In the last ten years, there has been impressive growth in the use of podcasting as a medium. In 2010, an estimated 77% of the US population had never listened to a podcast before. Since then, audiences have ballooned, and this number has fallen to 49%.1 In the entertainment industry, podcasts have become a powerful platform through which popular personalities can reach audiences at a comparatively low cost.2 However, like many modern, tech-enabled formats for content delivery, podcasting holds real potential for businesses of all kinds, not least for law firms. This flexible, accessible and engaging medium has a lot to offer players in the legal sector by way of brand enhancement and knowledge sharing.
Competition for work and recognition in the global legal market is infamously tough and tougher still as the corona virus pandemic has placed law firms and their clients alike under increased financial strain.3 In an intense market like this, strong branding that reaches the right audiences is more important than ever.
The cross-section of organisations and individuals that law firms interact with is diverse. Existing and future clients operate in a range of sectors and can be based all over the world. Some will have extensive in-house counsel, whilst others will be more dependent upon support from private practice. Maintaining a profile with all such clients is vital for the business health of law firms.
In addition to showcasing their strengths as service providers, law firms work hard to attract and retain the best talent by demonstrating their qualities as employers. Students and graduates looking for places to train are met with a plethora of similar-looking, similar-sounding commercial firms with sleek websites and brochures. To snap up the top graduates, firms have to find innovative ways to cut through the noise with ideas that will resonate with like minds. Beyond the recruitment process, ensuring that the goals, values and priorities of the firm are consistently held and understood across the workforce is key to delivering services seamlessly for clients. This can be particularly challenging for larger-scale international firms whose many offices place lawyers a significant distance apart from one another.
Used correctly, podcasting has the potential to help modern law firms meet all of the above business needs. An estimated 65% of those who listen to podcasts do so on a portable device, meaning that by making use of this format firms can quite literally put themselves in the pockets of their target audiences.4 A podcast is as accessible to a student rushing to and from lectures as it is to the busy senior counsel of a multinational corporation. This degree of accessibility and convenience is not to be sniffed at, as for law firms podcasting presents the opportunity to economise business development strategies without losing the benefit of making a unique impression.
Podcasting is a fantastically malleable format for content delivery and can be shaped to suit the character, resources and aims of particular firms. In practical terms, they vary in length and how regularly they are published. Some firms might group their podcasts into separate series based on similar themes and ideas. For example, in March, Herbert Smith Freehills launched a series called Catalyst, which has traced the impacts of the pandemic on economic, social and political life around the world. Alongside this, the firm continues to host regular podcast episodes for its major practice areas.5 Through podcasting, firms can comment insightfully on important topics in real time.
Perhaps just as importantly, the flexibility of podcasting as a medium enables firms to set a very deliberate tone. As with other marketing media, striking the right tone can help firms to distinguish themselves from competitors. However, the potential to produce podcasts on varied topics in large volumes also gives firms the freedom to adapt this tone for different purposes. Linklaters have made excellent use of this capability. Earlier this year the firm launched Linkubator, a trainee-led, innovation-focused podcast deliberately aimed at students.6 Student listeners are met with an informal enthusiasm that is quite unlike the authoritative and professional tone of Linklaters’ other, client-oriented podcasts. As more and more firms enter the space it has become clear that podcasts like Linkubator with a unique and specific concept behind them will be the most impactful. Connecting with audiences through podcasts can provide law firms with the opportunity to achieve an exceptionally high quality of engagement. It has been well-established that podcasts are convenient, with many listeners being drawn to them precisely because they are well-suited to multi-tasking. 7 However, listening to a structured discussion from start to finish is a more intimate interaction than skimming through a leaflet or brochure.
Law firms can capitalise on the improved engagement generated by podcasting even further by taking advantage of the format’s potential to be interactive. This might involve responding to questions and comments submitted by listeners or asking listeners to respond to social media polls based on the podcast content. Better still, firms might invite members of their target audiences and relevant experts to join their recorded discussions or to be interviewed as guests.
The latter technique has been shown to have particular potential. Through collaborative projects like podcasts, law firms can better navigate the increasingly challenging interface between their own private practices and the in-house legal counsel employed by their clients. As a growing number of corporations are investing in cost-effective, in-house legal solutions, law firms must re-frame their services to ensure the longevity of those business relationships. Very often, firms do this by emphasising the value of combining the sector and company-specific expertise of general counsel with the specialist knowledge of their own lawyers in a particular area of law. Some time ago, Hogan Lovells welcomed Lindsey Finch, Senior Counsel at Salesforce, onto the What’s Next? podcast to discuss cybersecurity and data privacy with one of the firm’s partners. 8 The resulting conversation demonstrated the complementary relationship that can exist between in-house and private practice legal advisors. Following this, the firm launched a series of regular podcasts entitled ‘Helping in-house counsel master digital’. The opportunities for improved interaction and engagement offered by podcasting are evident and are already being incorporated into the branding strategies of the world’s most forward thinking law firms.
A careful and deliberate degree of knowledge sharing has been a pillar of successful Legal PR strategies for some time. Effective knowledge sharing can help to maintain crucial aspects of a law firm’s reputation. Firstly, sustaining a reputation for thought leadership is vital, particularly for commercial law firms. Legal work is widely perceived to be intellectually demanding. More than this, however, both commercial activity and the surrounding regulatory environment are subject to constant innovation and change. Law firms, therefore, do well to demonstrate that they are responsive to change and that they are prepared to confront new challenges with their clients. To date, this is something that firms have sought to do in a variety of ways. The most popular method of knowledge sharing in the recent past has been the online publication of ‘insights’ written by lawyers on current issues facing their sectors or practice areas.9 Before this, firms were heavily dependent upon features in print media for opportunities to show their wares. Client pitches and presentations also come under the umbrella of knowledge sharing for marketing purposes, however, such activities demand a considerable investment of time and other resources.
