Content Marketing and Thought Leadership for Law Firms with Christopher Newman of Cooley LLP (Part 1)

Expert on one legal area

Expert on one legal areaJohn McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Hi, I’m John McDougall. I’m here today with Christopher Newman, LMA Chapter President for New England and Senior Vice President Client Development at Cooley LLP in Boston. Welcome, Chris.

Christopher NewmanChristopher Newman:  Thanks, John. Thanks for having me tonight.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Yeah, sounds good. I’m looking forward to chatting and talking about influence and thought leadership for law firms and their websites. 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?

Christopher NewmanChristopher:  I think in my experience, I found that usually when the attorneys have a niche specialty or really a focus for their practice area, it’s a bit easy for them to differentiate themselves within the marketplace.

One of the things that we’ve seen over the last probably 10 years or so is really the saturation of having almost too many lawyers in the marketplace, and having those opportunities to really clear cut, define yourself and how your services match up to other folks.

Where we’ve seen the most traction, a lot of times, is where, especially early on in people’s careers where they really take a focus and then try to build a career around it.

I know at Cooley I’ve seen several of our more successful partners start off at an early age and really stay ahead of the curve on these emerging trends or emerging issues that has really helped define where their career path goes.

It’s through activities like that that the thought leadership piece comes into play. If they can really get out ahead of the curve and tackle the issues.

And take a position that maybe other folks in the marketplace aren’t taking or exploring things from different angles that traditionally have not been viewed a certain way.

A lot of times, it allows our attorneys, especially, to stand out among the competition. I think with just the level of content that’s out there these days, it’s almost that we’re getting to the point where there’s almost too content.

It’s important for attorneys to be able to define themselves through a very focused scope of a practice that will lend them to be an expert in their fields.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Yeah. I would agree, and that makes a lot of sense with just the big changes in the legal marketplace in general.

I was just last week at the Suffolk Law School Super Marketing Conference, they were calling it, which was really good. Like the LMA events, a lot of talk about the commoditization of certain parts of the law.

They were talking about Susskind’s books, “The End of Lawyers” and “Tomorrow’s Lawyer.” Yeah, with all of those changes and the things you mentioned, specializing is certainly.

Christopher NewmanChristopher:  Especially when you’re starting to see this new law emerge. Not necessarily having the same competition you had a number of years ago.

So, you’re starting to see different avenues and different approaches to the legal profession that lawyers haven’t necessarily had to deal with in terms of competition.

I know the new big term, is being thrown around, this new law, and really looking at it from anywhere from technology companies trying to overhaul the legal service approach.

Or anywhere to a consulting firm that’s now adding a law function where it helps drive them to be able to offer the complete package of services.

If you think about when you’re working with a consultant, it would naturally make sense to involve lawyers to add different extensions in firms like Deloitte, or even some of the more traditional ones like Accenture.

It’s allowing them to offer more full service packages that, I think, from the law perspective, the law firms are at a bit of a disadvantage for being at just the level of staffing.

That we have on our teams and really being able to encompass the full set of issues in business agendas; items that need to be accomplished.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Yeah, good thoughts, for sure. Do people generally hire based on a law firm’s brand or individual attorneys? How much influence?…sorry, go ahead.

Christopher NewmanChristopher:  I say it’s an age old debate. I think one of the reasons why legal marketing has been slow to catch with other professional services industries and defining whether or not law firms are hired or if it’s individual attorneys.

The brand has a definite pop and impact on the overall marketplace on a lot of companies especially if it’s around the target companies you’re going after.

So a lot of firms, if they have that Fortune 500 brand, a lot of times that will play out in the board room and be in the discussions of whether or not a particular law firm is a safe bet, whether it be for a huge MNA transaction, company going public, or maybe a bet the company litigation.

I think no matter what though, what it ultimately boils down to is that lawyers are the ones that are hired. The collection of individuals often make up the team.

When companies are making that decision to entrust lawyers with critical matters, it’s usually the personalities. It’s usually the intelligence. It’s usually the skill set of the individual lawyers that ultimately gets them hired.

I think a lot of times what you’ll see is that the brands of the firm or the overall firm, itself, helps support for this decision to be hired, as a reinforcement as to why we’re doing this especially if it has a strong reputation in the marketplace.

In the long run, it really is the individuals that if you go to court or you’re in the board room, those are the people that are leading the charge and not necessarily the brand of the firm.

I think that’s a critical distinction to make because a lot of times, legal marketers especially, get very wrapped up in the brand identity within the marketplace for a particular law firm and often lose sight of the fact that it’s usually a key group of attorneys that are driving the growth of a firm.

