The new legal publishing niche: clients

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Hey there, legal professional — looking for a career change in these uncertain times? I have a legal publishing niche to recommend to you. But first, some background.

This economic crisis has inspired some of the best legal blog writing I’ve seen in a while — urgent, direct, and relentlessly focused on communicating to readers exactly how serious a situation we’re in, and just how unique are the opportunities and threats lawyers face. If you haven’t been reading Patrick J. Lamb, Gerry Riskin, Dan Hull & Holden Oliver, Rob Millard, Susan Cartier Liebel, and the ACC blog the last few weeks, rectify that oversight. Click on these links and review what these commentators have been saying about the fundamental restructuring of the marketplace now underway, and why law firms of every shape and size need to respond in fundamental, game-changing ways.

What you’ll notice about many of these blogs and most of these entries is that they’re client-focused: that is, they either analyze the marketplace that buys legal services, or they explain the pressing and rapidly evolving needs of clients, or both. This is still a rarity in the blawgosphere: most legal blogs talk about developments in the law itself or address the business concerns of lawyers and law firms. Like most everything else connected with lawyers, most legal blogs are all about us. The image of the “client” that emerges from most law blogs is shaped by the perspective of lawyers — the client as a mysterious yet disadvantaged entity that needs lawyers’ help, makes demands on lawyers’ time, and pays lawyers’ bills.

But the most valuable and interesting legal blogs in the near future, like the few I’ve referenced above, will write from the perspective of, and serve the direct interests of, the client.  Whereas most lawyer blogs are created to explain the law (and promote the lawyer) to clients, these blogs will explain clients to lawyers — and that’s going to be a far more important service. They’ll paint in broad strokes, necessarily, since every client is different —  but they’ll still give lawyers powerful information about the drivers and priorities that lie behind every client interaction.

But there’s yet a further, still undiscovered publishing niche. There are a lot of publications for lawyers; there are very few, if any, for lawyers’ clients. You could argue that corporate counsel periodicals like the ACC Docket, Inside Counsel or CCCA Magazine (which I edit, full disclosure) serve this niche. But I still tend to think of these as lawyer publications: they primarily address the interests and needs of in-house law departments, and they often treat the client (the CEO, the owner, the Board of Directors) as an “other” the same way private-lawyer publications do. Yes, they talk about outside counsel cost control, but they also talk about compliance, governance, legal ethics and other lawyer-first issues.

Here’s the thing: there are a lot more clients than there are lawyers. Legal clients are a massive market, encompassing everyone who uses a lawyer even once (which is just about everyone). By and large, they’re not terribly interested in having lawyers tell them which regulations have been amended or which cases have been decided that might potentially affect their business or personal affairs someday. Nor are they even looking for lawyers to explain how the system works or what kinds of steps they should take in a given area — that information is increasingly commodified and available anywhere on the Net.

What legal clients do want to know is, who the good lawyers are in a given area (though not through directories), how to know what good work from a lawyer looks like, what constitutes excellent levels of service, communication, rates and billing structures from lawyers, and how to get the best of all of these things from the lawyers they do hire. They want to know about lawyers before hiring one the same way they want to know about cars and car salespeople before going to the dealership.  If you can deliver that knowledge in an engaging way to the client niche of your choice — online, print, podcast, the format doesn’t matter — you’re going to have a very valuable product on your hands.

And the really interesting thing is that although clients will be your primary audience, you’ll find lawyers will gather round to listen too — because lawyers seeking knowledge about clients is the legal publishing market of the future. Clients are coming to understand us a lot better than we understand them, and that’s  giving them the upper hand in all their dealings with us. Find yourself a choice position on this new playing field now.

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2 Responses to “The new legal publishing niche: clients”

  1. April Jones

    I read a lot of legal blogs and that’s also something I’ve noticed. Yet one of the first rules of Internet marketing is to figure out who your target market is, what they want, and tell them how you can help them. Well, as an attorney, your target market should be potential clients. That’s the audience that will generate income for you moreso than other legal professionals.

    There’s an almost untapped market out there of people who are using the Internet to get their legal questions answered before they decide to consult an attorney.

  2. Susan Cartier Liebel

    Jordan,

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. I’ve been hammering away at this point for a while. Lawyers cannot survive without clients. If you don’t understand where clients are coming from you can’t fashion your products or services to meet their needs. Imagine you provide a product like breakfast food. If you don’t know who your audience is, their buying habits, their eating habits, their socio-economic status, how they feel when money is tight, are you a luxury or a necessity, how could they possibly stay in business?

    The law is no different. A lawyer’s needs matter. And they will succeed if they meet their clients’ needs…there are very few exceptions to this rule.

    Great post.

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