Two two of hearts cards on beach

All thought leadership boils down to these two words

Don’t overthink thought leadership. Two simple words describe why it works—and should guide your thought leadership strategy and execution.

At bottom, thought leadership is about two words: perceived authority.

Thought leadership is all about creating the perception in the minds of your target audiences—clients, referral sources, media outlets, conference organizers, potential future colleagues, and perhaps others—that you are an authority regarding the area of law you practice, the industries you serve, and the practice and business of law.

The reason thought leadership creates perceived authority is because it’s human nature for us to assume that if we’re seeing someone talk intelligently about a particular topic on a regular basis, they’ve likely developed the knowledge and wisdom required to talk about that topic intelligently.

After all, why would they bother talking about a topic they know nothing about? And, how would they be able to come across as authoritative and credible, time after time, when they’re talking about complex legal issues or business issues if they didn’t have a clue about what they were discussing?

How perceived authority helps your marketing and business development efforts

The magic of perceived authority is that it opens up doors and compounds over time.

When you look at all the audiences that attorneys and law firms target with their marketing and business development efforts, you can see how perceived authority works and how it drives marketing and business development results.

Clients. When current or prospective clients perceive an attorney to be an authority regarding a particular area of law or industry, they’re going to reach out to that attorney because they believe they can help them with their legal or business issues in that area or industry.

Referral sources. When current or prospective referral sources perceive an attorney to be an authority regarding the work they do, they’re going to be confident that if they refer their client’s matter to that attorney, the attorney will secure a favorable outcome for the client.

Media outlets. When reporters and editors at media outlets perceive an attorney to be an authority regarding the area of law they practice or the industry they serve, they’ll engage them by interviewing them when writing articles about that area of law or industry, welcoming and publishing the attorney’s contributed articles, inviting them to appear on podcasts, etc.

In so doing, they amplify that attorney’s authority because they are producing content that positions that attorney favorably and as an authority.

Media appearances compound perceived authority because when one media outlet sees another media outlet engaging an attorney, that second outlet will often reach out to that attorney because the first media outlet has validated them as an authority.

Conference organizers. A similar thing happens with conference organizers. If they perceive an attorney as an authority regarding their work, they’re going to invite them to present at their conference as a solo presenter or a participant in a panel discussion. 

When the attorney is on stage, they have an opportunity to amplify their expertise and authority by addressing a relatively large audience that contains people who may never have heard of the attorney until seeing them present.

As with media appearances, speaking opportunities at conferences compound perceived authority. When today’s audience members or fellow speakers are tomorrow’s conference organizers, they may extend invitations to those attorneys whose presentations left them feeling like those attorneys should be called upon again down the road to present on a topic within the universe of topics the attorney could discuss intelligently and credibly.

General networking. When attorneys consistently publish thought leadership that creates a perception that they’re an authority regarding the work they do, people will approach them at events. 

They’ll chat them up. They might say they read a recent article of theirs. Or that they listened to a recent episode of their podcast. Or that they saw a recent video of theirs.

They might also jump right into asking them a question about a legal or business issue they’re facing, someone they know is facing, or that their client is facing. 

Because of a single piece of thought leadership content—or a steady steam of thought leadership over time—the attorney will solidify a relationship with that person despite not having had one before because that person perceives the attorney to be an authority.

Let “perceived authority” guide your thought leadership strategy and content

It’s easy to overthink thought leadership when you’re mapping out your marketing and business development efforts. But at bottom, thought leadership is all about perceived authority. 

When you understand that, you can more easily design a content strategy and target the right audience members to help you build your practice and your prominence.

First, determine the areas of law, the industries, and/or other subject matter you want your target audiences to perceive you as an authority on.

Then, regularly capture potential topics for thought leadership content covering those areas, industries, and/or subject matter.

Next, commit to spending your time or other people’s time (such as colleagues or external collaborators like video editors or ghostwriters) producing thought leadership covering those areas, industries, and/or subject matter.

Finally, work with colleagues to strategically distribute that thought leadership in ways that reach your target audiences.

Thought leadership is nothing more than creating a perception that you are an authority. Though easier said than done, establishing your perceived authority is the key to a successful thought leadership program.

Thinking about bringing on an outside writer to help your law firm strategize and create compelling thought-leadership marketing and business development content? Click here to schedule a 30-minute Content Strategy Audit to learn if collaborating with an outside writer is the right move for you and your firm.

Wayne Pollock, a former Am Law 50 senior litigation associate, is the founder of Copo Strategies, a legal services and communications firm, and the Law Firm Editorial Service, a content strategy and ghostwriting service for lawyers and their law firms. The Law Firm Editorial Service helps Big Law and boutique law firm partners, and their firms, grow their practices and prominence by collaborating with them to strategize and ethically ghostwrite book-of-business-building marketing and business development content.

Schedule an introductory conversation.

Use the button below to schedule a complimentary 30-minute Content Strategy Audit.