How Does Your Legal Perspective Fit Into the News Cycle?

The Atlantic has an interesting piece by Robinson Meyer on Medium’s move toward news personalization for its readers. We’re fans of this interesting new content platform and I think you should read the entire article, but one point in particular stood out for us at JD Supra HQ and I want to share it with you here:

Moving away from recency: This is a long-time goal of news organizations. News consumers and news agencies understand a kind of natural bifurcation of content. Call it stock and flow, evergreen and deciduous, whatever; we know that some writing will be useful after tomorrow and some will retain interest only as history.

Interesting observation – and, in our view, it has everything to do with how legal analysis and commentary fit into the news cycle.

At a point in time earlier this year the United States Supreme Court issued decisions on DOMA and same-sex marriage. That news is now old news; it retains interest, borrowing the language above “only as history.”

Legal Implications Endure

However, what the SCOTUS same-sex marriage decisions mean – the legal implications for newlyweds, health plan providers, employers, employees, tax planners, and others – is not old news. Again, borrowing from the quote above: what that news means is still useful today and will be so tomorrow.

Generally this is true for most developments in the industries and professions lawyers serve. Using another example, the Obamacare decision is a fact of history. Anyone looking at the digital record of your firm will probably notice that, on the day of the decision, you issued a blog post or alert announcing it. Great. But the real value of your online record will be in your writing on what the Affordable Care Act means for your clients – how it changes the way they conduct business and what they should be doing differently.

I say all of this because, while it might seem obvious, it really isn’t in practice. Over the past year we’ve seen several examples of the power and real-time immediacy of social media as a news coverage tool. I think back to revolutions in Egypt and elsewhere – or the Boston marathon bombings. The message at the time: Twitter has arrived as the primary tool for following breaking news.

As a result, we see law firms trying to figure out how to participate in the breaking news cycle. It will be interesting to see which innovative firms answer this question but, for us, the answer could well be: don’t try. Law firms don’t need to compete with the media outlets already fiercely battling to be the first to break news. That’s a tough battle.

Your primary focus should be on what the news means now that it has broken.

The long interest in the news lies in what it means. In this, lawyers are uniquely positioned to offer a perspective that, really, only they have. And so, a successful content strategy around breaking news involves:

  • early updates on what might happen (“Next month in Washington…”) and how to prepare for various outcomes, whatever they might be;
  • a quick update the day that news breaks;
  • ongoing coverage of what it all means, now that the news has broken.

This last piece is, in my view, the most important. It means that instead of just writing one advisory or blog post and moving on, you can return to the issue weekly. In the Obamacare example, the most visible firms have been the ones to return to the issue again and again — not only writing advisories and blog posts, but also hosting webinars or in-person events at law firm offices. These are the firms that “go big” on an issue – something that’s possible with many of the issues of the day (Cybersecurity, the AIA, compliance, Dodd-Frank, ACA, and so on). Lawyers are uniquely positioned to help readers make sense of breaking news. That’s the real value you can provide to the news cycle.

The big takeaway: don’t just try to break the news. That’s already well covered. Show your value by writing about why the news matters.

@jillwain