Law firm newsletters are an inexpensive and effective way to stay in touch with your firm’s clients and professional network. When done well, a newsletter can also boost a firm’s credibility among other important audiences, including general counsel and others who make outside counsel hiring decisions.
According to a 2017 survey by Greentarget, 87 percent of general counsel consider client alerts among the most valuable forms of firm-generated content. That’s up from 77 percent in 2016. And 67 percent said the same about practice group newsletters. A law firm newsletter, therefore, should provide timely updates that interest clients (similar to client alerts) and substantive dives on practice-specific news.
It’s tempting to use a newsletter primarily to promote your new lawyers, awards, and client wins, but any newsletter featuring that type of information front and center is likely to be deleted immediately. Just as a lawyer’s first obligation is to his or her client’s best interests, so should a firm’s newsletter.
If your firm is considering a newsletter, this post addresses some of the practical, creative and State Bar of Texas compliance issues to consider before you hit “send.”
If you need help turning your “we oughta do a law firm newsletter” into reality, we can help with that! At Muse Communications, we handle everything from designing a template; compiling and uploading email lists; and writing, testing, and distributing regular email newsletters that keep you top-of-mind with your clients, prospective clients and referral sources. Just drop us a line.
How will we send it out?
The market is filled with free and low-cost vendors that can create professional-looking emails and provide a wealth of automation and data about opens, clicks, etc. Each vendor is a little different, but they all provide roughly the same kind of product.
The most popular programs are MailChimp, Constant Contact, Emma and Campaign Monitor. At Muse Communications, we are partial to MailChimp and Campaign Monitor, but Constant Contact and Emma have their evangelists as well.
Most vendors have, at the very least, a free trial. MailChimp even provides free emails if you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers. So, it’s a low-risk proposition to try them out before you make a commitment.
Some firms still use their in-house email provider and send directly from their desktops. While that has the benefit of being free, it misses out on the automation and data offered by outside vendors. Knowing who opened your email (and who didn’t) and who clicked on what is valuable information you just can’t get when sending from your regular email program.
Another reason to use a third-party email provider is that they automate the “unsubscribe” function, which is key to avoiding spam complaints.
How often should we send?
This is a judgment call. If you’re providing valuable information, your clients will welcome your emails as often as you send them (within reason). But most firms opt for sending a newsletter monthly or quarterly.
Whatever you decide, be consistent. Set up a schedule for publication that includes deadlines for drafts, approval by the various decision-makers, and distribution. And then stick to the schedule. It helps to have a staffer or an outside agency (like your friends at Muse Communications) who can create a calendar, compile content, and generally shepherd the newsletter to completion.
Feel free to violate this schedule, however, if a major ruling has happened and you can provide a rapid analysis, or, as recently happened, a hurricane has devastated your city and a new law is about to go into effect that could impact your clients’ insurance claims. The key to issuing a “breaking” client alert, of course, is to be timely. The sooner your alert can hit your clients’ (and prospective clients’) inboxes, the better.
What do we include?
The content of your newsletter, of course, is what will determine whether your recipients will open it or delete it the minute they see it. Your first goal should be to educate and inform, not sell your services. Fortunately, when you do a good job of educating and informing, you also make a convincing argument for why you should be hired.
Another reason to make education and information, not sales, the primary focus of your newsletter is to avoid having to include “ADVERTISEMENT” in your subject line. Per rule 7.05 (f)(3) of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, that requirement does not apply “if the lawyer’s use of the communication to secure professional employment was not significantly motivated by a desire for, or by the possibility of obtaining, pecuniary gain.”
If you publish a blog with substantive, informative posts, then that can generate the bulk of your content. You can either provide the full text of a single blog post or short summaries of a handful of posts. Because people tend to skim through their emails, we recommend short summaries, but this is another judgment call that will depend on your specific content.
Once you have one or more items that provide your clients with “news they can use,” feel free to include one or two tastefully promotional items, such as:
- Links to articles your attorneys have published or where they have been quoted;
- Links to attorney profiles, especially new lawyers;
- News about your firm that will interest your clients, such as honors and awards, a firm anniversary, community service initiatives, etc., and;
- Recent client wins.
Who do we send it to?
To stay out of trouble with the State Bar and to avoid spam complaints (and resulting possible fines), it’s best to be choosey when creating your newsletter email list. Simply downloading your entire contact list isn’t a good idea because it probably contains the addresses of people who were cc’d on an email to you 3 years ago and have since changed jobs and/or may not remember you.
