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Introducing the law firm “Editor-in-Chief”


Creating thought-leadership content is never easy. Creating content that’s truly compelling is 10 times harder. Yet, this is vital.

As more and more attorneys recognize the value of content marketing, more and more content is being created. How does an attorney stand out amidst all this noise? There’s only one answer: quality content.

Unfortunately, creating quality content is easier said than done. While attorneys may have lots of expertise to share, many may need help turning their ideas into engaging and readable pieces. And that’s okay — writing snappy prose is not a job requirement for lawyers. (To my knowledge, nobody’s ever paid an attorney extra to write an entertaining contract.)

Introducing the “Editor-in-Chief”
Here’s an idea: What if law firms employed an editorial professional to help attorneys craft informative and interesting content? This full-time hire (whom I’ve dubbed the “Editor-in-Chief”) would work with attorneys to elevate the quality of their articles and blog posts in order to:

  • Increase readership
  • Attract a loyal following
  • Elevate the firm’s brand through its content
  • Help build the reputations of the individual attorney-authors by casting them as leading experts

When it comes to content creation, there are three areas where an “Editor-in-Chief” could provide some real value to attorneys:

  • Packaging – Presenting content in a way that is interesting to readers. For example: most attorneys wouldn’t think to write an article entitled “10 Reasons to Try XYZ,” or better yet, “Why ABC is dying and XYZ is the future.” Yet, anyone who has ever worked in publishing knows that these are exactly the type of articles that get read most.
  • Brevity and Clarity – Attorneys tend to write lengthy pieces that contain dense passages full of footnotes and citations. Unfortunately, most people — including other lawyers — want to read concise, energetic articles with bite-sized content and plenty of graphics.
  • Timeliness – The Editor-in-Chief could help attorneys put together an editorial calendar — and then hold them to it.

Does this sound far-fetched? Well, it’s really not. McKinsey & Company, the uber-elite management consulting firm, has been publishing the McKinsey Quarterly since 1964. By all accounts, it’s worked out well for them.


11 comments... read them below or add one.
  1. Ron Coleman says:

    As I mentioned in my law firm Twitter guise, I thought the idea wasa good one, but very impractical — because I don’t think of law firms as “content generators,” but as law firms. “Content” is a marketing concept and is not what lawyers do, primarily. And having read just the headline and not the article, I assumed — incorrectly — that it referred to having an editor or editors review all lawyer written work, which, in theory, really would be a “best practice.” But besides the expense — notwithstanding that it could well be cost-effective or even a profit center in the long run — the idea is impractical because lawyers tend to have deadlines, and to push them; and because they have their own ideas about how to use words, right or wrong, and at a certain point don’t want to be told.

    But now I see a “law firm Editor in Chief” doesn’t refer to what law firms do primarily, but to “thought leadership content.” Well, click, my blog link — I’m very big on that. But it’s a fascinating object lesson, Dion, that you’re saying one thing and a significant part of your audience — lawyers, and even a very webby, social-media guy lawyer like me — hears something very different!

    By the way, your idea’s good too, though! It is very doable and if Ihad anything to say about it where I am, I would require it!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kelly Hoey and Christine Skulevold, Great Jakes. Great Jakes said: New Blog Post is up! Introducing the law firm “Editor-in-Chief” #contentmarketing […]

  3. Solid blog post imho. Lawyers, unlike many, have a unique vantage point on business trends, ingredients for a succesful (or unsuccessful) company, industry topics (with more depth than traditional media btw) and simply providing valuable information for other professionals without naming clients. This is the information age and those who are analyzing, drawing connections and disseminating information are at the head of the line in our society. Lawyers by virtue of their client relationships can become thought leaders. I see it every day. An editor or facilitator within the firm can be extremely helpful.

  4. The idea that it won’t work because that’s not what lawyers do is not totally on point — times have changed and I’m already seeing lawyers thinking differently than they did pre-recession. But there are obstacles:

    *Cost – although good editors are easier to find than in years past, they still cost money. Multiply that across all interested attorneys and you’ve got a new, un-budgeted cost to factor in.

    *The lawyer-as-brand issue is scary to firms that want to retain good talent — they are afraid to push individuals just to see them parlay their new fame into a better job. One idea: allocate a certain amount of marketing budget to attorneys and amortize it over a period of years. If they leave before it is fully amortized, they have to pay back the balance. It’s a decent carrot.

    *Control — I think it’s manageable, but new ideas are often like kryptonite to law firms, and when you couple it with a perceived loss of control (although I don’t see it the way you’ve described it), you get roadblocks.

