Public Relations for Lawyers: Effective Strategies and Tactics to Capitalize on Writing for Publication
By Gina Rubel
Writing often feels like a very daunting task to the busy attorney. When attorneys are told they should write an article on a particular topic, the reaction often is as if the attorney has been asked to eat nails. On the other hand, I have had the experience of working with attorneys who love to write more than they love to litigate. Think about it this way: if you have something to say and you want to say it to a particular audience as an authority on the matter, then writing for publication is an effective tool for getting your point across and a strategic public relations for lawyers tool.
Since attorneys have mastered the art of writing briefs (which aren’t brief at all), the art of pleading everything under the sun, and the art of providing backup for their backup, writing tends to be quite long and verbose. Breadth and depth is important for legal pleadings and other forms of legal documents; however, just the opposite is required when writing for publication. The art of clear and concise copy improves the overall comprehension and appearance of your written materials and boosts exposure, message recall and the overall efficiency of your public relations endeavors.
Public Relations for Lawyers – Here are some quick tips for crafting content that is clear and concise:
Define legal and technical jargon in easy-to-understand language.
Google can help by getting you a list of definitions for your term on the internet. Simply type “define term” into a search. Add a practical example or image to your definition, and you can easily paint a picture in your readers’ mind.
Make sure you have long and short-form content.
It is important to have an arsenal of articles, blogs and other types of content in short and long lengths. Recent (2017) changes in Google algorithms now search and reward for SEO purposes longer form content on your law firm’s website. Keep in mind though that your copy still should focus on a single message. In addition to your main story, you might repackage your piece into sidebars, lists, related stories, freestanding vignettes, fun facts or trivia. And always consider including visuals.
Paragraph length is among the most important signals you send to readers about how easy and interesting your copy will be to read. If your paragraphs are too dense, the information looks cumbersome and uninviting. If they’re all the same length, the information can appear boring. Vary the lengths of your paragraphs to create a sound rhythm for your piece. A good rule of thumb is that shorter is better. Try to keep your paragraphs to three sentences or less, and keep in mind that one-sentence paragraphs are perfectly acceptable.
Here are some forms of law firm public relations writing that you can use to generate a buzz about you and your areas of practice.
The Authoritative Article
Writing authoritative articles is one of the easiest and most effective ways to garner valuable publicity—especially if you like to write. When an article is published and you haven’t paid for the space (as opposed to placing an advertisement), you immediately establish credibility with your target audiences. It positions you as a thought leader without you saying, “Hey, look at me, I’m an expert on this topic.”
The FAQ Response Method
The most common dilemma that attorneys face is what to write about. There are many ways to come up with topics for your articles, but my favorite puts strategy into play. I call it “the FAQ Response Method.” I tell clients to keep a notebook next to the telephone they use the most at work. Keep the pages divided by topics such as client management, legal issues, practice areas, etc. Create two columns. In the first column, write down every question you are asked by a prospective or current client. In the second column, record the number of times you’re asked the same question.
Once you’ve heard the legal question at least three times, draft your answer or record yourself answering the question. You can use your office telephone, cell phone, voice recorder, or a transcription app such as Temi (see Temi.com) to capture your answer efficiently. If you are just capturing the audio recording, you will need to have it transcribed. With transcription apps, you’ll be one step ahead of the game.
Edit and refine your answer and then research which publications, blogs or websites deal with similar topics that reach your target audience.
When writing for a print publication, be sure to read and review several previous editions in order to get a feel for the types of articles that are typically included.
Research the editorial guidelines (a.k.a. writers’ guidelines) for your target publications, which are usually on their websites, and then follow those guidelines to refine your article. These are the rules that publishers provide to contributing authors.
It is important to comply with the editorial guidelines of your target publication in order to maximize your chances of publication. If you’re not sure about something, contact the editor and ask. It’s a great way to open the door to conversation and to offer yourself as available for commentary on similar issues while getting the editorial information you need to submit your article.
Do not to boast or overtly promote your law firm or your services. Such behavior, whether writing an article or speaking at a seminar, is not appropriate.
If you represent corporations and work with in-house counsel, perhaps some of the questions (FAQs) you are used to hearing are:
- What is your law firm’s commitment to diversity and inclusion within the firm and on client teams?
- Does your law firm offer alternative fee arrangements (AFAs)?
- How does your law firm handle conflicts of interest?
- How does your law firm protect client data and cybersecurity issues?
This list goes on. A savvy attorney or law firm marketing department will then take the questions and turn them into answers that can be utilized by the masses within the industry.
