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Big Law’s Content Marketing Failure: Lack of Relevance

April 21, 2015, 6:17 PM

Editor’s Note: The author of this article is an independent law firm communications consultant.

By Lee Feldman, Law Firm Communications Consultant

“That’s not writing…it’s typing.”– Truman Capote

Content has moved to the forefront of marketing. Big Law firms create a lot of content, so this should be the golden age of law firm marketing, right?


While law firms create large amounts of content, most of it isn’t very effective and is largely ignored by clients and prospects. By whatever metric you choose to measure – opens, clicks, time spent, click-to-request, etc. – law firm content is not engaging its targets.

Few firms actually conduct research on this topic, but those that do are often surprised by the reasons behind this lack of engagement. For example, one firm that surveyed recipients of its client alerts found that it wasn’t that the alerts were too long (which they were) or that they sent too many (which they did), or that clients received too many similar alerts from multiple firms (which clients didn’t necessarily mind.)

In fact, the biggest objection from clients was that the content they receivedwasn’t relevant.

Producing and distributing non-effective content is costing Big Law millions of dollars in lost attorney and staff time, and related distribution expenses. That alone makes this problem worthy of attention, even putting aside the fact that bad content devalues the firm’s brand and whatever good content the firm does produce.

Here are some suggestions Big Law might take to heart to begin realizing increased benefit from its content marketing efforts.

Stop summarizing and start analyzing – GCs will tell you they receive little value from blow-by-blow regurgitations of recent decisions. These may help associates fill their non-existent idle hours but they bring nothing to the party. Time-pressed GCs want to know:

  • “Do I need to worry about this?”

  • “Do I need to worry about this today?”

  • “How will this impact my business?”

Demonstrate business expertise as well as legal expertise – Clients prize outside counsel who understand their business, their industry and their competitive landscape. Content that explicitly relates legal developments to current or potential client business issues, financial impacts or specific business risks or exposure offers significantly more engagement potential. Helping a client get ahead of an important emerging industry issue can provide them with a competitive advantage. Today’s GCs are looking to demonstrate how their departments contribute to their companies’ bottom lines. Create content that helps them do that.

Pick the right media – There are a range of options for creation of primary content; it’s not just about writing client alerts. Websites, blogs, social media, webinars, video and live events are all available today, each with strengths and weaknesses. Webinars, for example, can provide an opportunity to actually partner with clients on creation of content. Video can allow a resident expert to communicate more powerfully on a specific topic. Work with your marketing staff to choose the best platform to originate each major project and then develop a plan to repurpose the content across multiple platforms.

Write better, write differently – A recent study of more than 20 million sentences and 160 million words making up 150,000 Web pages from 340 global brands found that 70 percent of the companies failed to meet basic standards for tone, clarity and sentence structure, as well as basic grammar and spelling. Almost all of these brands work harder at marketing and spend more marketing dollars than Big Law. Many lawyers are not gifted business writers, yet most resist editing help from their marketing staff. Work with your marketers to improve the quality of your content. And, accept the fact that we now live in a world conditioned to bite-sized content, listicles and 140-character tweets. Think outside the proverbial legal writing box. When was the last time you saw a Big Law alert headed “Five Things You Need to Know Today About XXXX”?

Start targeting your content – The good old days of sending everything to everyone are over. The technology and tools exist today to match content delivery to recipient preferences and interests. An entire industry has been built around helping businesses do this. (If you don’t believe this, google “programmatic advertising.”) Yet, most Big Law firms persist in distributing content according to crude distinctions like practice-wide mailing lists. Is it any surprise that clients and prospects wonder why law firms disrespect them by filling their inboxes with irrelevant content? (P.S. to partners, would it be too much to ask you to spend at least some time cleaning up your client/prospect database once every couple of years?)

Last but not least, Big Law needs to start creating much, much more people-oriented content. Your latest lateral hire, office opening or meaningless award or ranking contributes little to creating true connection to clients or prospects. Firms are filled with interesting people, doing interesting things that set them apart from the vast sea of faceless partners. They climb mountains, write novels and serve their communities, yet these compelling stories are almost never told or shared outside the walls of the firm. Start creating content that shows clients who you are, on a human level.

And, don’t forget that clients are people too. It wouldn’t hurt to spend some time building content focused on them.