Play to Win

Thought Leadership for Lawyers: Hit the Mark

By | May.20.13 | Business Development, Daily Dispatch, Law Practice Management, Legal Marketing, Play to Win

Play to Win

Thought leadership. It’s a new term for an old concept—writing and speaking to enhance your visibility and build a public perception of your expertise. Lawyers have used thought leadership as a marketing strategy since the very early days of law firm marketing, although the forums have evolved from articles and speeches to blogs, podcasts and webinars.

I find that lawyers often identify wonderful opportunities to position themselves in a particular substantive area, or before a key audience. Unfortunately, the result often misses the mark. To be a thought leader, your message must be heard, and to be heard, you must connect with your audience.

WIIFM: How to Communicate with Your Target Audience

There’s an old marketing acronym, WIIFM: What’s In It For Me? That’s what the recipients of your messages are thinking. You need to put yourself in the shoes of a busy general counsel or human resources manager or patent coordinator—whoever is your audience. What do they want to know? It’s simple.

  1. Why is this information important to me?
  2. What should I do about it?

The best way to help you see the audience’s perspective is to engage them in your process. Say, for example, you have been asked to write an article for dentists on selling a dental practice. You could:

  • Call a few dentists who have sold their practices and ask for their thoughts on the process. What surprised them? What lessons did they learn? What advice do they have for others?
  • Call your own dentist and ask what he or she would want to know when the time comes to sell.
  • Call the editor of the publication and ask what the readers will be most interested in.

Based on the feedback, you could prepare your article (in layman’s terms) and title it something like, “Five things you should know before selling your dental practice.” Then (you’re not done yet), send a draft to the people you interviewed to get their feedback.


There are caveats to this approach. First, you can’t wait until the 11th hour to prepare your materials if you plan to solicit input. Second, you must be open to feedback and constructive criticism.

If you can get past those hurdles and employ this process, however, I guarantee you will be much more likely to hit the mark and connect with your audience.

Sally J. Schmidt is President of Schmidt Marketing, Inc., which offers marketing services to law firms. Sally was a founder and the first President of the Legal Marketing Association, and one of the first inductees into the LMA’s Hall of Fame. She is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and author of Marketing the Law Firm: Business Development Techniques and Business Development for Lawyers. Sally writes Attorney at Work’s “Play to Win” column. Follow her on Twitter @SallySchmidt.

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7 Responses to “Thought Leadership for Lawyers: Hit the Mark”

  1. Elonide Semmes
    20 May 2013 at 6:49 am #

    The What’s In It For Me mantra is spot on. I always remind lawyers that thought leadership is really just a way for a non-client to preview how you think. And if you discipline yourself to have just a few actionable takeaways, they are more likely to remember you and your firm.

  2. Susan Saltonstall Duncan
    21 May 2013 at 10:57 am #

    This was an excellent post, Sally. Very practical and focused. The recent survey by Greentarget/Zeughauser/InsideCounsel on social media trends really emphasizes how much clients are looking for throught-leadership through blogs, videos and other forums. This has come full circle — used to be that associates were asked to write articles and prepare presentations for partners to publish and that once a partner, you no longer did this anymore. Now, as Elonide suggests, it is a way for prospects to evaluate what you know, how on top of issues you are and how you approach problems.