Hopefully, through that, other people that maybe are not as well known will be get opportunities to build up their resume and then, in turn, take over as growth leaders for that particular firm in driving the growth of it.

So, I think in the end, it really does boil down to it’s the lawyers that get hired. It’s a relationship business.

When you look at, a lot of times the general counsel is going to have a relationship with a select group of people and not necessarily the entire firm. It’s those relationships that drive the wins and the pitches.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  What about the attorneys bio pages, then, if the attorneys are really an important part of the mix in building up the team?

Christopher NewmanChristopher:  It’s funny you say that because I think often, in my experience, bio pages tend to be the most neglected areas of any law firm website.

A lot of times lawyers forget that having representative matters or keywords that will drive SEO searches or anything around that often gets overlooked.

I think when you look at the majority of Web traffic, it usually tends to be about 80 percent of it goes to website bios. I know we recently looked at just where some of the key traffic was on our website, it was overwhelming the website bios that was driving growth.

So, I think, going back to my point a couple minutes ago, with the individuals having the tendency or being the tendency to hire the individuals and not necessarily the firm or the brand, the bios are just like a resume that we would hand in if we were applying for a new job.

That’s your credentials, that’s your selling points, that your story. I think a lot of times people lose sight of being able to tell their story on an individual basis.

I think with that it’s also important to keep in mind that making a bio overwhelmingly accolades and key rankings or recognitions you got, is not really going to be the ultimate, it’s not going to result in you getting hired right away.

I mean there’s a saturation right now with a lot of different legal publications out there recognizing attorneys. It’s hard to shuffle through to figure out what makes sense.

So, a lot of times, it’s having the right buzz words. It’s having the right key representative experience and really just the surrounding details that will get you hired by a general counsel.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  That’s some good advice. That’s impressive that you’ve looked at the analytics and you’ve seen some stats weighing toward a lot of visits to the bio pages.

One of the things we teach in our conversion optimization works is about us pages. It’s nice to add stuff that’s a little bit more who you are than just what you do.

So it would be interesting to experiment with giving a little bit of your personality in there, too, to lighten up, not over the top, to show a little bit of the human side of it, of the attorneys.

Christopher NewmanChristopher:  That’s an interesting point. The age old question always does come down to do you give a humanized perspective in the bios.

I mean if you read the majority of law firm bios and website content, as well, it’s all reads the same. It’s the same generic, fluffy language.

There’s been this debate back and forth where whether or not you personalize a bio and give some flavor to it about what a person interests are or whether or not their a pet lover, stuff like that, can resonant with a client.

I know the LMA New England Chapter a few weeks ago, hosted a general counsel panel. That question was asked.

I think all five of the general counsels all indicated that some personal context what they liked to do in there when they’re not practicing law, does help them have some connection to them.

It may not be an emotional connection or it may not be a connection that makes them want to hire them but it does at least give them a little bit more of a framework as to the person’s character, personality, and other things that are critical for building the relationship.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Yeah. I think that’s the event that I was at that you were talking about, which was a great event, with a lot of good insights from the panel.

Last week, as well, at Suffolk Law School, they were talking about head shots for attorneys. They showed a head shot of an attorney leaning up against a wall outdoors.

A nice city building. He was wearing a tie. It looked very comfortable, and then they showed pictures of the classic attorneys with the books behind them. It just did make you chuckle.

Because attorneys try and be tight in their writing for their sites, fluffy maybe, and then, oh, we need to be in front of the books and we need it to look a certain way. I think people are just looking to relate to you. So that’s good to hear.

Christopher NewmanChristopher:  You hit it on the head. Cooley is a California‑based firm. I always feel like we’re a relatively laid back, yet very professional, firm.

It’s funny because if you read all of our bios, we refer to our partners, or all attorneys, as Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. If you know the firm’s culture, it’s almost the exact opposite of what you would expect.

It’s funny, because to me ‑‑ we’re in the process right now of reevaluating our brand and looking for opportunities to enhance it.

And I think that’s a simple area where you could give a little bit more of a feel to the potential clients or even current clients of what the attorneys are like even just by shifting things like Mr. and Mrs. and changing it to a first name.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Interesting.

Christopher NewmanChristopher:  Or maybe a nickname. Who knows? I think that’s the type of stuff that is a little bit more personalized for the clients.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Yeah, yeah. A very interesting thought. Just something as subtle as Mr. or Mrs. throwing of the tone.

Christopher NewmanChristopher:  The vibe for the firm.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Interesting. So first looking on an attorney website, is there a way to tell if they’re credible or could be trusted?

