The internet has given law firms a vast array of new ways to raise their profile and market their services, including search engine optimization, pay-per-click, retargeting and digital ads. But many law firms still make little, if any, use out of one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to stay in touch with clients, prospective clients and referral sources: email.
When done well, consistent email communications with a firm’s existing network can help raise the firm’s stature and reputation as thought leaders, showcase their successes on behalf of clients, and generally stay top-of-mind with the people most likely to send them work.
If your firm is considering an email newsletter, here are some of the practical and State Bar of Texas compliance issues to consider before you hit “send.”
What should go in your newsletter?
The content of your newsletter, of course, is what will determine whether your recipients will open it or delete it the minute they see it in their inbox. Your first goal should be to educate and inform – not sell your services. Fortunately, when you do a good job of educating and informing, you also make a convincing argument for why you should be hired.
If you publish a blog with substantive, informative posts, then that can generate the bulk of your newsletter content. You can either provide the full text of a single blog post or short summaries of a handful of posts. Because people tend to skim through their emails, we recommend short summaries, but this is a judgment call that will depend on your specific content.
Once you have one or more items that provide your clients with “news they can use,” feel free to include a handful of tastefully promotional items, such as:
- Links to articles your attorneys have published or where they have been quoted;
- Links to attorney profiles, especially new lawyers;
- News about your firm that will interest your clients, such as honors and awards, a firm anniversary, and community service initiatives; and
- Recent client wins or case studies.
Here are some additional ideas for newsletter content.
Who will you send it to?
To stay out of trouble with the State Bar Advertising Review Department and to avoid spam complaints (and possible resulting fines), it’s best to be choosey when creating your newsletter email list. Simply downloading your entire contact list isn’t a good idea because it probably contains the addresses of people who were copied on an email you received three years ago and have since changed jobs and may not remember you.
Nobody who sees your newsletter in their inbox should wonder who the heck you are. Limit the list to those with whom you have a pre-existing professional relationship:
- Former clients, and
- Lawyers and other professionals in your network.
By keeping your recipient list to the above, you also avoid having to file your email with the State Bar Advertising Review Department for approval. According to rule 7.07(3)(e)(5) of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, the filing requirement does not apply to “a newsletter … that it is sent … only to: (i) existing or former clients; (ii) other lawyers or professionals.”
We have found that compiling a solid contact list is one of the most time-consuming aspects of getting a law firm newsletter out the door. So, if your firm is considering doing a newsletter, start that process now.
In order to upload your list to an email service provider (see the next section), it will need to be in a spreadsheet format, with the first name, last name, firm name, title and email address in different columns. Of those elements, the only one you have to have is email address, but the other information is helpful to have when reviewing your analytics.
How will you send it out?
The market is filled with free and low-cost email service providers that can create professional-looking emails and provide a wealth of automation and data about opens, clicks, etc. Each ESP is a little different, but they all provide roughly the same kind of product.
Popular ESPs include MailChimp, Constant Contact, Emma and Campaign Monitor. At our company, we are partial to MailChimp and Campaign Monitor, but Constant Contact and Emma have their evangelists as well.
Most ESPs have, at the very least, a free trial. MailChimp provides free emails if you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers. So, it’s a low-risk proposition to try them out before you make a commitment.
Some firms still use their in-house email system and send directly from their desktops. While that has the benefit of being free, it misses out on the automation and data offered by ESPs. Knowing who opened your email – and who didn’t – and who clicked on what is valuable information you just can’t get when sending from your regular email program.
Another reason to use an ESP is that they automate the “unsubscribe” function, which is key to avoiding spam complaints.
The main reason I love ESPs such as MailChimp and Campaign Monitor is that they make it incredibly easy to create great-looking, branded emails. And – even though I’m a word person – all the best words will be completely ignored if the email looks like a giant block of unreadable text.
How often should you send?
This is a judgment call. If you’re providing valuable information, your clients will welcome your emails as often as you send them (within reason). But most firms opt for sending a newsletter monthly or quarterly.
Whatever you decide, be consistent. Set up a schedule for publication that includes deadlines for drafts, approval by the various decision-makers and distribution. Then stick to the schedule. It helps to have a staff member or an outside agency who can create a calendar, compile content and generally shepherd the newsletter to completion.
How do you grow your list?
Once you’ve launched your newsletter, you’ll want to grow your list of subscribers. Here are some tips for doing that organically:
- Include a subscription link in your firm’s signature line (most ESPs can create a subscription page in a few clicks);
- Include a subscription form on your website (again, the ESP can generate the code that your website team can import into a form);
- Include a link to your subscription page in your newsletters that recipients can forward it to friends who they think might be interested (our clients usually get a handful of new subscribers after every newsletter);
- Do occasional social posts linking to your subscription page and encouraging those who follow your firm on social media to subscribe to get regular updates; and
- When you bring on a new client, ask for permission to add them to your firm’s email list, and do the same with new contacts you meet while networking.
What kind of results should you expect?
We can’t promise you that every newsletter you send will result in a new client or a new piece of work from an existing client. Very few marketing initiatives work that way, unfortunately.
Newsletters, as with most marketing tools, work over the long haul. By landing consistently in the inboxes of your professional network, they help to keep you positioned high on your clients’ radar. And, by providing them with information relevant to their business, newsletters keep your clients and prospective clients informed about your firm’s areas of expertise – and make it just that much easier to put you on their short list.
Amy Boardman Hunt is the president of Muse Communications LLC, which provides content marketing and public relations to the legal profession. She began her career in legal journalism and has worked in legal marketing and public relations since 1997. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.