An Introduction to Content Marketing for Lawyers

In previous articles we mentioned the importance of content marketing. So, what is it? Why is it important, and is it important for lawyers, too? In this article, we explore some of the basics of content marketing for lawyers.

What is content marketing? The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” The Wikipedia defines it as “a form of marketing focused on creating, publishing and distributing content for a targeted audience online. It is often used by businesses in order to attract attention and generate leads, expand their customer base, generate or increase online sales, increase brand awareness or credibility, and engage an online community of users.”

So, content marketing is about attracting customers. Traditionally, the buying process consisted of four steps: 1) a potential customer or client would become aware of a need, 2) he or she would next research what solutions are available, 3) would then consider and evaluate the options, and 4) would finally buy a specific product or service. In this traditional process, content marketing is effective for the first two stages of the process in that it helps raise awareness of solutions and educates consumers about products or services.

These days, however, legal consumers are online consumers, and in an online world, things go slightly differently. In previous articles, we pointed out that successful online marketing strategies rely on the ACT methodology: Attract, Convert, and Transform. (See our article on ‘Why Social Media Matter’ for more information). Where online marketing mainly differs from traditional marketing is that the conversion process consists of two steps: before turning a website visitor into a customer or client, that visitor must be turned into a content consumer first. And that is where the role of content marketing becomes crucial. And, yes, this applies to lawyers, too.

Unlike a once-off advertising campaign, content marketing is a long-term strategy, based on building a strong relationship with your target audience, by giving them high-quality content that is very relevant to them on a consistent basis. In doing so, you build awareness, trust, and loyalty among your readers.

Joleena Louis, e.g., is a matrimonial and family law attorney, who uses her blog to give potential clients free legal advice. She found that this benefited her in three ways: It positions her as an expert and authority in her practice area. It helps her get more clients. And it gets her loyal followers and free marketing.

There are many ways one can present potential customers with valuable content. Amongst the most popular ways are infographics, blogs, podcasts, videos, and books. Other examples include news flashes (in a blog, email or newsletter), white papers, e-books, email newsletters, case studies, podcasts, how-to guides, question and answer articles as well as live sessions, photos, FAQs, discussion groups, and testimonials.

So, how does one start? You basically have two options: you can outsource it, or you can do it yourself. If you want to do it yourself, blogging is the easiest option. (We previously published an article on starting a blog). You can start your own blog on your website, or you can use a dedicated blogging platform. You also have the option to publish articles on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Medium. And once you published your article, you can use social media campaigns to alert people that new content is available.

To attract readers, your content must meet a need or interest of your readers. In other words, it must add value for your readers. Your content also must stand out. In Forbes Magazine, Josh Steimle wrote: “Content is good if they genuinely want to read it. Content is great if they’re willing to pay to read it. If you want to see great examples of content, just look at what you’ve paid to read, watch, or listen to lately. (…) If you’re not sure how you can add value through content marketing, ask your existing customers what kind of content you can produce that would be helpful to them now, or would have been helpful to them when they were looking for your product or service. They’ll tell you.”

Finally, the content you present to your audience must not be an academic presentation. Research has shown that what works best is to use informal and engaging story telling techniques.



Online Courts

2017 has marked yet another milestone in legal history: in the last months, we have seen the arrival of the first online courts. Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland and China all have projects with online courts that are either already operational or in the process being developed.

The first online court ever was established in British Columbia, Canada. Since 1 June 2017, a few hundred small claims disputes have been heard and resolved entirely online. Any civil small claim dispute with a value of up to $5,000 can be handled by British Columbia’s Civil Resolution Tribunal via the internet.

“It is the world’s first online dispute tribunal, that is tied with the public justice system,” says British Columbia’s Justice Minister Suzanne Anton. “If you can take these minor matters out of a court room, you free up the court room for important criminal matters and more difficult matters that courts are suited for handling.”

Another advantage is that an online court makes the justice system more accessible. “I think people are intimidated to go to court,” says Professor Kenneth Thornicroft. “Most people have access to an online system, you can go to most public library and get access and deal with the dispute on your own time, you’re not locked into the times of the courts.”

Soon afterwards, the UK also launched its first pilot project for “new digital procedure for money claims under £10,000”. The project started on 31 July 2017 and will last 28 months, i.e. until 30 November 2019.

At present the project is in a “private beta” phase, and is only available to eligible users by invitation only. From January 2018 on, the project will go to “public beta”, meaning it will be opened up to all court users with an appropriate claim. It is expected that HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) will be providing face-to-face assistance to the half of people signed up to it who are expected to need help with filling in forms.

In a lecture, the Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton said that the “online solutions court should be seen as a template for securing now and over time in the future the critical object of greater access to justice.” He added that the court would operate in a problem-solving way. “It will be problem-solving in the sense that the Online Court through stage 1 and 2 of the process will help the parties find the appropriate solution to their dispute.”

In September 2017, Ireland’s Supreme Court also started moving a significant portion of its work online, as part of a push to bring more of the courts system onto the internet. The plan is that all applications for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, including the filing of documents and the delivery of decisions, will take place online. It is hoped this will be the first step in bringing huge amounts of the appeal process, at all levels, out of the courtrooms and onto the internet. Chief Justice Frank Clarke said it will take about a year before the first online case is considered.

Another online court that is already operational can be found in Hangzhou, China. It handled its first case on 18 August 2017. The court operates with a judge and a jury. It hears cases regarding online shopping, microfinance loans, copyright infringement, product liability and related issues. Cases can be filed entirely electronically in a matter of minutes. When the case is handled, it is live streamed, and parties can present their arguments via video conferencing. The court uses technologies like face recognition, Speech Recognition Systems, and artificial intelligence to draft judgments.

Most experts agree that the arrival of online courts can be good thing in as far as it 1) can simplify access to Justice, and 2) can speed up procedures.  As mentioned above, the organizers of the UK pilot project anticipate that half of the people using the system will still need assistance while filling out the online forms. This, however, is an area where intelligent bots have already proven that they can play a useful role, too. So, we can expect even more of the procedure to be automated.