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The Essentials of Thought Leadership for Lawyers

This week I am being featured on a podcast called The Thought Leadership Project, hosted by Jay Harrington and Tom Nixon. As a point of reference, Harrington shared some interesting findings from a recent LinkedIn/Edelman study on thought leadership. The questions centered around what law firms must do to be thought leaders and how the marketplace is clamoring for more thought leadership.

Here a few takeaways from the far-reaching conversation for how firms can leverage thought leadership to add value to client relationships, grow their reputations and develop new business:

Understand the business before offering content. When sending content to a client, make sure it demonstrates applicability to that client’s world, business and needs. How do you do that? Just ask. This is a particularly good time of year to reach out to contacts and ask them: “What are some of the issues you expect to be most challenging for you next year?” At the same time, ask them if they need help with anything before the end of the year. Clients are inundated with collection calls towards yearend. Instead, be generous.

Make it relevant to the individual. What we here most often from clients when asked about law firm alerts and newsletters is that clients are much more likely to read and share content internally when the lawyer sending it contextualizes it for their needs. In other words, if a newsletter or alert is important information for a client, send them a note and let them know why. Even better, offer to have a quick, off-the-clock conversation about it with them.

Partner together. Another theme discussed in the podcast was collaborating with clients to create content. Co-author articles and share the stage for speaking engagements. If you, as outside counsel, are going into a firm to lead a program, partner with your in-house colleague and make that person the star. And make it easy for them—do the heavy lifting and give them a clear role to lead the discussion and fill in the gaps. If they aren’t comfortable presenting, coach them on best practices. To really add value, create something they can use in multiple ways and for multiple audiences when you aren’t there.

Know the audience. All of the above assumes that respect is being paid to the audience. A year or so ago, I did client feedback interviews at a large global company that has a relatively young workforce needing education around a new regulation. A firm came in and delivered what was received as legalese gibberish. Needless to say it was a waste of everyone’s time, and another firm was praised for redoing the presentations in a way that was both accessible and valuable for the audience.

Market yourself and your thought leadership. When a prospective client is looking for a lawyer, the first thing they usually do is ask for a reference and then search online for that individual (not the firm). Make sure the important thought leadership appears not just buried in the lawyer bio but is at the top of a search engine’s results.

Your clients will thank you for giving them something that is on point, appropriate for the business and relevant. That’s the essence of thought leadership.

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