When to hold 'em, when to fold 'em.
Make it interesting. Based on our research regarding the
effectiveness of newsletters as a practice development tool, interesting beats
informative about 4 to 1.
An effectively done newsletter
program can be one of the most efficient tools in law practice development.
It will not work for every firm or in every situation.
An inefficiently done newsletter
program is one of those self-fulfilling prophecies that lend support to those
who opine that none of this will work. Do not spend practice development resources
on a newsletter until the systems are in place to "target" the newsletter
effectively and capture and analyze the effectiveness of the program in terms
of the firm's goals.
For those who hunt, conceptualize
a newsletter as a fine rifle. No matter how well made, how beautifully engraved
and finished, until it is accurately sighted in it is an objet d'art, not
a tool to accomplish the purpose of the hunt. Targeting, getting the right
newsletter into the right hands, is the most crucial part of any newsletter
program. Targeting is a continuing process.
A newsletter is advertising.
Like any other advertising, it is a practice develop "program" that comes
at the end of the practice development process.
Consider a newsletter a teaching
device. Before undertaking a newsletter program you must decide what you want
to teach, who you want to teach it to and, since its in writing, how you
are going to get them to actually read it.
There are three categories
of material which we read. The first are those items which we are required
to read (letters from the IRS, notes from the spouse and other written communications
that deal with mandated or necessary activities). The second category contains
those things we elect to read (the sports page/Cosmo, the Starr Report and
things that are interesting, amusing or relieve stress). The third category
is incidental reading, (articles in the tabloids in the checkout lanes, bill
boards while waiting at a stoplight, etc.) which doesn't relate to newsletters.
Your newsletter will be in
the second category. While there is arguably some benefit to your firm from
newsletters that are not read but where the recipient recognizes receipt,
you loose 80 -90% of the potential benefit to be gained from a newsletter
when it is tossed unread.
There is something of a paradox
in the use of newsletters in law practice development. The more general your
firm's practice the less general your newsletter must be to be effective.
Make it interesting.
If your firm is considering
a newsletter and it hasn't gone through the practice planning process, it
is premature to spend your resources on a newsletter. Backtrack and go through
the planning process first. Then, if a newsletter makes sense in terms of
your firm's Vision, Mission, Strategy and Tactics reconsider it.
Consider your competition.
Not the other law firms sending out newsletters, the other written materials
that cross your clients' or prospective clients' desks daily. You may be competing
with the Wall Street Journal, maybe USA Today, maybe the Harvard Business
Review, maybe the National Enquirer, it really doesn't matter. Nobody has
enough time to read all they should read, and that which is most interesting
is what moves up in the pile.
If your firm primarily serves individuals and small business
In thinking about whether or
how a newsletter fits into your practice development situation, as an exercise,
consider the word "client" and an adjective describing a person. Think of
a "client person" and anyone other than the stakeholders in your firm, or
about 5.3 billion souls. In this context, the adjective "client" expresses
a continuum of probability of a person coming to your firm when a need for
legal services is perceived from almost zero to a near certainty of engagement.
Thus, a person can be more of a client or less of a client. In this exercise,
view the newsletter as a tool to make the recipient "more of a client".
As part of the exercise, and consistent with the practice development plan
you have already outlined, list what attributes of the newsletter will encourage
a person to become more of a client?
Based on your practice development
plan, do an outline of the individuals to whom you intend to send the newsletter.
Engage someone other than a lawyer to assess a draft of the newsletter and
evaluate it from the perspective of the recipient. No one getting your newsletter
will care much about the statute of limitations for trover in North Dakota.
Newsletters that talk about the law are boring, and boring is the kiss of
death. If you want to educate, do it with anecdotes and stories.
Remember Core Concept One (90%
of your clients judge you professionally by standards different than those
you apply to yourself.) and make the content of the newsletter relevant and
interesting from the readers' perspective.
If you must address serious
topics of legal substance, remember to express your key ideas in terms of
risks (and how your service can minimize risk) and benefits (and how your
services can enhance the benefit).
Post back issues of your newsletter
on your web site. This way you can refer to a previous point or story and
direct the reader to the web site for reference.
Another way to link your newsletter
and your web site is to put a short article in the newsletter (to make room
for bullet points, pictures and white space) and reference a more substantial
text in the web site.
Unless you've inherited a large
sum which you would like to pass around, there is no need for an attorney
to write the articles, although they may want to have a hand in the supporting
materials in the web site if that is done. Attorneys' writing style is usually
not suited to a newsletter, and their time is too valuable. Besides, in the
newsletter article, format of the article is nearly as important as content.*
The topics should be determined in accordance with the purpose of the newsletter
program to the firm's practice development plan. Attorneys can proof read
them for accuracy if you like.
(* If you don't think this is true for your firm's more sophisticated
clients, compare the way an article from Fortune or some similar publication
is written with one from a law review. Successful potential clients don't
want to become lawyers, they want information they can use in a format that
is easy to read and easy to relate to the context of their professional activities.)
Nothing requires that the newsletter
be free. Ask yourself how many of the people who receive the newsletter value
it enough to pay for it.
What should it cost? It is
hard to get out a decent program oriented newsletter, quarterly, for much
less than $12.00 per recipient per year. There is a "sweet spot" where the
cost / benefit curves cross, but it is specific for every firm and every program.
If you don't install the mechanism to measure the cost effectiveness of
this program, like any practice development program, you will likely be on
the short side of the curve.
Please call, mail, or
with your comments or for more information.