When the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau counts himself as an avid reader of your consumer finance blog—you’re doing something right. As it turns out, Ballard Spahr’s Consumer Finance Monitor has done a lot right since its inception in 2011.
Alan Kaplinsky is the founder of the firm’s consumer financial services practice group—and, with that, the founder and editor of the firm’s Consumer Finance Monitor, which launched under the name “CFPB Monitor” on the same day as the agency it set out to cover. While the publication can indeed count former CFPB Director Richard Cordray among its readers, the blog’s success goes beyond that and translates into real business development gains.
On a recent episode of This Week in Legal Blogging, Alan explained their keys to success and exactly what that success looks like.
Don’t just report the news
If your clients and potential clients want the latest news on a topic that impacts them, they are unlikely to turn to your blog first. However, unlike news outlets that simply tell clients what is happening, your blog has the power to demonstrate why it is important to them.
“We analyze developments, we talk about implications, and of course, the expectation is that it’s going to lead to business coming in the door,” Alan said.
Find your secret weapon or create a system
Blogs often struggle to take off because of the constant need to keep them supplied with new and interesting content.
The Consumer Finance Monitor, however, has a “secret weapon”—though she’s not much of a secret anymore. Barbara Mishkin is a lawyer in Alan’s group who came to him before the blog had even started and said she wanted to monitor and write about developments in consumer finance. Now, that’s her job—working part-time for the firm and solely producing blog content.
Even if you don’t have someone like Barbara at your firm who is dying to write, there are ways to satiate your blog’s appetite for new content.
“When she gets extraordinarily busy, we call on other people within the firm to do drafts of blogs,” Alan said. “We do it in as fair a way as we can—we have a rotating list. I would say in the course of a year, someone’s probably not asked to write more than maybe two blogs.”
Attorneys are busy people, but a simple system like this is a great way to get more people involved without weighing them down with excessive writing assignments.
Why stop at just a blog?
While Consumer Finance Monitor may have started as a blog, Alan has expanded the scope of what he now calls their “electronic media program” to include much more.
He manages the blog, a podcast, live webinars and more. These ventures were all added over the years after the initial success of the blog. He says if you have the ability to test these avenues in addition to a blog, you absolutely should as they create a symbiotic relationship with one another.
“They work together hand in glove. You can put on your blog that you’re going to be doing a webinar in a week, and you could provide a link to the registration,” he said.
Alan says he’s also always keeping an eye on new media and is constantly looking to the horizon for what’s next in digital publishing.
The results speak for themselves
Consumer Finance Monitor now has thousands of subscribers and adds more every day.
“It has been successful beyond our wildest dreams,” Alan said, describing the multitude of ways the firm has benefited from the publication.
This is what most people think of when they think of a blog succeeding. The name of the game, after all, is building a book of business.
“In connecting those dots [from news to insight in a blog post], a client will call up one of the lawyers and say, “Hey, we got a problem here,’” Alan said, “and they very well might.”
“It has brought in new clients that didn’t know about us before.”
It may seem like the type of thing you’d hear regarding a brand of chips or line of sneakers, but it matters for law firms, too—and you can bet being the publication of record for an active government agency has its benefits.
“Everybody now knows about our blog, he said, “and people talk about it all the time.”
Recruiting and networking
Piling on, the blog has elevated the firm’s brand amongst other attorneys and become an essential recruitment tool.
“There are particularly more senior people who are coming from another law firm, where they don’t have a blog or podcast. They’re looking for ways to develop business.”
Alan says things have changed a great deal since he started practicing law, but the new opportunities presented by blogging are welcome news for lawyers like himself.
“If you want a national practice you can’t count on going out to play golf with the local banker. But electronic media sort of levels the playing field. [It] enables those lawyers—who maybe aren’t good golfers, but know an area of law—to write about it and then talk about it during a podcast. It really gives you a heads up and helps a great deal.”
It takes work, there’s no question about that—but if you’re a large law firm looking for a model to follow when it comes running a successful practice group blog, there’s no better model than Ballard Spahr, Alan Kaplinsky and their Consumer Finance Monitor.