The Firm: Law firm newsletters still alive and kicking

By Jane Pribek

The Daily Record Newswire

It warms my heart to report that the law firm newsletter is still alive and kicking.

Firms have probably been using them for decades. They've updated the idea somewhat for the 21st Century -- for example, they post them on their websites.

But the newsletter concept remains an effective, cost-effective marketing tool. And it's not just for big firms. They're used with positive results by small and medium-sized firms, too.

Krueger & Hernandez in Madison, Wis., publishes a monthly, two-page newsletter. The most challenging aspect is the time involved, said Mark L. Krueger. There are just four lawyers at his firm, so a monthly edition is no small task.

They do it for several reasons. The newsletter offers useful information -- it's not just a sales pitch. It regularly reminds readers about the firm and its services. It helps cross-sell to current and former clients. And it fosters better relationships with readers. They read about one of the lawyers or staff receiving a professional honor, or just their birthdays or anniversaries, and readers often make positive comments about those accomplishments or events the next time there's communication.

In fact, the feedback's been overwhelmingly positive, Krueger said. "Even the other lawyers who receive it have said good things."

They haven't calculated the ROI to the penny, but he's certain it's been a better bargain than the Yellow Pages. In fact, they don't advertise in the Yellow Pages.

McCoy & Hofbauer in Waukesha publishes a quarterly newsletter.

"I can point to at least a half-dozen institutional clients, who have a regular need for legal counsel on trial matters, who became clients through a combination of attending seminars, seeing us at various trade groups and reading our newsletter," said John V. McCoy. "Many of these institutional clients will give us something like over $100,000 worth of business a year, over the course of many years. When you look at it from that perspective, the newsletter's the best money we ever spent."

A critical decision is whether to use paper or an electronic version.

Weiss Berzowski Brady in Milwaukee publishes a quarterly, paper-only version. "I get anywhere from 65 to 80 e-mails a day, most of which are worthless," said Michael M. Berzowski. "We decided that the probability of someone going through all that e-mail and deleting it was just too great."

At Menn Law Firm in Appleton, however, they opted for just an electronic version. They considered their client base and other prospective readers, and determined that e-mail only would still reach most of them at a sizeable cost-savings. In addition, with the module they use to send the newsletter, they can tell how many recipients actually opened the e-mail, how many times certain links were clicked on, etc.

Then there's the hybrid. Krueger & Hernandez offers the cheaper, greener e-mail route. But the majority get paper. Current clients receive the newsletter along with their statements, so the firm doesn't incur a separate mailing cost for those newsletters.

Newsletter tips

Commit to it. Because the attorneys at Menn Law in Appleton were worried that unpredictable schedules would make that hard, they delegated heading up the monthly newsletter to staff member Kathy Krause.

If no one's leading the charge, there's a good chance you'll send the newsletter out late. That tells clients you can't meet a deadline, Berzowski said.

Original content is king. You can purchase content from vendors, who offer it exclusively to firms by geographic area. But readers will quickly divine that and stop reading your newsletters, because they're impersonal. Stated another way, buying ghost-written articles "is like paying someone else to kiss your spouse," said Berzowski.

That having been said, Krueger & Hernandez occasionally include snippets from the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, of which Michelle T.L. Hernandez is a member. But they're the only firm in the state that has re-publication rights, and the articles tend to focus on real news, such as the recent changes to the estate tax.

Keep the Dictaphone handy. Krueger has come up with article ideas while listening to the news during his daily commute or while watching the Sunday morning news programs. He then dictates his thoughts while the idea is fresh, and voila! The article is done, for the most part.

Remember your audience. "It shouldn't read like the IRS Code," said McCoy. Keep it short and use large fonts. "Give them an overview, not law review."

Krause, a nonlawyer, said she always checks for excess legalese. Ask your nonlawyer spouse or a friend to proofread, and to look for legalese, too.

On that note, the more proofreaders, the better. If you've looked at multiple drafts, your eyes just don't see missing words or (gasp!) comma splices. But you already knew this because you always do this for briefs, right?

Be (respectfully) clever. Attorneys and staff at Menn Law brainstormed and ultimately came up with the title "Menn at Work." Meanwhile, at McCoy & Hofbauer, they annually publish an April Fool's issue entirely of jokes. "People talk about it. It helps them remember the firm. And it's a way of showing them that we're capable of having a little fun, too," McCoy said.

On that note, don't limit it to regular editions. Krause said they also publish "special reports" for breaking news, such as when the IRS comes out with its annual mileage reimbursement rate.

Incorporate new technologies. For example, at Krueger & Hernandez, they post links to their website's PDF of the newsletter on Twitter and Facebook.

The day will likely come when they stop using paper. But for now, the old-school method is still reaching a receptive audience, so they see no reason to abandon it just yet.

Be patient. "Part of marketing in the legal profession is getting your name in front of people on a regular basis over a long period of time," said McCoy. "It takes time for people to get to know you and develop some confidence in your abilities, so when they finally need legal counsel, you've already established a relationship and have name recognition with them. It might be three years after you meet someone that they finally need a lawyer, and if you've not kept in contact with them over those three years, they won't think to call you."

Published: Tue, Mar 15, 2011

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