The value of podcasting is still underutilized, underappreciated, and, therefore, underleveraged in the legal industry. Its value lies as a multifaceted tool to consume content and a flexible medium to create multiple sources of content that can be repurposed on a variety of platforms. To better understand this thesis, a tour of the general podcast marketplace is warranted. Suffice to say, what may have been a “cute and fun” industry two years ago—a convenient storytelling diversion to understand how a Baltimore homicide investigation was handled (read: Serial)—has now become a go-to educational medium in the professional services industry. Below is a quick snapshot of the marketplace.
In May 2018, National Public Radio acquired Pocket Casts, which is considered by some to be one of the best mobile apps for podcast listening. In a joint press release, the companies declared: “This unprecedented collaboration furthers public radio’s leading role as an innovator in audio discovery and distribution, while ensuring the continued support and growth of one of the most popular listening platforms on the market.”
In September 2018, Marketplace reported that the podcast industry in China is estimated to be worth $7.3 billion. Comparatively, the U.S. podcasting industry, whose primary revenue stream is advertising (unlike the Chinese subscription-based offerings), reported revenue of $314 million in 2017, which, if accurate, means that the American podcast industry is approximately 5 percent the size of its Chinese counterpart. China researchers estimate that the pay-for-knowledge economy is a multibillion-dollar industry fueled by a desire for focused information; the need to refresh skills in a highly competitive job market; the ease of mobile payments; and, of course, the fear of missing out.
Then there’s Spotify, which in 2019 agreed to purchase Gimlet, a podcast producing company, for an estimated purchase price of more than $200 million. Spotify predicts that more than 20 percent of its future listening will eventually be “non-music content.” Through this acquisition, Spotify declared that it desires to be the “Netflix of audio.” Spotify then acquired Anchor and Parcast. Anchor creates products to simplify the process of recording and earning money from podcasts. Parcast is a bootstrapped, father-son podcast best known for true crime and other serials in genres such as mystery, science fiction, and history.
Luminary Media, a Chicago-based subscription podcast network with exclusive content, recently raised $60 million to preserve the independence of its “star-studded podcasts.” Luminary charges $7.99 per month for ad-free access to personalities such as Malcolm Gladwell and Conan O’Brien.
Goop, a female-focused wellness company known for its sarcastic, satirical, and (according to critics) misleading marketing tactics, has even dipped its technology toes in the podcasting space. Why? To engage men.
This marketplace movement accounts only for the general podcast marketplace activity.
A Legal Snapshot
In November 2018, Forbes published an interview with Adam Camras of Legal Talk Network. In describing the problems law-focused podcasts solve, Camras explained that podcasts deliver on-demand access to “incredibly engaging content” allowing lawyers to “stay current on legal news, technology, events, and tools” that ultimately help them be better at their trade. According to Camras, the multi-dimensional applications of a podcast can better equip law school graduates to run a law firm.
Podcasts also represent a plausible solution to the problem of access to justice (A2J). In his interview for Forbes, Camras referred to statistics suggesting that, if the 1.3 million attorneys licensed to practice in the United States each contributed 2,000 hours of pro bono work a year, the pro bono population would still be underserved. Camras views the podcast industry as a medium to bridge the A2J gap more efficiently.
Podcasts also offer an opportunity to present oneself as a thought leader, creating credible, authentic content through a medium facilitating personal connections. In an August 2019 article for JD Supra, Jay Harrington, the owner of Harrington Communications, details four reasons why lawyers should consider starting a podcast:
- Podcasts are more personal than the written word. Your audience, whether prospective clients or colleagues in the profession, can hear your voice. They can feel your intonation. They can empathize. They can connect with you in ways that would be impossible through the written word. Audio brings to life the cliché: “be heard.” For introverted lawyers, podcasts can be an easy stepping stone where you can have your “public” moment in a controlled, albeit organic environment. If business development is a personal endeavor, then podcasts get personal. Like the quote from the movie Rookie of the Year, podcasts are like “hot ice . . . [they’re] the best of both worlds.”
- Podcasts expand your network more quickly than you ever could with plane tickets, blog posts, conference attendance, or monthly newsletters. Suggested format: interviewing guests. Why? You leverage their network and yours because (presumably) the content will be shared on their platform and yours. Plus, lawyers are storytellers, but rarely do they tell their own stories. So, while your lunch invitation may be declined, your podcast invitation is more likely to be accepted.
- Podcasts improve a lawyer’s communication skills. The capacity to story tell includes the capacity to communicate, which includes active listening and engaging follow-up questions. Landis Wade, a seasoned litigator turned podcaster in Charlotte, North Carolina (hi, Landis!), often remarks that a lawyer’s deposition skills would be improved greatly through hosting and participating in podcasts. Remember, just as you improved taking a deposition after your tenth opportunity, the same will be true with podcasts. You get better with time and practice. So, get out there and make it happen. Ideate and iterate.
- Podcasts save time. For a time-sensitive industry, there is no better argument in favor of a podcast. Time being a limited resource, understand that the ratio of creating written content versus audio content is inversely correlated, so the more podcasts you produce, the less written content you will produce. Where an outsourced podcast may take one hour to produce 30 minutes of content, one blog post may consume three to four hours of your time.
