How to Successfully Publish Legal Articles With Commercial Publishers
There are several good reasons why a law firm might want to publish an article with a niche publisher before posting it to the law firm’s blog. This post gives a framework for looking at this issue along with negotiating tips to ensure the firm gets the most exposure possible for its work.
Publishing in professional journals, trade publications and even general news publications is a business development strategy for many law firms. Although mainly the province of large law firms, there’s no reason why smaller firms can’t appear in these publications as well. If the article is strong and timely, it will find a publisher.
This post is a quick run-through of the factors a law firm might consider when deciding whether, and where, to publish an article exploring a current legal issue. It’s based on the 20 years I spent soliciting and editing such pieces for a large legal publisher.
Why Publish With Third Parties?
My use case is a lawyer who has a good idea for a legal article. The law firm already has a blog as well as a client alert, both of which would ordinarily be places the article would appear. The law firm would like to squeeze as much value as possible from the piece, so it decides to place it with a niche publication or a commercial legal publisher.
Here are some of reasons why going with a commercial publisher might be a good idea.
External validation. Having the logo of a well-known publisher on top of a legal article can bolster the impression that the author is an expert in his or her field. From the perspective of professional advancement and practice marketing, publication elsewhere might be more valuable than posting the article to the firm website.
Targeted distribution. Niche publishing is the name of the game today. Niche publishers serve curated audiences belonging to nearly every market sector. By publishing with a trade publisher or niche news outlet, the law firm can have confidence that the article will be read by prospective clients.
Alternatively, the firm might have a strategic reason for publishing with a particular outlet. For example, a well-timed article from a government relations firm in a publication read by policymakers can advance the client’s interests.
Reach. The Internet is a big place. In theory, the audience for a legal blog post is literally billions of people. In practice, however, interest in articles on legal topics is small. Commercial publishers employ considerable marketing and search engine optimization efforts to drive traffic to their websites. It is highly unlikely that a law firm will promote its blog with the same vigor as a professional publisher. A good article with the right publisher will reach more people than the same article pushed out on the firm’s law blog.
Search engine optimization. Commercial publishers often agree to insert hyperlinks to the law firm’s website, or the lawyer’s profile page, in their legal articles. Reputable backlinks are hard to come by for most law firms. A backlink from a high quality source sends a positive signal to search engines.
Professional development. Attorneys who lecture at continuing legal education seminars are frequently asked, as a condition of participation, to provide written materials to the seminar promoter. Bar associations may also require written work as a condition of holding leadership positions.
Why Not Publish With Third Parties?
Capture. Some publishers require authors to transfer ownership of the copyright in the article as a condition of publication. Lawyers who agree to these terms lose the ability to repurpose the work. Fortunately, such harsh terms are going the way of the dinosaur, as publishers realize that they are no longer gatekeepers of good legal materials.
Delay. Law firms that enter into an exclusive publishing agreement with a commercial publisher run the risk that the article might not be published in a timely fashion, or might not be published at all.
Reputational Harm. Some commercial outlets have worse reputations than the law firms they publish, or their websites are retrograde and inconsistent with the firm’s brand values.
Fortunately, all of the downside to publishing with a commercial publisher can be eliminated by careful planning and attention to the particulars of the publishing agreement.
Surveying the Legal Publishing Waterfront
The next issue is to decide where to publish the article. Publishers fall into several categories. Each category has its strong and weak points.
1. Trade Publications
Trade legal publications such as Law360 (writers’ guidelines), Los Angeles Daily Journal (writers’ guidelines), and National Law Review (writers’ guidelines) actively solicit expert analysis articles from attorneys. The National Law Review charges a small fee (in return, NLR promises to provide authors with analytics such as page views.)
The downside to publishing with trade legal publications is that their subscriber base is composed of other lawyers in the same field, a poor source of new business. (But perhaps a good source of referral business.) Also, few trade legal publications are willing to share circulation numbers with authors. When the firm’s chief marketing officer wants to know the size of the audience for a particular article, “I don’t know” is a tough place to be.
These shortcomings are ameliorated, somewhat, by the fact that trade legal publications frequently are willing to offer generous terms to the author (i.e., taking only a non-exclusive license). This means that the article can be published elsewhere and not buried forever behind a single publisher’s paywall.
Legal trade publications in almost every case permit the author to publish the article on the firm’s website or in continuing legal education presentations. Sometimes this right is qualified by a requirement that the article carry a “Originally published by …” disclaimer.
A final benefit to going with a trade publisher is that the author’s work is much more likely to surface in a search of the publisher’s content collection than by a similar search on Google or Bing. This is a small benefit, but a benefit nonetheless.