    I like the post, though — stick to your guns and eventually you’ll see firms come around to your way of thinking.

    Jamie Diaferia
    Infinite Public Relations, LLC
    212.687.0935 office
    [email protected]

  5. Sierra Nicholson says:

    I agree that cost will be a huge barrier to hiring an Editor-in-Chief. Though lawyers are “buying into” the importance of content marketing as a business development tool, I think we are still far off from creating a staff of people with the sole responsibility of running the publishing house. Resources are always in short supply, it seems. However, I can certainly see this type of dedicated role emerging in the future. As the role of the in-house legal marketer continues to change, becoming an expert at creating and shaping meaningful and impactful content is a good way to distinguish oneself from the rest – and could be a great investment in the future of your career.

  6. Doug Stern says:

    I’m a writer-editor, mostly in the legal marketing/business development sector. While writing and editing are what I do, they’re not what I sell. (Or, at least not ALL I sell or the FIRST thing I sell.)

    My “Demand Trigger” (Google this with “Mike O’Horo”) is time management. I sell Let Me Get That Off Your To-Do List.

    Of course, I also often get hired because I add quality. This, however, is a far narrower, mature and upstream market than busy, high-cost lawyers and CMOs with long to-do lists.

    The longer, more vexatious or more stagnant the list, the greater likelihood that the Cost of Doing Nothing (again, Mike) has reached the pain point. And I get a call.

    After the call, sometimes I even get embedded. I have several law firms which have been using me for years. They don’t give me a title, although I’m often introduced as the firm’s editor. And, for the biggest firms, I’m sure I’m not the only freelance writer on-board.

    All of this takes trust, chemistry and the like. And, all of this takes time and patience more than it takes the right structure, title or platform.

    Anyway, my two cents. Great post and comments!

  7. Jay Pinkert says:

    What you described in your post is a copy editor. However, you’re right that a proper editor-in-chief could create genuine value for firms invested in content marketing.

    For all but the largest firms, improving the quality of the writing wouldn’t generate sufficient incremental value to warrant an extra headcount. . However, the editorial judgment/curation, integrated planning and process management that an editor-in-chief provides could have a transformational impact, particularly if content marketing is the firm’s primary thought leadership tactic.

    In addition to the copy editing responsibilities you described, an editor-in-chief would:
    * Develop story ideas and assign them to authors (though “assign” is probably too strong a word when dealing with lawyers).
    * Develop and manage an integrated editorial calendar for blogs, newsletters, videos, etc., freeing marketers to focus on strategy, tactics, measurement and planning rather than content creation.
    * Devise and manage a comprehensive content distribution strategy across multiple platforms (website, blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.)

    Thanks for raising the topic. Probably an idea well ahead of its time, but inevitable for the future development of legal marketing.

  8. I must admit that the idea stated in Dion’s blog fills me with disquiet. Time and again I’ve seen legal text either written or edited by marketing professionals which missed the point or which was misleading. My view is that many lawyers can already write quality, cogent and entertaining text – they just need to learn that it’s OK to adopt a different (i.e., more relaxed) writing style . Any good lawyer already has an excellent command of his or her language – that includes the ability to write succinctly and unambiguously. The money this idea would cost law firm would be better spent training lawyers to write in a more marketable way.

  9. SEO Agency says:

    You shared so much information here in your article. Absolutely, there must have”quality content” on the law firms, because through this you will be having your own unique strategy. In law firm marketing, there must have a quality of thought and the uniqueness of the content. Law firms must have an Editor-in-Chief to help attorneys on the task regardless with the implementation of the words. But, if you can’t afford to have an Editor-in-Chief you must see to it that there are ways that you can handle everything, and it takes a lot of patience and perseverance.

  10. Trip says:

    Whats your take on having links in a practice description that go to an outside source? That seems to be the next logical choice. If I’m a hedge fund lawyer, can I post a link to a blog or NYT article on my hedge fund description? Or does that get into attorney advice?

  11. Diane Emory says:

    As someone who actually is an editor who worked for a law firm, I have to say I think it’s a great idea for law firms to hire editors to make sure their pleadings are well-written and well-organized. When I worked for a law firm, the pleadings were clear and concise, and the “story” well-told. Judges even complimented the partners on their pleadings and paperwork, so the editing IS noticed. Just because someone has a law degree doesn’t mean they know how to write well. A misplaced comma can cost you a case and a lot of money.

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