In-House Counsel Value Client Alerts and Newsletters over Blogs

digitalcontentsurvey

Corporate counsel find more value in law firm client alerts and practice group newsletters than in blogs, according to a survey published this week.

When corporate counsel were asked what types of law firm-generated content they found most valuable, 77 percent said client alerts and 76 percent said practice group newsletters, while only 35 percent answered blogs.

The 2015 State of Digital & Content Marketing Survey was conducted by the public relations firm Greentarget in conjunction with the legal consulting firm Zeughauser Group. The survey included responses from 167 in-house lawyers.

I have seen only the executive summary of the survey — the full survey can be purchased for $300 — and, based on the summary, the findings regarding blogs are somewhat murky and inconsistent. Consider these points:

  • Overall, the survey found that the percentage of in-house counsel who read blogs regularly has plateaued since last year, as has the percentage who ranked blogs as the most valuable law firm content. To put that another way, blogs are no more or less read by corporate counsel this year than they were last year.
  • Thirty percent of in-house lawyers say they do not read law firm blogs at all, but 74 percent of in-house lawyers say they still find law firm blogs valuable. I’m no math whiz, but those two numbers don’t seem to correlate. If 74 percent find blogs valuable, there can’t be 30 percent who aren’t reading them at all.
  • The percentage of in-house counsel who rate firm blogs as somewhat or very credible fell 10 points from the same survey last year — from 75 percent to 65 percent.

One other finding related to the role of blogs in influencing hiring decisions. Thirty-eight percent of in-house lawyers said they could envision a future in which a high-profile blog would influence them to hire a firm. That is down from 50 percent in 2014 and 55 percent in 2012.

So what are we to make of this? The authors of the survey, in their executive summary, suggest that law firms may be slacking off in ensuring the quality of the content they are producing.

[W]hile firms are producing content in increasing quantities, they may be neglecting the quality of what they’re producing. The survey results also raise serious, related questions about whether firms are taking adequate strategic steps to support their investments in content.

There is likely something to this. In the past seven years, Am Law 200 firms have increased the number of blogs they publish from 74 to 962, according to LexBlog’s 2015 Am Law 200 Blog Benchmark Report. All those blogs are hungry for content and, for their firms, they are a lot of mouths to feed.

Increasingly, that feeding falls not to a firm’s lawyers, but to its marketing staff. Also increasingly — at least according to what I’m hearing — marketing staff are farming out that work to outside writers.

In other words, in the recent years’ push for law firms to build out their blogs, and as law firms increasingly become content factories, quality inevitably suffers. If quality suffers, it follows that the value to the reader also diminishes.

But why then would in-house counsel still find value in client alerts and practice group newsletters? Aren’t they also products of the law firm content mill? If the quality of a firm’s blogs is waning, wouldn’t the same be true of its other content?

One guess at an answer is that lawyers — especially lawyers at larger firms — take more pride of authorship in alerts they send directly to their clients under their own names. They are comfortable with this medium, they can write in a style they are more comfortable with, and they can write at a pace they are more comfortable with. This is them doing what they do best — speaking directly to their clients about a new development and what it means to the client.

The irony, of course, is that good blog writing should be no different. And maybe there really is no substantive difference between blog content and other law firm content.

Another guess is that the difference is one of quantity. Maybe it is that, within firms, lawyers are starting to see blogs as quotas, something they need to fill, whereas an alert is a single, targeted thought piece produced only when events require. Likewise for those in-house readers, maybe blogs become overwhelming in their quantity and therefore difficult to filter and digest. A single, targeted alert is much easier to take in.

Related: What is the State of the Legal Blogosphere?