Nobody who receives your newsletter should wonder who the heck you are. Keep the list to those with whom you have a pre-existing professional relationship:
- Former clients
- Lawyers and other professionals in your network
By limiting your email list to the above, you also avoid having to file your email with the State Bar Advertising Review Committee for approval. According to rule 7.07(3)(e)(5) of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, the filing requirement does not apply to “a newsletter … that it is sent … only to: (i) existing or former clients; (ii) other lawyers or professionals.”
Designing your law firm newsletter
Another bonus to using an outside email provider (I swear we don’t own stock in the email provider industry; we just like them) is the ability to create a template that adheres to your firm’s brand attributes, including your:
- Firm logo
- Color palette
- Preferred fonts
Once you’ve designed a template, you can re-use it from newsletter to newsletter, preserving the same look and feel each time.
One issue to consider is whether to use imagery and, if so, how much. Of course, a great image catches the eye and creates a higher level of engagement. Using images in emails, however, has some drawbacks.
First, many corporate email filters will block imagery, so a good chunk of your recipients won’t be able to see the beautiful images in your email unless they take extra steps to see them (such as clicking on the online version of the email). It’s important to keep this in mind during the design phase because you want the gist of your email to be understandable to those who can’t see the images.
Second, depending on the size of the image, it can slow the load time for your email. Making sure your images are sized properly should eliminate this potential problem.
Third, if you use images, be sure you have the appropriate publishing rights. Lawyers don’t have plausible deniability when it comes to copyright laws.
Another question to consider is whether to use columns. Many traditional newsletter templates assume every email is opened on a desktop computer, so they’re laid out on a large grid. However, in 2017, roughly half of all emails are opened on mobile devices, so a multi-column layout may not always be optimal. This article from Emma does a nice job of laying out the pros and cons.
Growing your list
Once you’ve launched your newsletter, you’ll want to grow your list of subscribers. Here are some tips for doing that organically:
- Include a subscription link in your firm’s signature line (most email providers can create a subscription page in a few clicks);
- Include a subscription form on your website (again, the email provider can generate the code that your website team can import into a form);
- Do occasional social posts linking to your subscription page and encouraging those who follow your firm on social media to subscribe to get regular updates; and
- When you bring on a new client, ask for their permission to add them to your firm’s email list, and do the same with new contacts you meet while networking.
After you’ve sent your newsletter, you’ll want to check the reporting to see how many people opened it, how many clicked through to your website (or wherever you’ve directed them in your links), and what content was most popular.
After about 24 hours, you may want to re-send your newsletter to those who didn’t open it the first time. We typically do the re-send at a different time than the first one, assuming the first one may have arrived at an inconvenient time of the recipient’s day.
We also usually tweak the subject line and the preview text (the text that’s visible before you open the email). We may also rearrange or edit the content when circumstances call for it.
After you’ve sent a few emails, you may notice some patterns emerge regarding open rates, timing, subject lines, content, etc. You can use that information to change send times, subject lines, and other variables to see if you can improve your performance. (In our own in-house testing, we found that our open and click-through rates were higher when we sent our newsletter in the 7 p.m. hour. Depending on your content, however, your mileage may vary.)
One way to boost your newsletter’s performance is by using A/B testing. This only works if you have a pretty sizable email list (at least a few thousand recipients). To A/B test, you send two versions of the email to a sample of your list (e.g. a few hundred), with slightly different content in each. After observing the first few hours of performance, the winning version of the email will go to the rest of your list.
You can A/B test your subject lines, preview text, imagery, email text – really any element of the newsletter.
We can’t promise you that every newsletter you send will result in a new client or a new piece of work from an existing client. Very few marketing initiatives work that way, unfortunately.
Newsletters, as with most marketing tools, work over the long haul. By landing consistently in the inboxes of your professional network, they help to keep you positioned high on your clients’ radar. And, by providing them with information relevant to their business, newsletters keep your clients and prospective clients informed about your firm’s areas of expertise – and make it just that much easier to put you on their short list.
Amy Boardman Hunt began her career in legal journalism and has been in legal marketing and public relations since 1997. When she’s not helping lawyers grow their business, she’s trying to find someone to go hiking with her. She can be reached at email@example.com.