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.)

    Use color.

    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 e-mail with your comments or for more information.

Advocates Management, Inc.
1332 South 26th Street
Manitowoc, WI 54220
Voice: (877) ADVOCATES (toll free)
Fax: (920) 684-4414

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