Original research can be the cornerstone of a thought-leadership program that propels a law firm miles ahead of its peer and competitor firms.
I’m always surprised when I look at the websites of Am Law 200 law firms and other relatively large law firms. Few of them are using original research as part of their thought-leadership marketing and business development efforts for a particular practice group.
To me, original research is a potent way for a law firm or one of its practice groups to plant its flag on the area(s) of law it practices to help catapult it to the top of its ideal clients’ minds. When a firm or practice group utilizes original research as part of its thought-leadership marketing and business development efforts, it signifies to the legal industry, to its current and prospective clients, and to the world that the firm or practice group is the go-to firm or practice group regarding the area of law covered by the research.
By its very nature, a firm’s original research thrusts its lawyers deep into the weeds of the area of law covered by the research, which allows them to become instant authorities on that topic (and likely give them more knowledge about it than the majority of lawyers). Plus, depending on the nature of the research, a firm’s lawyers may have their fingers on the pulse of trends and other developments regarding the area of law covered by the research that their clients can naturally benefit from.
Below, I explain the four reasons why your law firm should start thinking today about incorporating original research into its thought-leadership marketing and business development efforts.
The two kinds of original research law firms are likely to create
But before I go there, let’s make sure we’re on the same page regarding the two kinds of research law firms are most likely to create.
The first kind is where a law firm’s lawyers and staff design questions and then ask those questions of a group of people. Maybe it’s a group of corporate general counsel. Maybe it’s a group of tech CEOs. Maybe it’s a group of fintech startup founders.
The point is, a law firm’s lawyers and staff create a survey that asks questions of respondents. The lawyers and staff then get answers from the respondents, they synthesize and analyze those answers, and they eventually report on their findings.
The second kind of research is where a law firm’s lawyers and staff compile data that already exists. Maybe it’s court cases regarding particular sets of facts. Maybe it’s administrative agency actions regarding particular regulations. Maybe it’s settlements regarding particular claims.
With this research, a law firm’s lawyers and staff are doing the same things they would do with the first kind of research, but they’re not creating the data from scratch via surveys. They’re relying on information that is already available.
Original research helps law firms stand out from the crowd
Back to the four reasons why law firms should incorporate original research into their marketing and business development efforts. First, they will stand out from the crowd. As I mentioned earlier, relatively few law firms are publishing original research.
Sure, many of them have thought-leadership marketing and business development content programs. A fair amount of those programs are well-done. But few use original research to power their marketing and business development content efforts, including their thought-leadership efforts (which I’ll get to more in a moment).
By publishing original research, a law firm will automatically stand out from the pack. But if it drills down with its research and focuses on a niche within a particular practice area, it can own that niche because it is putting out, hopefully consistently over time (more on that in a moment, too), the authoritative research and analysis regarding developments or trends with respect to that niche or larger area of the law. How can a firm NOT be the go-to authority on Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prosecutions of multinational companies when it has published an annual review of such prosecutions for the last decade?
Original research can be focused on ideal clients’ issues and concerns
Another reason law firms should incorporate original research into their marketing and business development efforts is because original research can be calibrated to focus on the trends, issues, and concerns that keep their ideal clients up at night.
If a firm wanted more startups as clients, it could create an original research program focused on what startup founders care about. A firm could do the same thing if it wanted more financial companies as clients. For the former, a firm could focus its research on some aspect of venture capital or private equity. For the latter, the research could focus on what the SEC, the CFTC, or FINRA is up to with their rulemaking, administrative proceedings, etc.
A law firm could easily figure out ways to create original research that would be valuable to its ideal clients, which would attract them to the firm because it is providing original research that is a dead-on match with what they’re concerned about day-in and day-out.
Original research builds authority that compounds over time
With original research, a law firm can fuel a repeatable thought-leadership program that builds on itself, gains momentum, and further establishes the firm as an authority with each subsequent edition of the research.
Let’s say a law firm regularly puts out a quarterly or annual research report. Now, imagine the immense sense a current or prospective client will have about this law firm’s authority and credibility regarding the topic covered by the research when they’re reading the sixth, tenth, or eighteenth edition of the report.
Also, as a law firm conducts and publishes more and more original research, its lawyers and staff will become more efficient on both the research side and the publishing side. The firm will inevitably develop systems and processes for doing this work that get more efficient over time. As a result, with each edition, the research should take less time to conduct and publish.
Over time, as a firm’s ideal clients see another edition of relevant research, and then another, and another, and they consume that research and absorb its findings, they will associate that firm with the topic of that research. And that firm will then race to the top of its ideal clients’ minds—and likely stay there by itself—because it regularly flexes its authority muscle through this original research.
Original research can fuel a law firm’s thought-leadership and content marketing programs
Finally, original research provides practically limitless source material for a law firm’s marketing and business development content efforts. Think about all the ways a law firm can slice and dice a research report to create content like:
- Blog posts;
- Bylined articles;
- Press releases (in an attempt to secure earned media from, and interviews with, relevant media outlets);
- Social media posts—text, video, graphics, quotes;
- Videos—short and long form;
- Webinars—public and private (for current and prospective clients, VIPs, etc.); and
- White papers.
There are months’ worth of content in that list. Each piece of content can, on its own, show a law firm’s ideal clients why the firm is the authority on the topic covered by the research—which, obviously, should directly relate to the area of law it practices—by providing some information about the findings within that content. And each piece of content can bring an ideal client back to the full research report so they can get the full picture of both the research and the depth of the firm’s knowledge regarding the topic of that research.
Cost can become an issue with original research, but it doesn’t have to be
There’s one potential con with original research: its cost. If a law firm decides to undertake the first kind of research I described earlier—where the firm’s lawyers or staff are surveying people, or the firm has outsourced this function—there are going to be a fair number of costs involved. Those costs come in the form of non-billable time for lawyers and staff, or out-of-pocket expenses if a firm hires a third party to conduct the research.
On the other hand, not every law firm will have to, or want to, commission that kind of research. They may find the second kind of research—focused on data that’s already out there like court opinions, court documents, or administrative agency documents—will more than suffice. With this second kind of research, there will still be a cost in terms of lawyers or staff devoting non-billable time to the initiative, but it will be lower than the cost of the first kind of research.
That being said, there’s such a huge potential return on investment with original research that for those firms with the potential to dominate a practice area or industry, any reasonable cost to conduct the original research will be a worthwhile investment.
For most law firms, the opportunity to build authority through original research is theirs for the taking
So few law firms today use original research as part of their marketing and business development efforts. Law firms that understand how relevant, valuable, and compelling thought-leadership marketing and business development content will be their best bet for bringing on new matters from current and prospective clients and building their firms’ authority in the eyes of those people, should seriously consider incorporating original research into their marketing and business development efforts.
Thinking about bringing on an outside writer to help your law firm create marketing and business development content regarding its original research? 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.