If you’re reading this article, you know that running a law practice is about as competitive an industry as there is. How competitive, exactly? Try 1.3 million lawyers in the United States today, according to the American Bar Association. Couple that with the Princeton University study that placed lawyers among the least trusted professionals in the U. S. and you can see why it can be a real challenge to convince potential clients that your firm is different. Enter media relations and the importance of building relationships with the journalists that can make a substantial difference in separating your legal practice from the overcrowded and under-loved field of opponents. In this edition of Plain Talk, we’ll explain how your practice group can grow public trust and relevance through productive relationships with the media. We will look at:

Why do I need friends in the press?

When most people think of legal marketing, two things likely come to mind first: TV commercials and digital marketing. It’s true that both of these media can play a crucial role in generating leads for your firm but positive media coverage on local TV, print, online and on the radio can impact your leads in a way that paid media can’t. It can generate trust. This is because, unlike national media sources and social media, Americans tend to hold their local media outlets in high regard. In fact, according to a Morning Consult poll, 83% of Americans say their local media outlets are the ”most trustworthy.” For an industry with low trust and high trust requirements, savvy attorneys can benefit from the borrowed equity of local media. Plus, the audience and opportunities are there.

The need for new and fresh content for media outlets has risen sharply in recent years, with the Pew Research Center reporting that local TV stations dedicated an average of 6.2 hours to news programming per weekday in 2020 (up from recent years.) That means, in whatever city your firm is housed, there are journalists looking for stories. You just need to be ready when your opportunity comes up.

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Becoming an expert local media needs

The best and most relevant opportunity for an attorney working with local media is to become their legal expert or legal analyst – the expert that a local reporter can depend on when relevant news breaks related to their area of expertise. Media outlets may have multiple legal experts (e.g., one on tax law and another who is a litigation expert, etc.). Your goal should be to become the go-to firm for as many specialties as you can offer. Being the expert will require dependability — that means answering the phone if they call — and flexibility, when possible, to step outside your office for 5-10 minutes during your day to do an unscheduled interview to help a reporter on a tight deadline to deliver a coherent story in a matter of hours. In exchange, the benefits can be substantial.

Regardless of your specialty, if you answer the call and can serve as a legal analyst or expert during high-profile stories or breaking news, your firm will be positioning itself to be trustworthy in the eyes of the community. This kind of exposure has been proven to have a positive impact on online (organic) search, and according to FindLaw, organic online search has been the number one way people have found attorneys since 2014.

How to initiate press relationships

The best way to spark an initial relationship with local journalists and get your foot in the door as a legal subject matter expert starts with an “expert available pitch.”

These pitches are created in writing or in person to weave a story for potential media partners so they understand the value of having you or one of your attorneys on speed dial when an important story breaks where your input could be valuable. There is also the opportunity for your firm to pitch story ideas for the local press.

Expert-available pitches are best created as part of your firm’s overall public relations (and marketing) strategy to make sure that key practice areas are getting the attention they need to grow the firm profitably. If you are using a PR firm with strong relationships with the press, leveraging those relationships can streamline the process of creating legal analyst opportunities for the firm.

It is also important to start the process as soon as possible. Waiting for a relevant story to appear and THEN contacting the media means you may be competing with a lot of lawyers for that opportunity. However, if you have already been vetted by your media partners, the other lawyers won’t stand a chance.

Six ways to stay relevant with media partners

Sometimes, for a variety of possible reasons, the media just isn’t calling. In that case, how does your firm remain relevant, ready and top of mind for your media partners?

1. Write expert content. Write content that you can submit to local publications for op-eds and editorials. As the respected expert in your field, you will be a trusted source of “what is news” in your field. This saves content-hungry news directors time and helps them deliver important content to their audience. In the event that there is no room for a time-sensitive story idea, you can still use it for your own content channels.

2. Blog posts on your firm’s website. Speaking of your content channels, a regular drumbeat of interesting content on your blog (and ideally shared with your email CRM and other channels) can get your message out. Have attorneys on staff draft articles that will live on your blog or a landing page on your law firm’s website. Pick timely topics or specific services for your attorneys to lend their voice. Keep the language approachable and not overly technical (this content is for potential clients, not for other lawyers.) If your attorneys are too busy, outsourcing content to an agency or content writer could again be a good option but make sure content is consistent with your marketing and PR strategy.

3. Make the most of social media. For professional services firms, social media has become a reliable and important platform for sharing content, engaging current, past and prospective clients, generating reviews, sharing wins, communicating community and nonprofit support and celebrating your team. Social media can also be an ideal platform to help local media get to know your firm. Make sure to post your relevant expert content on your social channels, have team members follow local media pages on channels like Facebook and Twitter, and, wherever possible, tag local media venues and reporters in posts when relevant. This can help increase the chances that one of your target media partners will engage with the firm.

4. Be available. Hey, just because a newspaper or TV station isn’t calling you today doesn’t mean they won’t tomorrow. If you can position yourself as someone who rarely says ‘no’ to interview requests, reporters will know they can count on you in a pinch. Ultimately this means when the big story breaks, they’re likely to come back to you as a resource.

5. Keep directory listings updated – Few things could be worse for your media relations strategy than to be unprepared when the big opportunity comes. The majority of people today seek lawyers in online search, and a big chunk of those prospects will go to one of the major directories, so make sure your listings on FindLaw.com, Abogado.com, LawInfo.com and SuperLawyers.com are up to date. If not, your prospect may move on without you.

6 Get media training – another part of being prepared involves making sure you have been properly trained in media best practices. Lawyers are notoriously confident when it comes to public speaking, but live broadcasts, for example, are different. Knowing how to optimize your appearances on camera or in front of a microphone will be critical to squeezing as much value as possible from your time as a legal analyst for media partners. Professional media training will get you where you need to be. 

Start making headlines

By building relationships with local media today, your firm can boost awareness with prospective clients, improve your reputation, drive inexpensive online searches from prospects actively seeking a lawyer, and ultimately improve your bottom line.

If you have any questions about how your firm can break into the media analyst game or just want to chat about building the right PR strategy, we hope you’ll drop us a line or give us a call at 502-499-4209

Mike Nickerson, Chief Marketing Officer PriceWeber Marketing, Louisville KY
Mike Nickerson Chief Marketing Officer