Offering the benefits of malleability, convenience and high-quality engagement described above, podcasts are the more effective younger sibling of longer standing forms of knowledge sharing. By selecting topical points of conversation, law firms can inspire confidence in their ability to provide sound and accessible advice. For example, in a recent episode of the firm’s podcast, pensions lawyers from Baker McKenzie discussed recent changes to the UK regulatory environment and how these will affect pension schemes going forward.10 It would be rash to suggest that podcasting alone will be the future of knowledge sharing for law firms. It is more likely that podcasts will continue to be just one element of the range of accessible examples of thought leadership to which firms can provide constant access for different audiences. This, in turn, will enable firms to channel more finite resources into improving the quality of high-priority meetings and presentations. In essence, podcasting provides law firms with a uniquely cost-effective means of showcasing their capabilities to attract compatible clients and opportunities.
Engaging in thought leadership is not purely for the benefit of those outside a given law firm, as internal efforts to share and cultivate knowledge are essential to sustaining a high-quality of legal practice. Tasked with keeping lawyers up to date with evolving sectors and legislation, professional support lawyers often struggle to secure the highest possible level of engagement from fee-earners. 11 The dynamic nature and collaborative potential of podcasting might provide an ideal solution to this, enabling fee-earners to share their insights and experiences, as well as to listen to those of others, more conveniently. As an internal communications solution for law firms, podcasts can have an even broader remit than this. American Airlines is perhaps the best-known creator of the internal company podcast. The airline’s ‘Tell Me Why?’ podcasts are designed to improve the sense of shared expertise, values and goals across the company and the format is well-suited to the jet-setting lifestyles of many of its staff.12 It is fairly easy to see how these benefits might be transferred to an international or even national law firm, with team members scattered across different offices.
Despite the accessibility of the medium, it may still be the case that some law firms don’t see the value in launching their own podcast. This might be because they don’t have the resources, or because it does not suit their particular brand. For such firms, the podcasting space still has plenty to offer. PwC estimates that in 2021 over $1billion will be spent on advertising space on podcasts in the United States.13 A recognised strength of the podcasting space is that amongst its estimated 62 million listeners, there are audiences for every possible niche. 14 This makes it possible for law firms to purchase hyper-targeted advertising space on relevant podcasts and achieve brand recognition amongst entrepreneurs, in-house counsel, law students and other specific groups. Considering its multiplicity of uses and strengths, it is clear that for law firms podcasting promises excellent opportunities for brand exposure and knowledge sharing. Integrated with a strong digital marketing strategy, an engaging podcast can attract a loyal audience and generate anticipation for its regular release. Furthermore, the format is flexible and convenient enough to create dynamic lines of communication between law firms and their clients and employees, both present and future.
1 Edison Research, ‘The Podcast Consumer 2019’, The Infinite Dial 2019 (Edison Research and Triton Digital, 2019), p. 4.
2 Examples of such personalities include British Comedian Romesh Ranganathan and American YouTuber Emma Chamberlain.
3 B. Seal, ‘The Coronavirus Takes Hold of the Legal Industry’, Law.com (2020).
4 Edison Research, ‘Podcast Consumer’, p. 23.
5 Find Herbert Smith Freehills’ various podcasts through their website (https://www.herbertsmithfreehills.com/podcasts).
6 B. Carr, ‘Linklaters Launches Linkubator’, Linklaters News and Deals
7 Edison Research, ‘Podcast Consumer’, p. 32.
8 Hogan Lovells’ podcast can be found here.
9 For an example of this, see Trowers & Hamlins’ ‘Insights’ page: https://www.trowers.com/insights.
10 Baker McKenzie’s podcast can be found here.
11 H. Bryson, ‘Professional support: The challenges’, Practical Law (2001).
12 S. Pratt, ‘The Case for Internal Podcasts’, Pacific Content (2019).
13 N. Bergareche, ‘The Rise of Podcasts and Podcast Marketing’, We Are Marketing (2019).
14 Edison Research, ‘Podcast Consumer’, p. 17; R. Miller, ‘7 reasons to use a podcast as a marketing tool’, Marketing & Growth Hacking (2018).
Bergareche, N. ‘The Rise of Podcasts and Podcast Marketing’, We Are Marketing (2019)
Bryson, H. ‘Professional support: The challenges’, Practical Law (2001)
Carr, B. Linklaters Launches Linkubator’, Linklaters News and Deals (2020)
Edison Research, ‘The Podcast Consumer 2019’, The Infinite Dial 2019 (Edison Research and Triton Digital, 2019)
Miller, R. 7 reasons to use a podcast as a marketing tool’, Marketing & Growth Hacking (2018)
Pratt, S. The Case for Internal Podcasts’, Pacific Content (2019)
Seal, B. ‘The Coronavirus Takes Hold of the Legal Industry’, Law.com (2020)
Segura, A. ‘10 Reasons Why You Need to Add Podcasts to Your Content Strategy’, Search Engine Journal (2019)
Sternbergh, A. ‘How Podcasts Learned to Speak’, Vulture (2019)