Our firm, Bernstein & Associates, began handling public relations campaigns for law firms way back in the 1980s when the concept was still a bit shocking to staid attorneys of the old school. Now every firm of any size—and many sole proprietors--engage in some form of public relations because, if they don’t, they are at a clear competitive disadvantage.
The gold standard of positive media exposure for attorneys is being interviewed and quoted, delivering sage comments on a subject related to one’s special expertise, for a daily newspaper article, an article in a well-read legal journal, or perhaps a radio broadcast. Occasionally, there are even opportunities to be interviewed on a breaking news topic for a TV report.
Some kinds of practices lend themselves easily to the development of interviews. Employment lawyers are often interviewed because there is so much ongoing breaking news related to employment issues and the public at large is very interested in issues that affect employment.
When the attorney’s practice area is more technical—banking and financial law, toxic tort, intellectual property, for instance—opportunities to be interviewed in the general or business media can still be generated, but they will not be as frequent and may be more common in trade or legal media that reach a more select audience.
Therefore, a lot of effective public relations for law firms is based on the savvy development and placement of short articles written by attorneys on subjects that are newsworthy to a desired audience. These articles, which may be newspaper or business journal editorials, articles for legal media, or pieces for industry trade media, are generally no longer than, say, 600 to 1000 words. (Law360 requires commentaries to be between 1000 and 2000 words.) In some cases, the articles may even be re-publications of blog posts. Or an article written for a media venue may be repurposed for a firm newsletter. (Copyright rules for re-publication will vary.)
Any law firm publicist will quickly learn that waiting for an attorney to turn up with a usable article and ask for help getting it placed, is not going to be very productive. In any case, an article written without a prior notion of where it will be placed often does not meet the needs or requirements of any desirable media venue. So how can such pieces be generated and placed on a regular basis?
We work with a “coalition of the willing.” Many attorneys will not be interested in writing pieces of general interest, but many will, if the idea is suggested, and if he or she can see the advantages to using this tool as one means of becoming better known and furthering one’s career.
Here’s a “tool box” for getting law firm articles underway and placed.
We conduct one-on-one in-depth discussions with individual attorneys about the nature of their practice, any trends in this area, important rulings that are anticipated, and recent cases worth discussing. We ask what kinds of cases the attorney is most interested in handling and focus our efforts in that direction.
Identify Newsworthy Topics
The next step is to come up with a topic—or perhaps two or three possible topics. The topic needs to be current and newsworthy—not an analysis of some esoteric quirk in the law that affects very few cases. Then it is the publicist’s job to identify a media venue that will be both receptive to the topic and useful to the attorney, and to pitch the topic effectively. If a particular media venue is not interested, there are always other options to try.
We try to stay on top of “breaking news” throughout the day, so that we can seize opportunities to develop cogent articles on the news of the day. (Breaking news, of course, also may offer immediate opportunities for interviews.)
Pursue online media outlets
The world of media venues is extensive because, as one editor said, “the amount of available ‘real estate’ online is infinite.” Over the last decade or so, online venues have come to be very popular and well-read. Publication online can offer real value, even if the article never appears in print.
Many legal media venues to choose from
Of course, there are many legal media venues. We aren’t talking about lengthy, involved law review articles with 100 footnotes, but much shorter pieces with general appeal for such outlets as Texas Lawyer, Law360, National Law Journal, Corporate Counsel, The Texas Bar Journal, etc.
Consider placing an editorial
Newsworthy topics can also generate editorials for daily newspapers or business journals. In this case, however, the author cannot simply present a reasoned analysis but must take a position on some question and argue in favor of his position. Although generally, the writer may not reference specific cases in which his firm is involved, he may take a position that is favorable to a client’s point of view on an issue.
Trade publications often very effective
Trade media often offer very useful opportunities, from The Oil & Gas Journal, The Oil & Gas Financial Journal, and Oil and Gas Investor for the energy industry, to HR Executive, Business Insurance, Construction Executive, The Journal of Commerce, Chemical Engineering and many, many other publications and websites. Most major industries have their own specialized publications or online outlets. An attorney giving valuable advice specific to the needs and concerns of executives in that industry is likely to be read by just those potential clients he is trying to reach.
Re-publish a blog item
Some media outlets are willing to re-publish a law firm blog posting if it meets their criteria. Others require articles that are absolutely original to the publication. But even these, once published, may often be posted to the firm’s website or even re-published in a firm newsletter. Sometimes fees apply.
Rewrite and re-use
A few publicists write articles for their law firm clients. This strikes us as a dangerous practice unless the publicist also went to law school! However, once we have the original article written by an attorney, we can often re-dress it in a new suit of words so that a “new” piece on the same theme can be published elsewhere.
Publishing articles is one of the most effective ways of keeping the name of the firm and the individual attorney in the public eye, raising the firm’s profile and maintaining a steady stream of positive media exposure, during those times when there is no “breaking news” about the firm to report, such as a major hire, a big deal or a favorable result in a trial.