Law Office Management
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Newsletters: Getting the Word Out to Get the Work In

By Patricia Yevics
Director, Law Office Management
Maryland State Bar Association, Inc.


Take this quiz to determine whether or not a newsletter would be a great marketing tool to solidify and expand your practice. Be honest. No one is watching.

** Are you a solo practitioner or in a small firm?
** Do you want to keep current clients happy and get new  clients?
** Do you have a list of your clients' addresses?
** Does your office use some type of word processing software?
** Do you have clients who can read?
** Do you have potential clients and referral sources that can read?
** Do you have information current clients or potential clients might find helpful?
** Do you want a cost-effective way to market to current and new clients?

If you answered no to any of these questions, this article is not for you. Please read Tech Talk on the next page. However, if you answered yes to these questions, then continue reading the article because it will give you tips on how to create your own newsletter and use it as a marketing tool. The purpose of the silly quiz was to point out the fact that newsletters can be created and used by solo and small firm practitioners who have limited time and resources.

Even in this era of on-line information and interactive graphics, the newsletter can be an effective tool because the information is still what is important. A disclaimer though: It takes effort, commitment and planning - but doesn't every successful endeavor. The tips and ideas listed here are specifically for solo and small firm practitioners with limited staff, time and resources.

Before You Begin

All successful projects take some planning and this is no different. Regardless as to whether you eventually do the work in-house or get help from another source, you need to do some planning and gather some information.

You will need to consider and be able to answer the following questions before you begin to create any information for a newsletter.

** What is the purpose of the newsletter? It can be different at different times or for different issues. The purpose does not always have to be the same for each issue. What is important is that you know the purpose for each newsletter that you send. Most solo and small firm practitioners may choose to have a different purpose for each issue sent. Some goals might be:

* Increase exposure of your firm
* Promote a new practice area
* Cross sell all your firm services
* Share information about a particular topic

As you determine the purpose you will also have to decide who is going to be the audience for the newsletter of the particular issue of the newsletter. Will it be for current clients or will it be referral sources and potential clients? In some cases it is possible to send the same information to both of these groups but not always. Since most solo and small firm practitioners do not have the time or resources to send a series of newsletters to separate groups of clients or potential clients, the content may have to be general. Of course, if you have a niche practice this issue about content is much easier to decide.

Other decisions that need to be made are:

** How often will the newsletter be produced and distributed? It should be quarterly or twice a year at a minimum. If your newsletter is going to be only one double-sided sheet, you could consider every two months. Regardless of how often you decide to produce it, the newsletter MUST be sent out on a regular schedule.

** How long will it be? For most solo and small firm practitioners should consider no more than 2-4 pages. How you mail it will also determine the length. If you do a single sheet, double-sided, you may have to mail the newsletter in an envelope. If you use 11" x 17" paper, folded to 8 1/2" x 11", you will be able to mail it without an envelope. This will give you 3 1/2 pages of space to fill.

** Who will be responsible for the newsletter? For solos and small firm practitioners, it is likely the lawyer will be responsible for content and the secretary or paralegal will be responsible for the production of the newsletter. If you do the newsletter in-house it can be done in Word or Word Perfect. It can be printed at a local printing shop or even at Kinko's.

You can even have pre-printed paper with whatever design and look you want for the newsletter. Much of this can be done using Word or WordPerfect. This could be a great opportunity to give your secretary the chance to use a little creativity. You might find she has hidden talents.

CONTENT IS KING

While the appearance of the newsletter is important, the one thing that will make it be successful is that the information is valuable, useful and timely. If you are doing the newsletter in-house (as opposed to purchasing a canned newsletter) your goal is not to be similar as these canned newsletters but completely different. Most canned newsletters look like all others. If you are going to do yours in-house, use that to your advantage. Although it must look professional, it can have a "home-spun" look to it without appearing amateurish.

TIPS FOR CONTENT

* Keep is simple. No long sentences or long paragraphs. This is to give clients and potential clients information.

* Do not include legalese.

* Make headlines interesting.

* Try to have a slogan for your newsletters. Law for Your Everyday Life

* If you do the newsletter quarterly, they should be named Spring, 2001 etc. Just make sure that you mail out the newsletter in the season that is listed on your masthead.

* On each newsletter, include the name, address and phone # of your firm, the slogan and the date. If you have e-mail or a website, it should be included.

* There are many places to get information. Keep a file folder with articles and information that may be included in your newsletter. I am not suggesting that you copy any material that is not yours but there are many types of information that can be referenced that clients will find helpful.

* If there are some publications from a government agency that your clients may find useful, list that information. If you are a tax attorney, include some important phone numbers for clients.

* Consider listing a few websites in each newsletter.

* Consider highlighting information about staff or other clients. Make certain that you have permission to do so. This is great for a practitioner in a smaller community.

* Good works for charities done by members of your firm.

* Reprints of articles done by members of the firm.

* Book reviews of publications that clients might find helpful.

COMMITMENT TO GETTING IT DONE

There is no question that it will take time to produce a newsletter. However, with good planning and some help from staff it can be less burdensome than you may think. It can also be a great cost-effective way to keep in touch with clients and potential clients.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST

Make certain that you have a good and accurate mailing list. You might even want to send a mailing to your list asking for updates and changes. Delete any addresses that are inaccurate. You may also want to spend some time adding some potential clients and referral sources to your list. This is also a good time to go through all those business cards sitting your desk drawer and adding those that would be good sources of business.

If you put information in your newsletter and tell people to call for additional information, make certain everyone in your office knows that this may happen. Everyone in your office (and even your family) should read the newsletter before it goes out so they know what is in it in case someone calls about an item in the newsletter. If you are asking people to call for additional information, make certain the information is available.

If you would like additional articles on putting together a newsletter, please e-mail me at pyevics@msba.org or call 800-492-1964, ext 3039. Please give your name and mailing address and we will forward more information. If you would have more specific questions and would like to talk about producing a newsletter, please call me.


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