t know that that’s going to matter that much in the next 20 to 30 years.
John M: Right. Those are great points. Any final thoughts, we have just about two minutes left, on maybe tips for people being more internationally minded?
John G: If I were a lawyer in a small practice or a medium‑sized business, particularly a medium‑sized firm that is facing challenges, get online, blog. Focus on not just your domestic market. Focus on the international market. Diversify your revenue stream so it’s not just domestic, it’s also international.
Be as rarified and specific in terms of your specialization as you can be. Distinguish yourself in the market. To do that you’ve got to do some of the things [inaudible 0:17:42] that we’ve talked about. If you do that you’re not going to be as worried about competing in the future as you are now.
John M: Those are great points. I really want to thank you today for such great insights and definitely look forward to talking to you…
John G: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
John M: Sounds good. Talk to you soon.
John G: All right, John, all the best.
John G: See you.
John M: Bye bye.
John G: Bye.