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   May/June 2002


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RISK TAKERS: IMAGE BUILDING

The Art of Successful Law Firm Newsletters

What Does It Really Take to Publicize Your Practice? Lessons from the TechnoLawyer.com Network

By Robert B. Fleming

If they’re going to stay competitive, most lawyers know that they need to market their practices in as many ways as possible. A regular newsletter written in-house is a terrific way to get—and keep—your name out there. Your newsletter can provide answers to common questions, discuss recent successful cases and, most importantly, increase referrals and client retention. To illuminate the pros and cons of publishing a newsletter, and enable you to develop ideas of your own, here is my experience with my firm’s newsletter.

From Fax Blast to E-mail: Distribution

My two-partner firm began publishing a weekly newsletter to our referral base in 1993. Originally, it was just a one-page "fax blast." We added a Web version about three years later. Shortly after that, we added e-mail to the mix.

We chose these principal distribution channels because e-mail and Web publishing have no per-subscriber costs for distribution (e.g., postage and envelopes) or for preparation (e.g., copying and collating). And faxing only involves the minimal distribution cost of telephone calls. It doesn’t require much labor either. We have a dedicated WinFax server, www.symantec.com/winfax, that distributes the fax version over the weekend. We use Lyris software, www.lyris.com, for the e-mail version.

New Cases and General Themes: Content

Currently, we produce a one-page, single-topic newsletter. (We initially had about three themes per issue.) When we began publication, I figured we would run out of interesting topics after a half dozen issues. Rather surprisingly, that has not happened.

We have now published approximately 500 issues with fresh and interesting themes. This is how the content breaks down: Recently reported cases account for about 75 percent of all issues at this point—it seems that recipients mostly want to read about such developments. In addition, we publish a quarterly four-page newsletter for existing clients that addresses more generalized legal topics. It tackles questions such as, Do you need a living trust? What do you need to know about advance directives?

Considering the success and number of issues we’ve produced, you might call this newsletter a personal labor of love. I, in fact, do almost all the work on it and it’s something that I love. If you’re planning to create a newsletter yourself, doing so should be a process that you truly enjoy. A lawyer who takes responsibility for putting out a newsletter must budget enough time to do it and to direct the development thereafter (including shifting focus, expanding or redirecting distribution channels and so on). The production of a basic firm newsletter needs to remain largely an individual responsibility. If the going seems tough to start, just remember that the first issue is 100 times harder to produce than those that follow. It really does get easier.

Upsides: Image through Presence

Our practice concentrates on elder law, and the original subscribers to the faxed newsletter were mostly local hospital discharge planners and social workers. We immediately saw an increase in referrals from those sources. At this point, however, that channel has matured enough that I doubt we will receive many new referrals as a direct result of the newsletter. Most of our e-mail subscribers live out-of-area and, thus, do not tend to refer new business.

Nonetheless, our newsletter provides plenty of other benefits that make it an important component of our marketing plan, including the following:

Branding. Our newsletter helps maintain our brand. If, for instance, a subscriber is considering several firms for a referral, the visibility provided by our weekly newsletter increases the likelihood that the person will send the referral to us. People tend to trust familiar names and images.

Reinforcement. The newsletter enables us to reinforce presence and expertise with our existing clients. For example, a binder filled with copies of the newsletter sits in our front office. Clients frequently request and read particular issues of the newsletter, and then discuss the concepts raised during the office interview.

Web traffic. Posting the newsletter on our site generates a substantial amount of Web traffic. Because such a large volume of material exists on our site, we receive many more hits on search engines than we would if our site’s contents were limited to basic information about our firm. In addition, with statistics software such as Site Meter, www.sitemeter .com, which identifies the source of Web referrals, we can even determine the search terms that led to our material. We have often found this data interesting and instructive in reinforcing our marketing plans.

Presence. The newsletter also helps us maintain a regional, even national, presence. Though we do not have pretensions of becoming a large national firm, we do obtain a few referrals from out-of-state lawyers familiar with us primarily because of our newsletter.

Downsides: Time Factors

As you might expect, putting out a law firm newsletter also has some drawbacks. Fortunately, thanks to our streamlined production and distribution, we have minimized the negative aspects, which consist of the following:

Labor. Producing the newsletter requires a fair amount of work. I spend about an hour each week on writing, formatting and distributing it. It also takes a small amount of staff time to manage the fax list (the e-mail list takes care of itself) and to follow up on phone numbers gone bad, distribution questions and so forth.

Schedule. Because I do almost all the work personally, if I travel out of town, I need to have made prior arrangements to get out the newsletter. Luckily, WinFax’s scheduling ability and Lyris’s browser-based interface enable me to distribute through those two channels while I’m away. Web site updating remains a bit more problematic—but it’s also the least time-sensitive of the three main channels.

Don’t Miss Out

A law firm newsletter provides many benefits. It can increase traffic to your Web site, attract new clients and help in client retention. Plus, it’s simply a lot of fun to do. Perhaps best of all, producing a regular newsletter can help define your firm as one that places particular importance on communication with clients and related communities.

So if you do go to the trouble of producing a newsletter, you might wonder, will anyone actually read it? Allow me to share one last point from my firm’s experience. Although we have been pretty reliable about getting issues out on time, sometimes we miss by a day or two. When that happens, we receive phone calls and e-mail messages from subscribers wondering if they have been dropped from the list. This feedback alone tells me that our newsletter has become a success!

Robert B. Fleming (robert@elder-law.com), is a partner in the Tucson law firm Fleming & Curti, P.L.C., with a practice limited to guardianship, conservatorship, estate planning and probate. He also serves as an Adjunct Lecturer for the University of Arizona Department of Gerontology.

This article originated in The TechnoLawyer Community, afree network of e-mail newsletters through which legal professionals share information about legal technology and practice management issues, products and services, often developing valuable business relationships in the process. To join The TechnoLawyer Community, visit the following Web site: www.technolawyer.com.