- The Benefits of Diversity and Inclusion Programs within Law Firms
- What Clients Need to Know About Alternative Fee Arrangements Strategies
- Protecting Clients’ Interests Above and Beyond Traditional Representation: The Importance of Cybersecurity and Data Protection
Some of the common matters addressed by editorial guidelines include:
- Length of article: the minimum and maximum word count. An optimum number of words per article might also be listed.
- Editorial calendars, which include topics, themes, article types and required submission dates broken down by publication date.
- Preferred format of articles for submission.
- Topics accepted by the publication.
- Use of illustrations and photographs.
- Editorial style, such as compliance with “The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual” for abbreviations, capitalization, grammar, punctuation and spelling.
- Inclusion of an author’s biography and head shot.
- Compensation (if any).
- Query and submission requirements.
The TOC Review Method
Another way to determine what topic to write about is to review the table of contents (TOC) of the last six issues of a publication that your audiences reads—whether it’s the local Sunday newspaper or a monthly trade magazine. I call this “the TOC Review Method.” Then, answer the following questions:
- Are there any trends in these publications?
- What is the industry / marketplace thinking about?
- How are themes being positioned locally, regionally and nationally?
- How can I expound on some of these issues?
- What can I say that is different, sheds light on the issue, informs the audiences and positions me as a go-to person in the field?
The Personal Experience Method
All articles are either written based on one’s firsthand knowledge or a great deal of research. Another method that I like for determining what to write about is “the Personal Experience Method.” This provides anecdotes, advice or ideas based on your experiences using actual examples (i.e., your personal experience).
This is a great way to educate your target audiences and to share your legal prowess. This method can also be used to highlight your successes, with the express permission of your clients, in the form of case studies.
A way to determine which personal experiences matter is to think about what you do as a part of your law practice that is worth sharing with others. It’s the “who cares” factor. If someone will care and can benefit from your knowledge and experience, then it’s probably worth sharing.
Here are some questions to get you started:
- Have you successfully adjudicated a nonconfidential case with a complex set of circumstances? How? Why does it matter?
- Have you picked a jury and successfully litigated a case in a jurisdiction known to have certain biases? What were your tactics?
- Have you created a process or procedure to choose qualified vocational experts? What do you look for?
- Have you mastered a formula for any stage of the litigation process that is nontraditional?
So, now that you know how to come up with your topics, perhaps it is time for you to get to work.
Getting published is a rewarding way to establish yourself as a thought leader.
The Opinion Editorial
An opinion editorial (op-ed) is a form of writing that is used to express a personal opinion. It is an underutilized and extremely powerful way to publish an attorney’s opinion and demonstrate her depth of knowledge on a particular topic. In this way, the attorney is positioned as a thought leader in her area of expertise.
An op-ed is located in the opinion pages of a newspaper, magazine, website or blog. The op-ed submissions that get published deal with often-controversial topics of current interest and take a stand on the issues addressed. It is your opinion, so make it stick.
Also keep in mind that you need to be quite careful if your op-ed deals with a topic that you are currently litigating.
Since newspapers get countless op-ed submissions, getting one published can be difficult. When writing an op-ed, you should follow some basic guidelines to increase the odds that it will get published.
Be opinionated: The more rare or controversial your opinion, the more likely the op-ed will be published.
Write about one thing: If you cannot sum up your ideas in the headline, then it’s probably not the best topic to choose for an op-ed.
Write in the active voice: It is easier to read.
Make a point that is unique: Prior to submitting your column, research what the publication has recently published on your topic. You do not want to repeat what others have already said about the same subject.
Keep it around 700 words: Typically, an op-ed column should consist of about 700 words, although they can run shorter or longer, depending on the outlet. Keep in mind that print publications have limited space to offer, and most of the time, editors will not take the time to cut an article down to size. You can determine the exact parameters by obtaining the submission guidelines, which are available in each publication and often on their websites.
Stay focused: Don’t derail the train by trying to provide too much backup or writing as if you are presenting an opening statement. It’s the short, concise closing arguments that are the most memorable after all.
Be timely: If you are writing about an event in today’s news, then you must submit your editorial in a timely fashion—either the same day or a couple of days later. Op-eds deal with what’s happening today.
Connect locally: Use the local approach when writing for a newspaper within your circulation area. Tie your commentary to local events and make sure you include your place of residence and why the issue matters to you. Many lobbyists and special interest groups write op-eds as part of their regular outreach strategy. Local papers are more likely to publish a column by a local author than by a lobbyist.
Know your audience: It is important to choose the right publication for your op-ed. Submit your piece to only one outlet. Ask yourself who’s reading the publication and why you want them to read what you have to say. If you’re a local plaintiffs’ firm, stick to the local newspapers. More people in your target demographic will read them than The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. However, if you serve as national defense counsel for insurance providers, you may be better served with an article in a targeted trade publication.
