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What is a Thought Leadership Strategy for Lawyers and Law Firms? [+How Can I Develop One?]

thought leadership strategy law firm marketing
Law Firms

“Thought leadership” erupted as a legal marketing buzzword about a decade ago. While other industries were already using thought leadership to increase professional credibility, law firms and attorneys caught on and realized that promoting knowledge and understanding was a powerful marketing and business development strategy.

Thought leadership is exactly what it sounds like: Showing you are an authority in your field. Thought leaders go beyond just writing and talking about current issues, trends, and developments — they provide context. That could mean showing how a new state bill will impact drivers who cause auto accidents or discussing how a court decision in an employment law case affects workers’ rights.

Thought leadership can be conveyed through in-person or virtual presentations but, in today’s burgeoning digital marketing age, it is most often considered a component of legal content marketing. Thought leadership is not a firm-issued press release or social media posts acknowledging attorney accomplishments. It’s deeper. When an attorney produces relevant, high-quality content that is helpful and provides valuable information, that is thought leadership.

The audience benefits through better understanding of an issue that’s of meaning to them. Importantly, the thought leader attorney makes gains by building their reputation as an expert. Plus, thought leadership strategies carry the same value as any legal content making strategy: effective branding, keeping the firm and the attorney top-of-mind, and increased SEO. All these help attorneys and law firms reach their goals, whether it’s generating and maintaining leads, boosting their profile in the media, and even attracting top talent to the firm.

Developing an Attorney Thought Leadership Strategy

1. Know Your Audience

The only way to ensure that the thoughts you’re sharing are helpful is to know who you’re trying to help. If your thought leadership goal is to create more business, you need to know who your ideal legal client is.

This process begins with identifying what you offer and who benefits from your service. Then, you can create a client persona for your audience: A typical age range, income bracket, location, etc. It’s important to know who your audience is so you can tailor the thought leadership message to them and so you can reach them with the message.

Perhaps your target audience is older adults who may be in need of estate planning. Knowing that will lead you to the right external publications, social media channels, and seminar opportunities for sharing your thought leadership.

2. Conduct Research

To help identify topics to cover in your thought leadership, be sure to conduct research in these key areas: competitors, keywords, and client communications. Knowing what your competitors are publishing or saying as thought leaders will help you either find inspiration or gaps to fill.

Keywords that bring visitors to your website also inform thought leadership topics. Looking to keywords and phrases for thought leadership ideas ensures you’re discussing subjects people want to know more about — while also supporting your firm’s SEO strategy.

Finally, client surveys, intake forms, questions, and consultations all show the legal issues and challenges people are facing. Discussing common or unique problems you helped creatively solve demonstrates thought leadership.

3. Develop Content

Review your audience personas and research what topics emerge for which you can provide perspective and insight. Thought leadership goes beyond saying “this happened;” it includes why this happened, who will be impacted and how, why it matters, and what steps those impacted should take as a result.

For example, there is a widely reported update to a state’s law on accommodations for breastfeeding workers. Thought leadership does not just say what the update is, it also explains why the law changed, shifts that employees should expect to see in the workplace, and, importantly, how to ensure compliance. Thought leadership showcases your deep understanding of the issues by giving people important, helpful information they need and want to know.

No matter how thought leadership is being delivered, it should always be accurate and authentic. It should not be overly promotional, but it should be genuine and organically reflect you as a lawyer and your services. Opinions are great to share, just be sure they are backed by accurate facts and provide a real perspective.

4. Use Social Media

Social media provides a great platform for thought leaders to express themselves and share their knowledge. In addition to creating and posting original thought leadership, engaging in online discussions with communities of your target audience is a powerful way to build visibility and credibility.

One of the most effective social media thought leadership strategies is to join and become active in appropriate groups. That could be a Facebook group of safety-minded neighbors if you are an attorney that handles personal injury cases or a LinkedIn group of immigration attorneys if you’re looking to build your referral pipeline.

5. Set Goals and Track Results

Like any legal marketing strategy, having defined goals and measuring your efforts ensures both a good return on investment and opportunities to course correct. Goals for thought leadership could be increasing website traffic, building a larger social media following, or even appearing as an “expert” quoted by news reporters.

Where to Use a Legal Thought Leadership Strategy

Any place you would write or speak is an opportunity to be a thought leader. Thought leadership can be used in articles and blogs published by the firm; articles in industry or mainstream publications; social media; videos; and in-person or virtual seminars or presentations.

Sure, it takes more work and, er… thought, to turn a run-of-the-mill blog or presentation into thought leadership. But your audience will appreciate the opportunity to learn and gain helpful information, and they will trust you because you helped them and showed your expertise. Trust is what grows a business.