Clients and prospective clients want you to keep them up-to-date. Regular client communication often attracts new business not directly related to the content of the communication itself. Just putting your name in front of people in an attractive, helpful way produces responses. This article will discuss how you can keep in touch with your existing clients and build your reputation with prospective ones by regularly e-mailing a firm newsletter.
Target Your Audience
The preeminent questions to answer when deciding to produce a newsletter are: Whom do you want to reach and why? The best newsletters are targeted at people who want to read the information you provide. Existing customers are most responsive to newsletters. They know you and your practice, so focus your newsletter on your particular legal area or areas. For example, Milt Zwicker, coauthor of this article, has a wills and estates practice and a condominium practice. He produces two newsletters, one for each area to address each client base.
Another audience for your newsletter is any group you speak to. Newsletters can be excellent handout materials. They provide a succinct summary of information in an appealing visual format to enhance learning and build your reputation as an expert. Milt does a lot of speaking in the condominium field. He uses his “Condo Watch” newsletter with audience members as well as existing clients.
Newsletters can also function as stand-alone articles to provide information about specific topics. Milt receives many questions about condominiums. The answers are often found in the condominium declaration, which is the underlying document for the association. These declarations are usually anywhere from 20 to 40 pages long. To assist people, Milt sends them a copy of his newsletter with an article about declarations in it. The newsletter article helps them maneuver through the lengthy document to get the information that they need.
Keep to a Schedule
Consistency is more important than frequency. Choose a time frame for publication that you can regularly meet. Milt sends out newsletters on a quarterly basis. In his article “Getting Value from Law Firm Newsletters,” Brian Freeman, the director of marketing for Faegre & Benson LLP, identifies inconsistent publication as one of the main reasons why newsletters fail to work:
That’s the first reason most law firms and their marketers have declared newsletters dead. They can’t produce them consistently. If you produce newsletters erratically, without any fixed schedule, you lose much of the brand value of keeping your firm name in front of clients and potential clients. In addition, much of the content tends to be stale—because the timely articles usually are shelved while the firm or group hunts for other articles to fill an entire issue.
The design template of your newsletter—produced either in-house or with a design firm—serves as the foundation for subsequent issues. Make sure the design fits your firm’s visual identity. Good design counts. Spend the time and money needed to make the newsletter look attractive and inviting to read. That being said, designing a good-looking e-newsletter yourself requires little expense owing to affordable desktop publishing software. Milt uses Microsoft Publisher, an easy, intuitive program for laying out publications.
Milt recommends designing two-page newsletters in 8.5” x 11” format. A survey by Inc. magazine found that the most highly read newsletters are two pages long and deal with no more than two topics.
Consider producing your newsletter as an Acrobat PDF file—that way, you can send it as an e-mail attachment or print hard copies to hand out occasionally in your office or at presentations. To create PDF files from any publishing or word processing software, you can use Adobe Acrobat or free alternatives such as PDFCreator. Milt uses a color printer for his hard copies to add graphic appeal.
Set yourself a goal: “My clients will tell me they like to read the information I publish.” How do you reach that goal? Pay attention to your clients’ issues and your area of law to get ideas for your newsletter content. Milt makes notes about what clients are asking him and what their concerns are. He also keeps his eye on new court cases with his clients in mind. Cases that deal with your areas of practice are likely to be of interest to your clients. When it is time to write the quarterly newsletter, the notes you have been accumulating can be the basis for choosing relevant topics to write about.
The most effective newsletters transform legal and judicial language into understandable and engaging copy that is easy to read. Ask several people, some inside and some outside your firm, to review the style of your initial efforts. That process may bruise your ego, but take the feedback to heart. It will help you find your newsletter’s voice.
Write in the active voice, the surest way to engage readers. The minute you change to the active voice, you force yourself to shorten your sentences. The phrase, “some authorities have said,” reads better than, “it has been said by some authorities.” Lawyers use the passive voice too much. Although it can avoid the dilemma of gender-specific pronouns, the passive voice often produces sentences that are more difficult to understand and longer than they need to be. Milt uses the Grammatik tool in his word processor and recommends such tools to other writers. Grammatik will spot the passive voice and rephrase it for you. You do not have to make the changes that it highlights; occasionally breaking this basic rule can work well.
