News Column

Philadelphia-Area Law Firms Blogging as a Marketing Strategy

Nov. 24, 2012

Chris Mondics

online marketing, law

It is a scathing takedown of bureaucratic excess. Every year at Thanksgiving, lawyers at Dechert L.L.P.'s structured finance group issue their Golden Turkeys, a compendium of what they view as the year's most wrongheaded financial practices.

They have gone after proprietary trading rules, bumbling European financial regulators, and dead-beat commercial debtors.

Commentary on the Dechert blog tends to be withering:

"European Union politicians are still having fun beating up bankers; this has and will drive capital formation out of Europe," wrote Dechert blogger Rick Jones, cochairman of the firm's structured finance and real estate group.

Blogs are burgeoning at law firms in Philadelphia and elsewhere as lawyers seek new ways to forge relationships with clients. The style and subjects differ, but the idea is to create buzz and stay uppermost in the minds of clients.

Blogs can concentrate on the usual legal suspects, from transactional law to white-collar defense to the environment. But there are some surprising ones, such as a blog devoted to identifying sources of gluten-free foods by Michael Savett, a partner at Center City's Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby L.L.P.

Savett's blog has nothing to do with marketing his insurance litigation practice. He started it after his 11-year-old son was diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by consumption of food based on wheat, barley, and rye.

Yet the vast majority of the blogs are aimed at showing that their authors are players in the legal marketplace.

"It is a form of marketing," said Fox Rothschild L.L.P. managing partner Mark Silow. "There are people and sophisticated businesses doing their own market research and they come across blog postings. You see general counsels, business owners, and executives who are looking for lawyers who understand their businesses."

Lawyers are nothing if not cautious -- the entire profession at times seems based on erecting high legal walls as a risk-reduction strategy. Yet many legal blog writers strive for an entertaining legal style that seems almost provocative and edgy. The idea is to be interesting.

"It shouldn't be a scholarly legal tome," said Cordell Parvin, a Texas legal consultant who trained lawyers at Fox Rothschild and Cozen O'Connor, another Center City firm. "If [a lawyer] was writing for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, maybe he should write that way. But if he is writing for a client . . . the client doesn't want to know the history of Swiss watchmaking, he just wants to know what time it is."

The legal profession, of course, has undergone enormous changes in the last several decades as it morphed from a largely protected professional enclave into a model in which firms pattern themselves much like their business clients, scouring the landscape for new customers. Big firms now have communications directors and large marketing departments that run down business leads and seek new ways for their lawyers to connect with clients.

Blogging is one way to do that.

Pietragallo, Gordon, Alfano, Bosick & Raspanti L.L.P., a commercial litigation firm with large offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, launched a blog Nov. 14 focused on white-collar defense matters. It supplements an existing blog on whistleblower cases. The style of the new blog is straightforward and informational. Its first posts dealt with new federal sentencing guidelines and oil giant BP's guilty plea in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Cozen lawyer Hayes Hunt hadn't given much thought to the blogosphere until he attended a presentation at the firm by Parvin, who urged Cozen lawyers to blog as a way to heighten visibility.

Hunt was intrigued and soon set up his own blog, "From the Sidebar." He calls added attention to it through LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Since its inception nearly two years ago, there have been 30,000 separate page views of the blog.

That has generated client leads, speaking invitations, and media inquiries.

The blogs are topical, and most have a serious legal issue at the center. In a recent blog post on Hurricane Sandy, Hunt examined laws imposing civil and criminal liability on those who refuse to obey evacuation orders. New Jersey has no criminal statute on evacuation, he reported, but New York does. Even so, New York has never imposed criminal sanctions on anyone who defied an evacuation order.

In his latest blog, Hunt veered away from the law, publishing a Q&A with celebrity chef Jose Garces. He asked Garces about what he ate as a child in Chicago, his appearances on the television program Iron Chef, his Bucks County farm, and other matters.

For a lawyer seeking to raise his profile, this is a method. Above all, the blogger must be interesting.

"I have been amazed by the number of people who reach out and comment," Hunt said.

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