2. Inhouse Counsel Publications
Inhouse counsel are the gatekeepers for billions of dollars of legal business annually (PDF). For this reason, publications targeting inhouse counsel are valuable platforms for law firm authors. Publications such as ACC Docket (writers’ guidelines) and Inside Counsel are representative of these opportunities.
3. Business Publications
Insurance, privacy and security, franchising, small business, restaurant and hospitality, you name it, nearly every business sector has dedicated publications that gather, in one place, hundreds of prospective clients. RetailDIVE, L.A. Biz, and Vineyard and Winery Management are examples of general business publications that take attorney submissions.
Obviously, law firm marketers should take the time to learn what their clients are reading. Publishing there is a good strategy.
4. Government Policy Publications
Washington, D.C., and large statehouse cities all support several publications covering government policymaking. These are the lobbyist, Hill staffer sort of publications — nearly all of them accept attorney submissions. TheHill.com (terms and conditions and contributor application form) and National Law Journal are two well-known examples.
5. Bar Association Publications
The American Bar Association and nearly every other bar association provide publishing opportunities for lawyers. The ABA has a large content hole to fill every month. Its national publications, section publications, and committee publications require a constant supply of attorney-authored work.
The benefits of publishing with a bar association are professional prestige, thoughtful and careful editing, and increased professional development opportunities. Some bar associations, I’ve been told, require participation in their publishing activities in order for the attorney to be considered for bar leadership positions.
Bar association publications have limited circulation and a readership composed mainly of other attorneys.
6. News and General Interest Publications
Due to technological disruption of the news industry, today’s digital descendants of print newspapers are more hospitable than ever to submissions from attorneys. With a good article in hand, law firms can go right to the top. The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, along with many other large metropolitan newspapers and websites, accept submissions from attorneys. Forbes and Huffington Post regularly run attorney-authored work, although these publications are mainly seeking regular contributors — not one-off submissions. See e.g., this Forbes contributor, a Florida attorney giving unwarranted positive publicity to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (thereby supplying both of us an excuse to include “New England Patriots” and “Tom Brady” keywords in our blog posts today).
Selecting and Negotiating With the Publisher
At the beginning of Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken,” the narrator stands at a fork in a forest path and expresses remorse that he “could not travel both and be one traveler.”
When it comes to publishing, attorney-authors can in fact travel both paths, or several paths. Publishing with a commercial publisher should be seen as a means of augmenting the reach of an article, not as a selection between one publishing channel or another.
Copyright protection gives the author the exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a written work for the lifetime of the author and for a period of 70 years after his or her death. When dealing with a publisher, the author’s objective should be to give away as little of the author’s rights as possible while still achieving the objectives of publishing the article with a third-party.
Just one man’s opinion, but I recommend the following approach to placing an article with a commercial publisher.
First, brainstorm the article topic. The topic should be relevant to the author’s practice. The topic should be timely when conceived and still timely when the article is completed. Dash off 500 words summarizing the main points of the article and the reason why the article will interest the target audience.
The least valuable article is a case or legislative summary. The most valuable article describes concrete, actionable responses to a rapidly changing legal environment based on a legal expert’s informed, professional judgment. Everything else is in between these two extremes.
Don’t worry if you’re not a published author or if you aren’t a partner at a prestigious law firm. A good article is a good article regardless of source. I’ve read big law stinkers and gems from obscure sources. All editors have. If you’ve got the goods, you’ll find a publisher.
Second, prepare a list of potential publishers for the article. Your list should reflect your determination of the audience you want to reach and, relatedly, your purpose for wanting to reach that audience. Just 3-4 publishers. Simultaneously send an email to each publisher on your list. The message should identify yourself and contain the article summary. It also should indicate when you can deliver a draft.
Third, respond to email from the publishers you contacted. If you are fortunate enough to have more than one positive response, pick one, and courteously decline the others. You want to remain on good terms with every publisher.
Fourth, thank the editor who accepted your proposal and request a copy of the publishing contract. Inspect it carefully. My recommendation is to compare the contract with Law360’s publishing terms. There is a reason why Law360 is a popular publisher for attorneys: they request only the minimum amount of rights they need to get the article under their readers’ noses. They don’t take the copyright, and they don’t insist on an exclusive license. That’s important because you want to be able to publish your article on your blog, in client alerts, and for any other practice development purpose.
Whenever you’re dealing with a publisher, it’s good form to allow the publisher a week or two of exclusivity before publishing the same article in a blog or client alert. In most cases, the publisher has given your article a thoughtful edit, cleaned up your typos, double-checked your cites, and just generally made your article better than it was when initially submitted. That’s worth something.
