By: Susan Beck – Clearly Legal, Aric Press – PP&C Consulting

This article originally appeared in Bloomberg Law’s Big Law Business on December 3, 2018. 

You know those emails that you automatically delete or skip: yet another fund-raising plea from a political campaign, an update on your hotel rewards policy, and LinkedIn invitations to wish someone a happy work anniversary.

Unfortunately, general counsel and other in-house lawyers view the torrent of client alerts that they get from their law firms in just the same way. The hard truth is that most clients tell us that they get too many of these alerts, they don’t read them, and when they do read them, they don’t find them helpful.

The two of us view this problem from different perspectives. One of us (Press) is in the business of interviewing clients about the quality of the work and service they receive from their law firms. Press has talked to hundreds of in-house lawyers about their experiences with their outside lawyers and usually questions them about a law firm’s client alerts and newsletters. Did they read them? Were they useful? To a person, they laugh or grimace at the number of email alerts that they receive. “That’s why God invented the Delete button,” was how one general counsel summarized her view.

One of us (Beck) is in the business of helping firms write client alerts. Having studied what a lot of firms do with their alerts, Beck knows that the majority of these efforts now miss their mark.

We’re not suggesting that firms abandon these communications. When done right, they’re a great way to get your name in front of clients, and—even better—give them useful information that they’ll appreciate.

So, why are these messages turning into email litter? Clients say most of these alerts are sent too late and they’re too long and stuffed with legalese. In sum, they don’t provide value (even though they’re free).

But clients do give good marks to some alerts. What are those firms doing right? We think of their virtues as The Three Be’s.

Be First

This won’t be easy, and you probably won’t always succeed, but you should aim to be the first to tell your clients about an important new development.

Here’s a tip for delivering a speedy message: keep it short. Don’t try to write a 2,500-word comprehensive overview of the topic. Instead, send off 300 words that highlight the most important points a client needs to know. And write in a style that an intelligent non-lawyer, like a CEO or CFO, will understand.

Lawyers who say they’re too busy to worry about these little client memos should glance over at Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz. One of the most successful and respected U.S. law firms, Wachtell excels at delivering client alerts within a day or two of a new development—and often that very same day. This urgency sends the message that client service is a priority at Wachtell. And these alerts are very short, usually about 300 words, and very readable.

Bespoke

Clients also say they appreciate alerts tailored to their business and legal situation.

For instance, BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, presented a great opportunity for firms to create tailored memos when it stated this year in its proxy voting guidelines that it normally expects to see at least two women directors on every board. A firm could quickly review the board composition of its top 50 clients and specify how they might respond to this new policy. These individual messages may take more time to prepare, but clients will appreciate the effort.

Or, Be Comprehensive

There is another category of email alert that clients save and refer to –distinctive annual studies of developments in an area of the law that clients download and keep on their desktops.

These are particularly valuable for clients who have interests in multiple jurisdictions or have to manage their way around, say, some arcane bit of California regulation—in other words, many of the biggest clients in the land. These are hard to do well, but clients remember and appreciate the effort, and tell us that these annual updates often influence their retention decisions.

So, save yourself the effort of churning out email litter that doesn’t get read. Move fast or be complete. Just being part of the crowd will leave you in the trash folder.

Author Information

Susan Beck is a former lawyer and writer with The American Lawyer. She founded Clearly Legal and now helps law firms create clear, compelling content.

Aric Press, the former editor-in-chief of The American Lawyer, is a partner at PP&C Consulting.