By Ted Wills
On March 8, I attended the blandly titled “Writing and Publishing for Business and Professional Development” presentation at the New York City Bar. Despite the lackluster moniker, I left the presentation feeling inspired to go out and write. The panelists offered the best networking advice that I have heard since I have started paying attention to networking advice.
Some of the more noteworthy tips follow.
Writing as a Networking Tool
Possibly the best advice of the evening came from Mr. Kaplan. When Mr. Kaplan wants to meet and build a relationship with someone, he simply asks, “What do I have to write in order to meet him?” Writing gives you an opportunity to speak with people you normally would not have the opportunity to meet. Asking an important lawyer if you can interview him for an article is a great way to get into that lawyer’s office.
Mr. Stein added that sometimes you can take the relationship with that lawyer to the next level by offering to co-author an article with him. This can be a win-win because the lawyer can get something published that he might not otherwise have the time to write and you get to work closely with that lawyer and develop your relationship with him.
Determining What to Write
The panel agreed that in today’s legal world, it is hard to be a generalist. Instead, writers should develop a niche. A writer should consider her interests and then try to become a topic authority by writing a lot about a particular topic.
Also, Mr. Stein cautioned not to agonize trying to think of a completely unique topic. In our media saturated world, unique topics don’t exist. No matter the topic, someone somewhere has likely already written about it.
Determining Where to Publish
Getting an article published involves learning which publications to target. As a general strategy, Mr. Stein stressed that it is wise to target publications that are under constant pressure to fill space in the next edition. Good examples of this are the publications produced by the various sections of Bar Associations, such as the NY Business Law Journal, which is produced by the Business Law Section of the NY State Bar Association. These publications are not staffed by full-time reporters and instead rely on submissions from volunteers in order to produce each issue.
Mr. Kaplan added a few more strategies. Once you identify your niche, go find your mirror. A mirror is someone who has your same writing interests and has been published. Go on the Internet and find your mirror’s bio and see where she has already been published. Now you have a list of publications that are willing to accept articles in your niche.
Once you develop a list of target publications, the next step is to obtain copies of the editorial calendars for those publications. An editorial calendar is a schedule of the topics that a publication will address in each issue. You will have much better luck selling your article idea to an editor if you know what kind of articles she is looking for. (Mr. Kaplan offers a full set of current editorial calendars on his website – AriKaplanAdvisors – for free.)
Also, when searching for publications to approach, keep in mind that there are many English law publications across the world. Countries like Great Britain, Australia and India all speak English and have similar legal systems.
Approaching an Editor
After you decide what you want to write about and determine which publications to target, the next step is to approach the editor. The panelists agreed that before writing an entire piece, you should always send a query letter. A query letter is a letter to a publication’s editor where you lay out what you propose to write and explain why your topic is relevant to her publication. Using query letters is a good practice because it avoids spinning your wheels if you can’t find a publication willing to publish your article. Also, it is a good sales method. It is often easier to get an editor to bite if she has just a taste of what your idea is.
Post Publication: How Writing and Publishing Can Impact Your Legal Career
The process of writing articles will increase your personal knowledge and getting those articles published will let the world know about your expertise. But the devil is in the details.
The panelists all agreed that getting published leads to increased business opportunities, but not in totally obvious ways. Of course, there is the occasional client that will read your work and decide to directly contact you. But there are two more circuitous routes to clients that occur more frequently. First, getting published will lead to speaking engagements and those speaking engagements will lead to clients. Second, a client will often find you through his own lawyer. A client will come to his lawyer with a legal problem that the lawyer is ill equipped to address. Wanting to find the client the best legal help available, the lawyer will often refer her client to an “expert” whose work she has previously read in a law journal or State Bar publication.
Mr. Schulman noted that his publishing exposure gave him more credibility inside of his firm. After he began publishing articles about e-discovery and law technology, he became his firm’s “go-to guy” in these areas. This go-to guy status garnered him respect from his partners and eventually led to promotions.
Epilogue: Specific Advice to Law Students
I was impressed with Mr. Kaplan’s advice so the following week I caught up with him to ask him how he would tailor his advice for law students. Mr. Kaplan’s message to law students is to “Be bold!”
Mr. Kaplan explained that law school is a great time to begin using writing as a networking strategy. “In a lot of ways, law students have it easier than practicing attorneys. Law students have a certain attraction to practicing professionals. There is a sense of camaraderie. They have all been there and they appreciate the initiative when a law student contacts them to write an article.” Also, some of the conditions that exist for practicing attorneys that can prevent the formation of lasting professional relationships do not exist for law students. “When you are a law student, it is easier to simply build a connection rather than to contact these professionals for the purpose of getting work or getting a job.”
Mr. Kaplan stressed that law students can use the same strategies as practicing attorneys to target publications. “Some publications won’t publish your work unless you are a practicing attorney or you are an expert in a specific field. But because there are so many places to get published both in print and online, and since editors are more concerned about content than about status, if you provide interesting information, they will publish you.”
Mr. Kaplan also reiterated his most salient message from his presentation. “Be creative! If you have a certain career goal, think about what you have to write to get to that goal.” He shared an example of this type of creative networking: “Let’s say you want to be a healthcare lawyer and are interested in building relationships with healthcare lawyers who might be able to help you get a job. Consider what you can write that will help you achieve these goals. Perhaps a local hospital produces a monthly newsletter, for which it often needs content. Contact the director of communications and propose an article for a future issue. That article idea will provide a great reason to contact various healthcare lawyers that you may be able to interview for the article. They will likely agree and appreciate being featured in a hospital newsletter, which may be great exposure for them.
Mr. Kaplan finished our conversation with one final message of encouragement. “Just write! There are many unanticipated benefits if you just get something published.”