Another gotcha in publication contracts is the indemnification clause. These clauses are usually written in sweeping terms, exposing your firm to substantial liability for libel, copyright infringement, invasion of privacy all manner of other legal claims. You should insist that indemnification clauses be stricken or limited.
Resolve all contract-related issues before you commit to working with this publisher. When negotiating, keep in mind that the acquisitions editor likely has limited discretion to modify some but not all aspects of the contract. Pick your battles carefully. And keep in mind that this is a negotiation. A well-known expert with a strong article is going to be able to drive a better bargain than an unknown author with a weak article or 500-word article summary.
If you can’t get an important term written into the contract, try get the editor to signal assent in an email. That might be worth something down the road.
Establish a firm understanding with the editor regarding article length. Stick to it.
Seek clarity regarding your reprint rights. Ask for copies of the finished article in as many formats as possible (Word Doc, PDF, HTML). Your marketing people will want these files in order to publish the article on the firm’s website.
Get to the nitty gritty. Ask the editor when and where the article will be published. Which publications, print or online or both? Will the article be behind a paywall? How long will the article remain in the publisher’s content inventory?
Ask for the print circulation numbers. If publication is online, ask for page view data. If the publication is advertiser-supported, the publisher is likely disclosing this information to advertisers. Many publishers consider readership data to be proprietary, so you’re not always going to get a full answer to these questions. But you should ask.
Fifth, negotiate for author identification information and for hyperlinks back to your law firm’s website. You want as much identifying information (email address, phone number, website URL, a headshot image) as possible to be included with the article. You also want a second sentence describing your practice. Finally, a hyperlink would be great, if you can get it.
Sixth, deliver the article on deadline and set aside enough time in the following days to meaningfully participate in the editing process.
Seventh, when the article is in a form that meets with your approval, sign the publishing contract.
If you follow these steps, you shouldn’t have any trouble placing good work with third-party publishers. I’ve refrained from recommending particular publishers because, really, the right choice varies from article to article and firm to firm. Hopefully, I’ve set out all of the relevant considerations so the reader can make an informed decision depending on the objective at hand.
General legal: Los Angeles Daily Journal, HIPAA enforcement reaches historic level (PDF), Mary Ellen Callahan and David P. Saunders, Jenner & Block
General legal: Law360, FDA Regulation of Laboratory Developed Tests: A Long Saga (PDF), Gail Javitt, DLA Piper
General legal: National Law Review, FTC Shakeup May Shift Privacy & Data Security Enforcement – Focus on Actual Harm, D. Rockwell Bower, Polsinelli
Inhouse counsel: ACCDocket, Potential Changes to Rule 23 and Class Actions: Frontloading the Class Definition/Ascertainability, Chad Wiegand, Amy P. Lally, and Rachael Rezabek, Sidley Austin
Inhouse counsel: Inside Counsel, 5 Considerations for Handling Internal and Government Investigations (PDF), Daniel Suleiman, Covington & Burling
Specialty business: RetailDIVE, How retailers can steer clear of ADA lawsuits, by Sue J. Stott, Amanda J. Beane and Jill L. Ripke, Perkins Coie
Specialty business: L.A. Biz, Three issues recreational cannabis entrepreneurs and investors will face, Kirsten Hart, Arent Fox
Specialty business: Vineyard and Winery Management, Employment Laws Update: Understanding these five issues will ensure your business’ labor force is within federal compliance (PDF), Jamie R. Adams, Charles S. Birenbaum, and Ian R. Macdonald, Greenberg Traurig
Specialty business: National Mortgage News, The CFPB’s Final Servicing Rule Is Still Unclear, Nanci Weissgold, Alston & Bird
Government policy: TheHill.com, FCC privacy rules veer off course in eleventh hour, Nancy Libin, Jenner & Block
Government policy: Politico, The Puerto Rico bill is good for the bondholders, Mark A. Cymrot, BakerHostetler, and Simon Johnson, MIT Sloan School of Management
Government policy: National Law Journal, In Unusual Term, Big Year for Amicus Curiae at Supreme Court (PDF), Anthony J. Franze and R. Reeves Anderson, Arnold & Porter
Government policy: Washington Post, When “fraud” is just another word for disenfranchisement, Kevin J. Hamilton and Jonathan S. Berkon, Perkins Coie
Bar association: Business Law Today, Testing the Waters of the Safe Harbor, Anthony J. Kochis and Thomas J. Kelly, Wolfson Bolton PLLC
Bar association: The Colorado Lawyer, Clients’ Rights During Transitions Between Attorneys, Rob Marsh and Lisha McKinley, Silver & DeBoskey