In this increasingly crowded legal marketplace, firms need to distinguish themselves by showcasing their expertise. To get ahead, firms must promote their lawyers as industry leaders in their specific practice areas.

For many lawyers, particularly those in small firms, public blogging and content marketing is second nature by now. It’s an essential part of business development, client engagement, and industry knowledge sharing for many small firms.

When it comes to larger firms, where business wins are heavily based on the gravitas of the brand over individual lawyers, content marketing has been slower to catch on.

But times are changing - a reported 47% of law firms planned to implement a content marketing strategy in 2015, and almost a third firms have successfully done so already.

What does legal content marketing mean?

Content marketing is a highly effective way of promoting any business, and it works particularly well for law firms. It’s a school of marketing predicated on knowledge sharing - whereby prospective clients discover companies through free and valuable content.

Publishing valuable content enables firms to building a relationship with prospective clients before they have even been in contact. It enables firms to position themselves and their lawyers as thought leaders in the industry and build a positive reputation.

Through regular content publishing and promotion, firms and lawyers become visible online: publishing content regularly aids SEO, as does having other websites link to your content. Sharing content through social media widens your reach and gets discussions going.

It’s not just beneficial for new clients - having content to share with existing clients deepens the relationship and provides added value, leading to recommendations and new leads.

Why get your lawyers involved in marketing?

Ultimately, firms are in the business of selling expertise. It makes sense that the people with the expertise should be the ones to author the content that sells this expertise.

This also helps to build up the profile of individual lawyers, showcasing the depth of their knowledge and positioning them as a known authority on their practice area.

By building up online presence of individual lawyers, firms also position themselves as organisations of expertise. Lawyers become the mouthpieces and faces of the firm, and provide an additional channel through which to outreach.

Lawyers have their own network ready-made. Whether that’s through industry colleagues or semi-strangers on social media, most lawyers have a set of connections that are interested in, or at least willing to, listen to what they’ve got to say.

By building up your lawyers’ online presence, firms can reach out to these networks and build or solidify relationships through engagement, education and knowledge sharing that comes from an individual: an expert who can be trusted.

Lawyers benefit by being able to showcase their knowledge - potential clients will seek them out for work based on their field of interest - and their personality - the relationship with the client will have a head start, as the client will already be familiar with the lawyer as a person.

How to get started with lawyer-centric content marketing

Consistency and strategy are key to effective content marketing. Before you start, you must establish a plan that you’re able to execute without adding too much strain to your resources or that place too much pressure on your lawyers.

How you go about this depends on the size of your firm and the willingness of your lawyers. Don’t be put off if you can only start small - if you can manage one blog post every six weeks, make sure it’s really good and promote the hell out of it. It’ll have far more impact than publishing something poor-quality every week and ignoring it once it's published.

Here’s a basic structure for how to get started:

1. Set up a public blog

The first thing to do is make sure that you’ve got a public blog set up. This can be as simple as a free Wordpress blog, or as comprehensive as complete content management and marketing platform.

2. Get lawyers involved

The best approach here is find those lawyers who are actively interested in participating rather than asking those who may not feel they have the time or motivation.

Lawyers who have personal blogs or those who are active in knowledge sharing internally may be more keen to start with and will make good advocates for the programme.

Agree together on what they can manage and what you can expect of them (do you want them to commit to a blog post a month? What about webinars or podcasts? Who will be responsible for coming up with the topics?) and make sure they are comfortable with this.

Your lawyers have the expertise in their subject matter but they may not have expertise in producing engaging content. It’s the job of the marketing team to ensure that content is accessible to non-lawyers consuming it.

Make the content creation process collaborative - decide on an editing schedule that works for both of you using the editing or collaboration tool of your choice. Wikis are particularly good for this.

You could even agree to sit down with your lawyer regularly and discuss the topic of the post, which a writer in the marketing team or a freelancer can ghostwrite. This can work for lawyers who are very short on time or are less confident in writing but keen to contribute.

4. Enlist your lawyers' help in promotion

Producing content is only one part of content marketing. As much time as you spend creating content, you should spend twice that promoting it. For law firms, this should be through email to clients and prospects, social media channels, and direct outreach to industry peers and influencers.

Ask your participating lawyers if they are prepared to share their posts with their network, either by sending them directly to friends and colleagues or through their social channels.

LinkedIn is particularly effective for lawyers - you can ask them to publish a shortened version of their post on their personal LinkedIn Pulse profile to reach their professional network and beyond.

The takeaway

Lawyers should be the cornerstone of a firm's marketing strategy. But this doesn’t mean that they need to be responsible for it in its entirety. Firms with marketing and business development teams can position individual lawyers as the front-face of the business.

By building up the online personas of their lawyers through thought leadership content marketing, firms showcase the expertise that lies behind their paywall, and can reach clients they might have otherwise missed.

By opening up the door to inbound business, firms double their channels for gaining clients and raise the company’s profile as an industry leader with the best lawyers in their field.