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Piano Concerts and Trial Dramas: Law Firms Are Using Podcasts to Reach Clients and Talent

By Dylan Jackson for The American Lawyer

As the pandemic has changed media consumption habits, law firms have recognized a need to rethink how they reach their audiences. Several firms, including Milbank, Hogan Lovells and Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, have turned to podcasting to build connections, and each has put their own spin on the medium.

Milbank’s podcast, “Law, Policy & Markets: Milbank Conversations,” created by Los Angeles partner Allan Marks, covers an eclectic set of topics, from an airline restructuring in the middle of the pandemic to a piano concert with fellow attorney Alex Romain.

Marks said he came up with the idea in March of last year, after talking with a Milbank partner in Asia about the effect the pandemic was having on the region’s financial markets (a topic that was featured in the firm’s initial five episodes). The goal is two-fold: to showcase to clients interesting facets of the work Milbank lawyers do, as well as to connect those lawyers with each other at a time when the pandemic has created a void of human connection.

But it has evolved since then, Marks said, as has the audience. One big surprise? The podcast is a hit with law students.

“What I did not expect is that it resonated quite a bit with our associates and with potential new hires—lateral partners and associates—and law students,” Marks said. The individual episodes from the series have been downloaded 9,000 times from six different continents.

Marks said it is key to cover topics that aren’t too niche, while not straying too far from the original goal of the podcast. It isn’t enough to showcase talent; it has to be compelling for any listener.

“We’re labeled not as a law podcast but a business podcast by Apple,” Marks said. “And I think that’s right.”

Hogan Lovells’ podcast, “Proof in Trial,” goes a different direction, taking listeners through a series of high-profile trials: a wrongful conviction verdict, a politician facing heat, a merger in peril.

The idea originated out of a suggestion by firm marketer Carolin Sagawa as a way to market the firm’s litigation department. On the legal side, it’s spearheaded by appellate practice co-director and host Cate Stetson and U.S. litigation chair Tom Connally.

“We have really great people on our marketing team, and they told us that we should do more than have lawyers talk about themselves and dry legal issues,” Connally said. “We should tell a story here. Part of being a good trial lawyer is being able to tell a story.”

In terms of putting together the podcast itself, the work is fairly straightforward.

Marks has an outside group do some of the work for the piece, but most of the work is done by him and the firm’s internal marketing team. He doesn’t have much time during the day, so he spends nights and weekends working on the podcast—interviewing lawyers, writing scripts and summaries and coming up with ideas.

Stetson does most of her recording on her phone with a microphone attachment. After a few takes reading out the script, she shuttles the recording off to an outside production team, which puts her voice and interviews with clients and other lawyers together in a sleek package.

“Law firms—and particularly Big Law firms—are not known to move nimbly in the face of new tech. This podcast is a huge step forward for law firm podcasts. From our perspective of law firm lawyers and clients, we’re looking for ways to get across interesting and good info efficiently in mediums they are familiar with,” Stetson said.

Legal marketing consultant Deborah Farone said the fact that a firm invests in an outside production company for its marketing podcast is important.

“When people want to do something new and innovative, they’re going to have to go all in and hopefully do the best job that they can,” Farone said, adding that she was impressed by how professional Hogan Lovells’ podcast sounded.

During the pandemic, Farone has seen a lot of innovation from firms. Over the course of the last year and a half, firms have looked for ways to create more engaging virtual experiences by reconfiguring how virtual events are done (such as using breakout rooms and cutting down on time) or leveraging new technology like Virbela—a virtual reality platform.

But, in the end, it isn’t about fancy gadgets. It is about meeting clients where they are, she said. Farone remembers a conference she was at two years ago where she asked the group of attorneys attending a panel if they used LinkedIn. Only a couple raised their hands. Then, she turned to the general counsel who was a part of the panel and asked the same question. They told her, “I was just on it earlier.”

“The most important thing any marketer can do is to know their audience,” Farone said. “If their audience would like to attend a Zoom luncheon on an interesting topic for 45 minutes at noon, you should be doing that.”