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Forget the boring law firm brochures with tired pictures of gavels and scales of justice. Long the purview of publicly held companies, annual reviews that detail the previous year’s activities and finances are creeping into the legal arena — though typically sans fiscal data. Our informal survey of the AmLaw 100 found nearly one in four firms using annual reviews, some since 1997. More firms are realizing that annual reviews provide an opportunity to get recent successes and victories in front of current and potential clients. But not everyone is following the trend. Sharing information about work and clients would have been unthinkable a decade ago — and some believe it should remain that way. The real test is still to come. When asked if they would publish another annual review, one of our respondents backpedaled, saying, “Possibly.” Another said a repeat performance was “under review.” Regardless, let’s pause to congratulate law firm marketers and acknowledge how far they have come. We believe that the more information gets out, the more likely it is that buyers will make good decisions. CLIMBNG MT. EVEREST The biggest challenge to publishing an annual review is gathering the information needed to populate the book. A firm that doesn’t have a case summary archive may be overwhelmed by the effort to collect and compile materials across the firm. So it’s not surprising to learn that some have no stomach for a second attempt. And there are plenty of other hurdles. Balancing internal politics was top of mind among our respondents. Even in long annual reviews — 36 pages or more — space is at a relative premium, limiting both the number of cases that can be profiled and the space allowed to tell each story. The strategic goals of the firm must guide the selection of cases to include: The most lucrative litigation may not match the goals of the firm for future work; the largest transaction may not have the greatest impact in the target market. The culture of democracy in many firms also creates pressure: Equal owners want equal time in the book’s pages. Ultimately, one respondent observed, strong leadership is required to “illustrate the most dynamic deals without regard to” the specific demands of individuals or practice groups. Finally, case histories need to be approved by clients, which can be time-consuming on two fronts — getting lawyers to make the calls and getting clients to respond. When lawyers are provided written phone scripts for calls and given letters to accompany proposed layouts, the turnaround time can be reduced to two months. REMIND ME WHY The struggle is worth it. An annual review has the dimension of timeliness that firm brochures simply don’t. It says to readers: Here is a current chapter of the firm’s history, one that goes back about 18 months — two years at the most. The result is inevitably compelling to anyone interested in the firm’s vision, focus, and capabilities. The benefits of publishing an annual review start to accrue right away. Lawyers who ignored the last effort are often the first to contribute their case the next year, creating a reservoir of case histories that can be used to liven up proposals, populate the Web site, or enrich practice descriptions with representative matters. By presenting recent successes, firms confirm — and just as important, change — opinions of existing clients, prospects, recruits, lawyers and staff, referral sources, and alumni. Survey respondents said the response they got was often favorable, even “overwhelmingly positive” in one case. NO SECOND MORTGAGE Costs vary widely, with reviews ranging from $5,025 in printing bills for one firm to over $300,000 in copy, design, and printing for another. In our small sample, the typical cost for a professionally prepared annual review — including writing, design, and printing — was about $80,000 to $100,000 — about the same as a professionally done brochure. That may seem pricey, but think of the annual review as an investment in client development. Although one of our respondents said the effort was not a good use of firm dollars, most felt the benefits far outweighed the costs. Respondents reported the following benefits of an annual review: • frequently replaced the firm brochure (and that cost) • showcased current capabilities and successes • helped the firm “focus on results” • gained credibility because of its timeliness • let marketers gather information for other uses • brought the target market up to date on “today’s firm” • improved morale and generated enthusiasm. SECRETS TO SUCCESSFUL REVIEWS Every annual review we surveyed opened with a chairman’s letter to readers. Behind that door, however, they varied dramatically. Some focused on the firm almost entirely through practice groups. But this traditional, brochure-based organization was in the distinct minority. Most of the reviews identified key industries where they felt their firm made a difference — energy, financial services, health care, pharmaceuticals, insurance, and telecommunications were the most common. Other reviews began by highlighting industries, and went on to share case stories from individual practice areas. A couple profiled their new partners and associates toward the back of the book. All ended with a survey of the firm’s pro bono activities. MAKE IT VISUAL Although these types of stories take time to tell, an annual review should not be wordy and dense. More words are usually not the solution to better communication: More is less. Full pages of text defeat even interested readers. Accept the fact that no one will read your annual review cover to cover, not even your mother. Wherever possible, let pictures or diagrams replace words. Segregate your review into sections that are highly visual and sections that are mostly text. Give the scanning reader a chance to see and absorb key messages before they must read. Two of the better annual reviews we’ve seen devoted their first several pages to substantial victories illustrated by visually dramatic spreads before delivering text-based summaries in the back. Even the scanning reader was guaranteed to walk away with a better understanding of those firms. Some of our respondents offered other advice for those developing annual reviews: • Target your audience. Focus success stories on areas where you want to grow your client base. • Tell the story clearly and tell it straight. If you want to thump your chest and brag, let others do it for you by quoting articles from the press or using client testimonials (if you’re not afraid of your ethics maven). • Use culturally sensitive imagery, but a “rainbow coalition” invites snickers. • Develop a theme for the review so the stories can follow a common thread. • Be client-centric and results-oriented. Burkey Belser is president of D.C-based Greenfield/Belser Ltd., a marketing and design firm specializing in the legal industry. He can be reached at (202) 775-0333 or at [email protected].

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