Include a verb in each headline. Newspapers do this to capture readers’ interest. Add lots of subheadings to each article. Milt’s rule of thumb is that the copy is limited to ten lines of text under each subheading.
Brian Freeman addresses business friendly writing as well:
The articles are largely written by partners and senior associates who understand the concept of “adding value” in the information they provide to clients. I also edit every article personally, to assure that we maintain a consistent, readable editorial style. This is true right down to the headlines, which are interesting teasers for the content inside (“Hello, SEC Calling,” “Is Your Software Investment at Risk,” “Love, Marriage, and Custom Software,” and the like).
If newsletters are part of your marketing strategy, become client-focused. Put yourself in their shoes. See if the articles and the look of your newsletter will catch their attention. Writing and design are creative talents. Move into that mind-set. As Brian Freeman noted:
One of our senior partners confessed that he used to be a pretty good writer, but several decades of practicing law had ground all his writing instincts out of him. Similarly, when lawyers refer to an associate as a “good writer,” they almost always mean that he or she is a precise writer—which has very little to do with whether anyone would want to read what he or she has written.
Write more as a writer and less as a lawyer.
Milt sends his newsletter out via e-mail using Time Matters software. You can send the newsletter as an attachment to your e-mail or as HTML e-mail. Milt’s recipient list is made up of people who know him and have requested that he send them the newsletter, along with people who hear about the newsletter and ask him to send a copy. Milt tends to avoid sending a personalized cover e-mail to particular clients. They are interested enough that the added effort is unnecessary.
Existing clients are the best candidates to receive your newsletter. Use newsletters to build your relationship with your clients by keeping them up-to-date and keeping your firm “top of mind.” In addition to your regular e-mailing, send copies of back issues to clients when you become aware that an issue is particularly relevant to a client’s changing situation. If a topic comes up in a phone call or conversation with a potential client, send that person a back issue addressing that topic.
If you give presentations or seminars, the back issues of your newsletters can become excellent printed handouts. Keep printed copies in your office so that it is easy to pass them along to others who may refer business to you or may need your services.
So what about using a professional newsletter service to write and publish your newsletter? The downside of most services is that their newsletters are too long and the content is too general.
The guts of your outsourced newsletter will be the exact same material being offered to other law firms. Do you want your clients reading a newsletter that has been written by someone else and aimed at just anyone, or a newsletter that comes directly from you and speaks to your clients’ concerns? And, sure, it would take you time you do not have to write newsletters as long as those produced by commercial services. But you do not need to write that much! Shorter, pithy publications are better.
Remember: The keys to a successful newsletter are keeping it at two pages and tailoring it to your readers’ needs.
Writing your newsletter attracts new client work. But the rewards go beyond that. Nothing feels quite the same as a heartfelt thank-you from someone you have helped with a problem. That satisfaction comes from direct work with your clients, but it also comes from those who read your writing. In the end, your newsletter is an extension of your firm. It demonstrates the value you want to provide—and do provide—for your clients. Let your value show in print. Or their In Box.
Newsletter Dos and Don’ts
- Publish consistently
- Include two pages per issue
- Include two topics or articles in each issue
- Use active voice
- Use grammar-checking software
- Target to your area of practice
- Keep your clients up-to-date
- Put a verb in each headline
- Use subheadings every ten lines or so
- Be long-winded
- Use passive voice
- Be too general
- Have too many articles
- Cover more than one point per article
- Deviate from your schedule
- Be afraid it will take too long—newsletters are short!
Milton W. Zwicker, LL.B., is the managing partner of Zwicker, Evans & Lewis in Orillia, Ontario, specializing in condominium law and estate planning. He is the author of Successful Client Newsletters: The Complete Guide to Creating Powerful Newsletters, published by the ABA, and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 705/325-6146. Wells H. Anderson, J.D., president of Active Practice LLC, provides legal technology assistance, customization, and training to solos and firms throughout North America via remote access, teleconferences, and public webinars. He may be reached at email@example.com or 800/575-0007.
Originally published in the December 2007 issue of GPSOLO Magazine.