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Want to be a thought leader? Take a stand in your thought leadership

Leaders lead. If you want to be a thought leader, don’t be wishy-washy when crafting your thought-leadership content.

When lawyers want to be seen as authorities in the areas of law they practice, a tried-and-true marketing and business development tactic is for them to publish “thought leadership” content in which they analyze recent legal developments in the areas of law they practice, such as recent court cases, proposed or enacted legislation, or administrative agency actions.

By doing so, they can position themselves as knowledgable about the areas of law they practice, and can stay top of mind with past, current, and prospective clients and referral sources.

Many lawyers, and almost all legal marketers, know this and strive to create thought-leadership content on a regular basis. (Only a relatively few firms, however, end up doing so consistently.)

But when creating thought-leadership content, the vast majority of lawyers and their law firms fail to do one thing that can set them apart from their competitors and build tighter bonds with their target audience: they fail to take a stand in their thought-leadership content. They rarely state their opinion about the legal development they’re covering in their thought-leadership content.

The irony, of course, is that to be seen as a thought leader a lawyer must LEAD WITH THEIR THOUGHTS. That means taking a stand and having opinions.

Here are three reasons why lawyers need to take stands in the thought-leadership content they create and why they should avoid being wishy-washy when they discuss legal developments in that content.

Thought leaders lead—and stand out from the crowd

First, as I alluded to before, leaders lead. If a lawyer wants to be known as a thought leader in a particular area of law, they have to have an opinion. They can’t just always report on what a court said in a decision or what the language of a proposed statute says.

They need to come down on one side or the other. When they do, they’ll instantly stand out from other lawyers who will be talking objectively about the same legal development. By daring to break the mold and talking subjectively, a lawyer will be recognized as different from the pack, which assuming the lawyer is talking in a professional and reasonable manner, is a good thing for building their personal brand.

When taking a stand, a lawyer could tackle any of the following angles:

Was the development good (for the lawyers’ target audiences, including the clients they serve)? Was it bad?

Who are the winners? Who are the losers?

Was this an example of a court getting the facts or the law wrong? Was this an example of a legislature overreaching?

True thought leaders don’t play it safe. They take a stand and are not afraid to have an opinion—even when they’re talking about what a particular judge or a particular legislator did. They LEAD with their thoughts.

Taking a stand shows a high level of knowledge and wisdom concerning the issue at hand

Another reason why it’s important for lawyers to take a stand in their thought-leadership content is because they can separate themselves from other lawyers who practice the same areas of law they do by displaying a higher level of knowledge and wisdom concerning the issue at hand versus their competitors.

Think about it. When clients and referral sources see a lawyer taking a stand, they will see that lawyer as someone who knows a great deal about the topic and the ramifications of the legal development. After all, if the lawyer didn’t really understand what was happening and what the legal development means for the future, they wouldn’t be able to credibly talk about both.

This is not cable news where talking heads can fake their knowledge by raising their voices and repeating the same talking points. We’re talking, presumably, about relatively sophisticated legal issues. When lawyers take a stand and have an opinion about a legal development, they can show they know the nuances and nooks and crannies of a particular area of law, and that they can see both the big picture and be in the weeds regarding developments in that area of law.

Having an opinion shows your clients and referral sources that you have their backs

If a lawyer doesn’t take a stand in their thought-leadership content, it might not be clear to their clients and referral sources that the lawyer has their backs and their interests at heart.

For example, let’s say a plaintiffs’ lawyer is discussing a supreme court case in their state that will limit the size of punitive damages or will heighten the standard for standing in certain kinds of cases.

If that lawyer doesn’t make it seem to potential clients and referral sources that they’re fired up about the decision, or they’re not acting like the decision is an affront to anyone who’s injured or otherwise had their rights violated, would-be clients and referral sources might think, “Wow, this decision sounds like it is bad. Why isn’t the lawyer more fired up about it? Do they not care about helping injured people?” That lack of passion or fire regarding the development and its ramifications could be interpreted as a lack of passion or fire for representing the people most impacted by the development and its ramifications (who are likely the lawyer’s ideal clients, thus the reason they’re writing the content).

Likewise, let’s say an FDA regulatory attorney at a large corporate law firm is covering an FDA administrative action or some other issue or development that appears to be anti-industry in a big way.

If the lawyer doesn’t inject their opinion into their analysis and make it seem like the FDA is, say, stifling innovation and preventing industry participants from engaging in conduct that has been widely recognized as pro-consumer, that lawyer’s current and and prospective clients—here, biopharma companies—might not believe the lawyer is in sync with how they view the world. They might interpret that misalignment as an indication the lawyer is not someone they should hire because they don’t appear to be an unabashed advocate for their clients.

It’s hard for a lawyer to show passion for their clients’ interests in thought-leadership content that straddles the fence and doesn’t take a stab at explaining why a particular legal development is good or bad.

Taking a stand doesn’t mean burning bridges

Some of you might be thinking, “Couldn’t we create positional conflicts or offend other lawyers, judges, and other people and entities we might appear in front if we have too much of a ‘hot take’ regarding a particular legal development?”

I suppose that’s possible, but it’s highly unlikely. Lawyers are advocates. The people who will be on the receiving end of lawyers’ opinions in their thought leadership understand that. If a lawyer is remotely smart about how they state their opinion, they are not going to invite pushback from the subjects of their opinions.

For one, there’s no need for personal attacks when taking a stand. Nor should a lawyer engage in the kind of hyperbolic rhetoric that plagues conversations about divisive political and societal issues.

Additionally, if a lawyer wants to convey a particularly high level of passion and wants to take a court, legislators, or administrative agency lawyers or leaders to task, they can soften the blow. They could say things like, “We can only assume that the court failed to take into account these unintended consequences of its decision because . . . .” Or, they could say things like, “This clearly unconstitutional bill appears not to be driven by any malevolent motivations but, instead, a failure to understand . . . .”

Stand out from the pack by taking a stand in thought-leadership content

It’s awfully easy for lawyers, when they create thought-leadership marketing or business development content, to simply report on what a legal development is, whether it’s a piece of legislation, a court decision, or an administrative agency action.

But the true thought leaders, the people who are perceived by their target audiences and by the industry as leaders, take stands. They have opinions. Some are sharper than others, but the key is that they’re known to not be afraid of straying from the pack and having an opinion. That’s what solidifies their position as an authority—as a thought LEADER.

Thinking about bringing on an outside writer to help you take a stand in your 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.

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