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Don’t worry—you won’t give away your special sauce in your thought-leadership content

Your special sauce consists of more than the knowledge and wisdom you will display in your thought-leadership marketing and business development content.

Sometimes, when I talk to a lawyer about a particular thought-leadership marketing or business development project, they become concerned that by publishing content on a particular topic relevant to their legal practice, they might give away their special sauce to the public for free.

I understand their concern. Who wouldn’t, especially in an industry like the legal industry where lawyers make their money based on the counsel they give clients?

But when a lawyer voices their concern about possibly giving away their special sauce through thought-leadership content, I tell them what I’m going to tell you in this blog post: Don’t worry about giving away your special sauce in your thought-leadership content.

What’s a lawyer’s special sauce, anyway?

Your special sauce, which for our purposes here can be defined as the way you approach and provide legal counsel regarding your clients’ legal and business issues, consists of three ingredients:

  1. The knowledge you have regarding the area of law you practice.

  2. The wisdom you bring to your clients’ situations based on what you have learned about the law, business, society, and life over the time you’ve been alive.

  3. The application of #1 and #2 to all of the known facts and circumstances surrounding a client’s particular legal or business issue.

When you combine your knowledge and wisdom, and apply them to the known facts and circumstances your clients find themselves in, you then have your special sauce. You have the essence of what makes you the lawyer you are and that separates you from every other lawyer out there—even the ones who practice in the same area of law you practice in.

The most common forms of thought-leadership content provide scant opportunities for you to give away your special sauce

Of course, when you’re writing thought-leadership marketing and business development content, you don’t have that third factor above. You don’t have a client’s facts and circumstances. 

Yes, you bring your knowledge. Yes, you bring your wisdom. But you obviously don’t have a client’s facts and circumstances because of the nature of thought-leadership content. And, ethical rules will prevent you from disclosing your clients’ confidences without their permission—which you probably don’t want to ask for since a client will probably not want to have their legal issues serve as inspiration for your marketing and business development efforts, even if that client isn’t referred to by name.

Looking at arguably the most prevalent kind of thought-leadership content that lawyers typically write, content that covers legal developments like new court opinions, legislation, or administrative agency actions, a lawyer need only draw upon their knowledge and wisdom when they craft such content. There’s no opportunity to apply them to the facts and circumstances of a particular client’s situation.

With this content, a lawyer will mostly be drawing upon their knowledge of the area of law they practice when walking through why a court ruled the way it did or why an administrative agency chose to pursue a particular course of action. Their wisdom might come into play when explaining what impact a court’s decision might have on their client’s industry, or what the chances are of a proposed bill becoming law. But there’s no opportunity to discuss a client’s facts and circumstances.

When looking at another popular form of thought-leadership content, evergreen “How to” content, we see almost the same thing playing out, though there could be a narrow opportunity to discuss a client’s facts and circumstances.

Let’s say your law firm wanted to write an article about five ways for a company to ensure their Foreign Corrupt Practices Act internal investigation goes smoothly, or how a board of directors should handle a data breach at their public company. That kind of content is likely to weigh heavier on your wisdom than your knowledge. Yes, the actions you recommend should comply with what you know to be applicable law in the area you practice. But these “How to”-type pieces of content, as well as other pieces like those featuring your or your colleagues’ predictions, will draw mostly on the wisdom you developed over the time you’ve had your law license.

In these pieces of content, you might draw some inspiration from the work you did for a client and the facts and circumstances they were facing. But because of the ethical issues and the client relationship issues I mentioned above, and the fact that a piece of content like this would be broad in its discussion so as to be applicable to as many people and/or organizations wrestling with these issues as possible, it is unlikely you’ll be discussing a particular client’s facts and circumstances.

Finally, some law firms produce what I like to call “How we did it”-type pieces of content where they write a thought-leadership article about how they tackled a particular client’s legal issue, with or without mentioning a client’s name, but certainly after making sure the client is OK with them doing so.

With these pieces of content, you’d be getting close to discussing a particular client’s facts and circumstances because you’d be crafting content about an actual legal matter you helped a client with. But just because you could go into detail about all of the client’s facts and circumstances doesn’t mean you will thanks to ethics rules and client service concerns.

That being said, you could still go into detail about some facts and circumstances—assuming your client signed off on you doing so—that forced you to take the action you did, but even that won’t necessarily lead to you giving away your special sauce. That’s because that sauce is made from applying your knowledge and wisdom to all of the known facts and circumstances a client faces.

What about hypothetical facts and circumstances?

You might be thinking, “Couldn’t I give away my special sauce if I came up with a sophisticated hypothetical that covered all of the known facts and circumstances a client might be facing regarding their legal issues and then I explained how I’d help that client navigate those issues?”

You might be able to. But why go into such depth regarding a hypothetical client’s facts and circumstances? Why craft content that is a deep dive into a hypothetical situation that may or may not resemble what a client might actually go through? (Remember, fact is often stranger than fiction.)

There are other ways to show off your knowledge and wisdom about certain legal issues to past, current, and prospective clients and referral sources than by going on a manufactured deep dive like this. It’d be more efficient (and effective) to write a general evergreen piece along the lines of the examples I gave above regarding particular kinds of internal investigations or dealing with a board of directors instead of coming up with a convoluted hypothetical that’d make law school professors jealous.

Don’t fret about giving away your special sauce in your thought-leadership content

While it is understandable that a lawyer would fear giving away for free in their thought-leadership marketing and business development content insights which their clients pay a pretty penny for, that fear is unfounded. 

What makes a lawyer special is their ability to apply their knowledge and wisdom to a client’s situation and then come up with a plan for enforcing or protecting that client’s legal rights. Thought-leadership content provides a platform for lawyers to show off their knowledge and wisdom. But there’s rarely an opportunity in that content for lawyers to apply both to a client’s known facts and circumstances. 

Even where there might be an opportunity to do so, there are compelling reasons for a lawyer not to. All in all, effective thought-leadership content doesn’t require a lawyer’s special sauce to be effective—it only requires their willingness to share their knowledge and wisdom with the world.

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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