The Podcast Playbook
If you are so inclined to launch a podcast, Harrington shares four tips for a successful launch: (1) pick a niche, (2) keep it simple with technology, (3) be consistent, and (4) create a process.
Niche podcasts curate a specific audience and allow your prospective audience to know what to expect. If you are an inch wide, you can go a mile deep. And the capacity to make deep dives will deliver greater value to your listeners. As a lawyer, you cannot be all things to your clients; the same is true in podcasting.
Technology is the great distractor in the podcasting equation. First, lawyers or law firms try (sometimes to a fault) to internalize all marketing spend. Sometimes the internalization of that spend results in an inefficient implementation of strategy or a delay to market. For podcasting, moderate technical competence is required to launch on your own. But remember this: If the American podcast industry is 5 percent the size of its counterpart in China, then there will be a flood of technical entrants looking to gain a foothold in the production space. If true, it seems there will be a lot of downward pressure on the cost of outsourcing the initial setup and audio mixing, all of which is great news for lawyers looking to start their own podcast.
Content schedules are real. For lawyers, deadlines can be subjective. Litigators can always move for an extension or a continuance. Transactional attorneys use deadlines, whether real or artificial, to create leverage. In marketing, the only person adversely impacted by failing to respect a content schedule (i.e., a deadline) is you. Respect yourself by respecting your content schedule. Whether the schedule is once a week, once every other week, once a month, or once a quarter, follow through. In this context, perfect is the enemy of good enough. Getting out there, being heard, giving yourself an opportunity to improve, and delivering content that can be counted on all help create a bigger brand story.
Create a process that allows you to respect your content schedule. For example, if your goal is to launch a podcast with two episodes released every other week, then you could follow this schedule:
- The first Friday of every month, spend two hours in a local recording studio with an hour allocated to each guest for 30 minutes of production content.
- In one week, edit the podcast and produce show notes.
- The following week, release the episode and upload it to social media platforms.
The more routine and “monotonous” the process, the better. The creativity should happen identifying a new angle for interviewing a future guest; an engaging theme or topic to solidify the podcast’s brand; or the organic conversation occurring during the podcast. As those in the industry would say: Don’t be a “podfader”—a podcaster who starts out with a bang but fizzles without a clear process to remain on track.
Anecdotally, having launched a podcast, I would (highly) recommend the utility of outsourcing. Being a lawyer in Charlotte, I partnered with well-run media + marketing to streamline the launch process. After developing a relationship via hygge, Charlotte’s largest independent co-working operator, we aligned our passions with the Human Lawyer podcast, an offshoot of a blog focusing on humans who are lawyers. Coincidentally, the entire launch process mirrors Harrington’s four recommendations outlined above.
Podcasts and Continuing Legal Education Credit
With the advent of state bar organizations requiring lawyers to obtain an hour of technology continuing education each year, it would make sense that a lawyer could obtain said credit by listening to a podcast about a topic germane to his or her practice. However, the regulatory framework for determining whether a certain presentation qualifies for continuing education remains highly localized. In other words, while there has been regulatory momentum for a uniform bar exam, there appears to be less regulatory momentum for creating uniform continuing legal education (CLE) frameworks.
Without knowing the intricacies of every jurisdiction’s unique CLE requirements, I think it likely that those in favor of uniform regulations sanctioning podcasts as a medium to obtain CLE credit would argue that it saves them time and money, both scarce resources, with greater flexibility to consume more content tailored to improving practical skills. Those opposed might argue that: (1) podcast CLEs introduce an additional regulatory burden to determine whether, in fact, a lawyer consumed the podcast content; (2) lawyers consuming podcasts as an exclusive source of CLE credit may be less likely to network with their peers, which historically has occurred at CLEs hosted by local bar organizations; and (3) podcasts are less likely to deliver timely content with respect to the local laws impacting a lawyer’s practice.
Anecdotally, live podcast CLEs address many of the concerns outlined by the hypothetical opposition. Podcasting provides a platform for CLE-related content to be delivered in a relatable, engaging, and authentic environment. Instead of accomplished lawyers standing at a podium talking at their peers, these same accomplished lawyers can have a conversation in an interview format that can be repurposed as marketing content on their own platform. A live podcast CLE kills two birds with one stone. Ask Heidi K. Brown, author of The Introverted Lawyer: A Seven-Step Journey Toward Authentically Empowered Advocacy (ABA, 2017) and Untangling Fear in Lawyering: A Four-Step Journey Toward Powerful Advocacy (ABA, 2019), about her experience as a live CLE podcast presenter.
Our legal environments are changing quickly. Participate in that change. Be emboldened to be heard in a way unique to you. Disabuse the urge to want to “perfect” your craft, whether it’s podcasting or something else, before going to market. While the quest for perfection may serve you well in ensuring the quality of your legal service deliverable, it only delays your moment to be seen and heard.
Published in GPSolo, Volume 37, Number 1, January/February 2020. © 2020 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.