Christopher NewmanChristopher:  As a legal marketer, I would say no because I know what goes into making a law firm website appealing and really selling the story, at least to a certain degree.

I think for the educated buyer, they know what the marketing over speak is, or that language that just seems wishy‑washy that’s not really telling you any concrete details.

One of the things that I personally like to seek out and I’m trying to do with my firm in particular, I think stats really resonate with people and if you can come up with really telling details about transactions that you’ve worked on.

Or cases that you’ve litigated that are not just “we’re the greatest firm” thing, but we’ve gotten 20 motions dismissed in the last two years in this type of litigation.

That’s the type of information that if I do a quick glance of a website, there’s going to be instant credibility with some of that stuff.

Now, there might be ambiguous details built into that information, but I think that’s the type of information that has a tendency to tell the best story, and that often will give you a little bit more credibility with a potential buyer to say, OK, these people get it.

I want to hire them because they have actual results they can point to. I think with law firm websites we do have a tendency to get caught up in the branding. It’s fun to do the branding aspect of any company marketing, but it goes back to what we talked about a few minutes ago.

It’s really about hiring the attorneys to get the results and can tell the right story to the client when it’s needed. I sometimes think that having imagery or eye‑popping accolades or stuff like that is not necessarily going to sell the prospective buyer on wanting to hire you.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Right, yeah. It makes me think of there’s a marketing conversion expert names Flint McGlaughlin, and if you like conversion organization stuff like we’re talking about, this guy is one of the leading experts literally in the world.

They’ve done tens of millions of dollars, if I remember correctly, in research. The most amount of conversion testing of anyone in the world,

I saw him speak at Harvard, actually, and he talked about specificity which is summing up what you were just talking about, the stats and things like that. He’s also one of the leading proponents of value proposition, organization.

So understanding what makes your firm, your company, unique. And not only having, say, a headline and/or a subheading that expresses your value proposition, so when you first glance at it, you get it right away there’s something unique here, but under it stats and specificity.

On their website, they have this long laundry list. It’s over the top, but you just scan and it says, “Over $25 million in marketing research one. The most in the world. 600,000 emails analyzed, 400,000 web pages analyzed,” and they go into almost ridiculous detail.

But in some ways, for the people that are a little bit educated, they would rather that than just all the “we’re an excellent law firm” type of thing.

Christopher NewmanChristopher:  And that’s exactly it. There’s a big firm in the AMLAW 100 Quinn Emanual that when you go on their website it’s just eye‑catching stats about all these different trials they’ve won and the percentages of summary judgment motions.

It’s just a message that resonates with the viewer and it immediately says, OK, credible firm. It differentiates them. It really establishes them as a key player.

And I think the other thing, too, is with so many of these platforms going through and obviously factoring in big data and then also the analytic’s that go with it, those eye‑popping stats are doable these days. I think you could try to pull together similar information 5‑10 years ago.

It was much, much more difficult because the platforms weren’t there. If you had really sharp people, you could probably cobble together some really good information that was compelling.

But the playing field is I guess in some ways balanced out over the last couple of years is that as long as you have the money to pay for these resources, there’s a lot of excellent platforms out there that are really pulling out numbers or information that is most pertinent to clients.

And I think it’s on the firm to now figure out the best ways to capture that information on their website, in collateral, through social media, really do teasers around it and find ways to market it to the right audience.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Yeah, that’s a good point how the new either cloud solutions or practice management software or whatever you’re using might give you bigger data easier than in the past.

Christopher NewmanChristopher:  Yeah.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  What are some of the most important thought leadership activities for attorneys such as blogging, PR, being an author, bio pages, client alerts and newsletters, social media, et cetera.

Christopher NewmanChristopher:  It’s all over the place. I think right now the struggle that law firms are having is trying to get through the static of having too much content. I was at a CMO panel a couple weeks ago for the LMA New York chapter.

And one of the things that they highlighted is that general councils are still finding the best source of information to be newsletters.

I think when you talk to a lot of the next generation legal marketers or even attorneys that are trying to stay on the cusp of what other firms are doing there’s this traditional sense that blogging is the way to go.

One of the things that I’ve seen not only with my firm personally but also the majority of firms that I’ve seen host blogs, that content goes stale really quickly and there’s a tendency to push off doing blog posts as soon as people get busy with doing billable work.

I think that impacts the social media component pretty quickly especially in that context because viewers aren’t going to keep coming back to your site unless the blog content is fresh and up‑to‑date.

