Thought Leadership as Marketing

From The Practice November/December 2016
Highlighting key stories about the profession you may have missed

Recent articles in Corporate Counsel and the National Law Review point to the increasing importance of thought leadership as a tool of client development, client retention, and client management. The Corporate Counsel article, entitled “Milbank’s Unique Harvard-Run Client Training Program Catching On,” profiles an innovative series of executive programs recent initiated by the law firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy that bring together the firm’s partners and their clients for intensive learning and professional development programming. The programs, designed and run by Harvard Law School Executive Education, operate for three-and-a-half days and cover topics such as finance, strategy, corporate governance, leadership and macroeconomics. Apart for travel, Milbank pays all tuition, lodging, and meal costs for their clients during the programs. Scott Westfahl, the director of HLS Executive Education, argues that “There’s a real market need” for this sort of integrated programming and notes that Am Law 100 and 200 firms regularly “spend a tremendous amount of marketing,” including on typical marketing and business development expenses like sports tickets and restaurant meals. However, Milbank@Harvard (as the programs are known) arguably create more value and foster deeper client-firm bonds by bringing both sides of the equation together in highly substantive ways. “It’s a question of ban for your buck,” Westfahl argues. David Wolfson, Milbank’s executive director, agrees, saying, “We did it because we think it provides vale and if we provide value to our clients, they’ll be excited to work with us.”

Law firms are increasingly viewing marketing and business development as correlated with thought leadership and building a reputation as a substantive leader.

The second article, entitled “How Thought Leadership Compliments Account-Based Selling Strategies in Law Firms,” offers more evidence of how law firms are increasingly viewing marketing and business development as correlated with thought leadership and building a reputation as a substantive leader. As case-in-point, the story quotes Goodwin Procter’s managing director of communication, Konstantin Shishkin, in with respect the firm’s recent re-launch of its website. This included a major focus on using the website as a fount for thought leadership—not merely an online Rolodex.

We re-launched our website to prioritize thought leadership and client stories, which are now featured prominently on our main landing page. We also launched an internal editorial board that brings together our business development, marketing and communications functions to set the editorial course for Goodwin’s various publishing platforms. Sure, we’re still putting out press releases on important firm developments and new hires, but increasingly we’re prioritizing content that has nothing to do with us and that’s instead focused on bringing new viewpoints and perspectives to the market.

As an example of how the firm is continually attempting to grow its thought leadership profile, Goodwin now publishes the “Big Molecule Watch Blog,” which offers regular updates and analyses on the regulatory issues, litigation, legislation related to biosimilars. In a much less niche manner, the firm also publishes regular “case studies” across a host of substantive topics of law. Needless to say, all of this is related to the firm’s substantive expertise—and therein the opportunity for business. However, as the article concludes, “Great content helps to credential your attorneys and helps with your firm’s thought leadership share of voice on a particular topic.” The belief is that, in turn, helps business.