Define who cares: Explain why the publication’s readers will care about your issue and opinion. As with all forms of public commentary, it is important to make sure the readers are engaged and have a stake in your message.
The Instructive Tip Sheet
The instructive tip sheet is a simple and concise list of “tips” or pointers that will help your target audiences with a particular need, task or situation.
- Ten Tips for Better Communications with Clients
- Top 12 Signs That Your Car Is a Lemon
- Six Surefire Ways to Avoid Legal Malpractice Lawsuits
- Top 10 Mistakes Employers Make in Their Employment Contracts
The ideas and topics are endless, but you need to know how to determine what will be effective for you and your firm.
As with all public relations tools, you need to have a plan and a purpose for your tip sheets.
- What do you want to write about and who do you want to reach?
- What are some of the questions that prospective clients frequently ask?
- What do your target audiences need to understand and how can you be more of a resource to them?
Once you’ve answered these questions, then you need to determine which outlet will be most effective.
If you’re trying to reach local consumers, you will be best served by reaching out to local media outlets.
If you are trying to reach corporate executives, target the print and online publications that they are most likely to read. For example, if you are trying to reach pharmaceutical companies’ in-house counsel, think about which pharmaceutical and legal magazines they read rather than trying to pitch tips to The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. The more focused you are, the more likely that your tips will be printed.
On the other hand, as an estates attorney, it makes sense to author tip sheets that deal with estate planning, administration and protection.
I recently consulted with a former workers’ compensation judge-turned-claimants’ attorney in Philadelphia and had him create the “Top 10 Things You Should Do If You Are Hurt or Exposed to Toxins at Work.”
Once the tips were created, he had the tool needed to pitch the media. In this case, our goal was to land a television interview on our local FOX affiliate during their morning program, knowing that it is a local consumer-watched show. We reached out to the producer who was responsible for guest appearances and told her why we believed this would be an effective segment for their viewers. She liked the idea and booked our client, and he appeared on television shortly thereafter.
Two days before my client’s appearance, we sent the producer the typed list and told her to feel free to republish the bullets on television during the segment and to use them on their website as long as proper attribution was given. This made her job even easier because she had more visuals to work with for the television segment. Remember to think visually for all forms of media today as even the radio interview may be promoted and published online.
Before the television appearance, we also promoted the segment in various ways to the firm’s clients and to contacts, family and friends, encouraging them to watch FOX29 “Good Day Philadelphia” on the date the show was to air.
The Target-Centric Newsletter
Newsletters, done correctly, can be an effective part of your marketing efforts. Not only do newsletters display skills, talents and timely stories, they also can create buzz, open opportunities and bring in new business. No matter what type of newsletter you are producing, meaningful content is essential if you want it to be read.
Here are some important things to consider:
The Comprehensive Book
Most authors don’t think of writing a book as a public relations tool. However, when you author a book, you can catapult your status from an average attorney to a well-known source for a particular subject. Indeed, writing and marketing a book is a colossal task. It means dedicating a great deal of time and resources in order to meet your goal. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of resources available regarding how to write and publish a book. Before you take on such a task, I highly recommend doing your homework.
The Use of Publications to Promote Your Business
Each form of writing can be used to promote your business beyond the initial publication. The first thing you need to do is review the publisher’s copyright guidelines. These guidelines vary from one publisher to another.
Most publications allow you to publish reprints. In the best scenario, you will be able to purchase a digital reprint which you will be permitted to upload on your website and distribute as you see fit—but these rights are rare. More frequently, you will be permitted to purchase printed reprints of the article, which you can then use to mail directly to your target audiences. Other ways to capitalize on your reprints:
- Add a link to the originating article on your firm’s website and within your online biography.
- Post the link on your website to social media.
- Include a link to your article in your e-mail signature.
- Leave copies of the article in the lobby of your office.
- Mail copies of the article to prospective and current clients.
- Send an e-mail to other attorneys who are good referral sources.
- Include the article with new business materials for prospective clients.
Other ways to capitalize on work you have already done include writing on essentially the same topic, but with a different angle or from a different perspective; incorporating portions of the material into speeches or presentations; and depending on the copyright, updating and resubmitting the piece to another publication at a later date.
Whatever you decide to submit for publication, remember that the time spent working on the material will pay off in spades. Putting pen to paper is always a worthwhile endeavor.
Copyright © 2018 by Gina Furia Rubel. All rights reserved.
First published in 2007 | Furia Rubel Communications, Inc.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2007941911
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