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Thought leadership is your secret crisis management weapon

Thought leadership is more than a marketing and business development tool. It is a secret crisis management weapon hiding in plain sight.

There is an interesting connection between thought leadership, crisis management, and crisis communications that few attorneys and law firms understand: Over time, consistent strategic thought leadership can serve as a form of reputational armor for an attorney or a law firm later accused of wrongdoing.

As a marketing and business development tool, thought leadership brings many benefits to attorneys and law firms.

One of those benefits, perhaps a key benefit, is that over time, thought leadership helps its authors be seen as credible and trustworthy by their target audiences.

Whether your thought leadership is geared toward clients, referral sources, or others, when they consistently read the thought leadership you and your colleagues publish, you and your colleagues will be seen over time as an authority regarding the subject matter you’re covering.

With authority comes credibility and trust. As your target audiences see you and your colleagues consistently analyze legal or industry developments intelligently and in a way that resonates with them, they will see you as credible regarding the topics you cover, and they will trust that you are taking the “right” view on those topics.

Credibility and trust as a secret crisis management weapon

This credibility and trust comes in handy when the ability to serve a client, or the general judgment of an attorney or a law firm, is called into question by allegations of wrongdoing.

For example, let’s say an attorney or law firm that consistently publishes thought leadership content regarding the area of law they practice or the industry they serve is accused of malpractice or violating ethics rules.

That attorney’s or law firm’s target audiences are likely to compare allegations of wrongdoing to what they have observed about the attorney’s or law firm’s knowledge, wisdom, and abilities. Those observations will be heavily influenced by, if not based on, their thought leadership.

If the attorney and/or firm has demonstrated to their target audiences over time that they are thoughtful, knowledgeable, and wise, and are thus seen as credible and trustworthy, there’s a good chance audience members are not going to look at those allegations as being particularly persuasive. They might be willing to overlook them because they feel like they know the attorney and firm, and those allegations don’t jive with what they’ve observed based on the thought leadership they’re consumed.

The same phenomenon is likely to apply if an attorney or law firm has been accused of wrongdoing in connection with their business operations, hiring practices, etc.—provided the attorney or firm has previously published thought leadership about business operations like culture building and DEI, hiring, etc.

Again, over time, that attorney or law firm would build a reputation in the minds of their target audiences that they’re credible and trustworthy based on the authority they’ve shown by consistently publishing thought leadership regarding the business of law through which they appear knowledgeable and wise.

In this situation particularly, we see the benefit of law firm thought leadership targeted to, and consumed by, current and prospective attorneys and staff, as well as other non-clients and non-referral sources.

These audiences might be particularly put off by these allegations. But if they saw the attorney or law firm accused of this kind of wrongdoing as a thought leader regarding subject matter related to the allegations lodged against them, audience members might look at those allegations of wrongdoing and not think they have merit given their perception of the attorney or law firm based on the thought leadership from them they’ve consumed.

No, or minimal, thought leadership leaves a credibility and trust vacuum

Compare these situations to one where an attorney or law firm is battling allegations of wrongdoing—regarding either the substantive practice of law or the operations of a legal practice or firm—but they published little or no thought leadership.

If, in the minds of clients, referral sources, attorneys and staff members, and others, the attorney or law firm was a blank slate because they did not publish enough thought leadership to build a favorable reputation and perception in the minds of those people, those allegations will be received differently.

Unfortunately for the attorney or law firm, those people’s perceptions of either in the wake of the allegations will not be influenced by a steady stream of thought leadership that showed those people that the attorney and firm were credible and trustworthy.

In this vacuum created by a lack of thought leadership, the allegations of wrongdoing will not be proactively rebutted. They will not be instantly met with resistance, which means they could significantly damage the attorney’s or law firm’s reputation.

Thought leadership is a secret crisis management weapon

Thought leadership is an amazing marketing and business development tool for attorneys and law firms.

It helps them engage with their target audiences.

It helps them show that they are knowledgeable and wise about the areas of law they practice and the industries they serve.

It helps them build credibility and trustworthiness in the eyes of their target audiences.

But thought leadership is also a secret crisis management weapon. It helps attorneys and law firms proactively build credibility and trust, and fuels target audiences’ favorable perceptions of them.

If an attorney or law firm who was a prolific thought leadership publisher was accused of wrongdoing, their favorable reputation, built in (large?) part by their thought leadership, will help the prevent the allegations from causing significant reputational harm.

If you’re thinking about launching or increasing your or your firm’s thought leadership efforts, you are, of course, likely to see a benefit to your or your firm’s marketing and business development efforts.

But you and your firm will also be developing a secret weapon that, while I hope it is never needed, could help repel attacks on your or your firm’s reputation caused by allegations of wrongdoing.

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.

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