I think the other challenge is that sometimes these blogs are getting too technical. Having heard the feedback we got from the LMA New York Chapter presentation last week and then a couple weeks ago with the LMA New England general counsel panel.

Is that there’s something nice about having a newsletter that keeps it all in a consolidated fashion. It gives you abstracts to scan, what’s the most important. It’s really starting to go back to being the preferred method of receiving information.

I do think there are a lot of benefits through LinkedIn and Twitter. I think Google+, as well. In particular, I think LinkedIn is really going to blow up into being, or is blowing up right now, into being a huge resource tool, for not only promoting content, but also for relationship mapping, as well as really client targeting. I think that’s a great avenue especially where people have a tendency now to collect business cards and immediately go back and LinkedIn people and try to keep that relationship going.

So that, to me, is a very natural fit and platform to get information out there. I think Twitter for certain firms, as long as it’s the right viewership that’s going to follow you.

I know Cooley is one of the top 10 most active social media firms in the country. I think a lot of that comes through our Twitter platform, as well as this confluent thing on top of Facebook, as well as LinkedIn.

When you go to market with social media strategy, I think it’s a very valuable source of vehicles to get the information out there.

The question is do you have the right game plan in place to make it consistent so that you have viewers wanting to see what your next post is and really staying up‑to‑date on what you’re doing.

I think right now that’s the biggest challenge is getting through all the chatter and making sure that you’re seen a go‑to resource for valuable information and not just putting out there everything that’s going on at your firm or with individual attorneys.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Good. What about if a law firm is coming up frequently in natural search results versus paid ads, does that say something about maybe even to some degree or maybe not their authority and how important is Google, in general, to attorneys?

Christopher NewmanChristopher:  I mean I think Google, any person doing any search a lot of time goes to Google as their first option to figure out who the thought leaders are or who the leaders are in that particular field.

There’s no doubt about it that the better your SEO is with Google and being an authoritative source is going to get you top of the map.

I think like most of us, once we get to pages two and three of Google, at that point, we’re starting to question the quality of the people that are showing up in the search results. I think that’s just a tendency of humans, in general. So there is power to being top of the list with Google.

I think if you’re constantly knowing how the algorithms work with Google and staying on top of it with content production, that’s going to be a big driver because especially with emerging issues or things that you’re trying to differentiate yourself in the marketplace with having the right buzz words, having the right search terms that can be found pretty easily.

That’s all critical to going to market, especially with areas that aren’t necessarily on everyone’s radar.

I know we’ve seen success with doing that and investing the time to make sure that we are taking advantage of what Google can do in terms of promoting the thought leadership component of a firm.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Are you guys doing anything with Google authorship or Klout? The various methods that Google and different social sites are coming up with to try and determine if someone is a trusted author, influential person.

Christopher NewmanChristopher:  I know our marketing technology team has absolutely enhanced that making sure that we’re taking that into consideration when we do build out new platforms or figuring out ways to make sure that Cooley’s getting the hits that it deserves.

There are a lot of different tools out there that offer similar services. I think that one of the things we’ve been trying to do is just find the best platform to help promote the right search results and getting that thought leadership position in the right marketplace.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  It’s another thing they talked about at the Suffolk Law Conference. One guy was asked, well, they asked a panel and they said, “if you had to pick just one social media platform, what would you pick?”

Gyi Tsakalakis, I don’t know if I’m getting his name exactly right. He was quite good. He said that he would pick Google + which was interesting at first people were saying.

Of course Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, are more popular, but, his rationale was that Google local is driven by Google +.

You can’t come up, your organic search listings in local aren’t going to happen well, if you don’t have a Google + account, you won’t be able to optimize your company page. I thought that was interesting.

That also drives, that’s also how you get your Google authorship program going by creating a Google + personal page. It’s definitely worth looking at on that side of it.

Christopher NewmanChristopher:  Yeah, I agree. I think one of the challenges with Google + is just catching up to Facebook and seeing it as a built in social media platform that offers up that value added to just promoting yourself through a Facebook like service.

I think companies are becoming more and more aware of the benefits of supporting Google + and making sure that you’re in tune with that.

I think a number of years ago people were questioning whether or not Google + would survive like some of the other social media attempts that Google had tried to put out there.

I think it’s obviously thriving right now and it continues to have more of a presence on where you rank in the whole ecosystem.

John McDougall interview photoJohn:  Yeah, at least for your local listings and if people are logged in. So, that was really good information, Chris, appreciate you sharing. We’re going to take a really short break and come back with Christopher Newman.

Christopher NewmanChristopher:  Thanks.

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