Distinguish Your Law Firm by Publishing an Annual Review
A practical guide to creating your own year-end report
By Janice Mucalov, LL.B.
If your firm brochure is stale, out-of-date, unoriginal or just plain boring, then you may want to consider producing an annual review. An annual review can be a unique and affordable marketing tool that sets you apart from other law firms.
In the U.S., many of the larger and medium-size law firms publish annual reviews, while few firms in Canada have picked up on the idea. Those that have, however, have been pleased with the results. And while you may think of the typical annual report or review as a costly endeavour, it doesn’t have to be a break-the-bank proposition. Smaller firms can produce a short, sharp-looking, pamphlet-like review at an affordable cost.
What Exactly is an Annual Review?
An annual review is your chance to spotlight your firm’s achievements over the past year and show how the firm helped its clients. Unlike a firm brochure, which typically
is generic in its coverage of a firm’s expertise and preferred practice areas, an annual review contains factual examples of successful client deals and/or important cases won. Because it’s produced yearly, the information is timely. And it’s a venue where you can be creative and let your firm’s personality shine through.
For a smaller scale review, you could focus on just the one practice area that is your firm’s major strength, or perhaps a particular firm activity. The American law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP produces individual annual reports in three practice areas – mergers and acquisitions, initial public offerings, and venture capital projects. Goodwin Procter LLP, another firm south of the border, puts out an annual pro bono review covering just the firm’s pro bono activities.
If you’re leery about committing to an ongoing project year after year, you could plan on simply one year-end review to mark a significant year, like the eight-page review the Nevada law firm of Lionel Sawyer & Collins published in 2002 to celebrate its 35th year in business. Who knows, your review may be such a success that you decide, after all, to continue producing it annually.
Why Publish an Annual Review?
Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP has been reporting yearly on its growth and accomplishments since 1997 – its next review, which comes out in May/June 2006, will be the firm’s eighth. “[The review] is a wonderful way to showcase your clients and the work done by your lawyers,” says Celia Bobkin, Blakes’ manager of media and public relations. “It’s a very good marketing tool for clients, prospective clients, staff and your lawyers, as well as for student recruitment – so they can see what the firm has done over the year.”
Bobkin adds that Blakes gets very positive feedback from clients. “Clients like to see their own matters in there and they like to see what the firm does – [the review] confirms that Blakes is a good law firm.”
WilmerHale is equally enthusiastic about the reasons for producing an annual review. “It gives clients a sense of satisfaction to see themselves in the report,” shares Rachel Goodman, the firm’s communications manager. “It’s also a great cross-selling tool.” Hale and Dorr LLP published two annual reviews before it merged with Wilmer Cutler Pickering LLP; the merged WilmerHale plans to start up with a 2006 review to be issued in early 2007.
Toronto-based Blaney McMurtry LLP has been producing its annual review for four years now and also intends to continue. “We believe that it gives Blaneys an opportunity to present representative examples of the services that we’re providing, demonstrating our expertise in numerous areas,” says Reeva Finkel, the partner in charge of the firm’s marketing committee.
And Goodwin publishes its annual pro bono review to demonstrate the firm’s commitment to pro bono activities – a selling point with both clients and new lawyers hired. “A lot of big corporate clients do their own pro bono initiatives, so they want to see that reflected in their lawyers and law firms as well,” says Jasmine Trillos-Decarie, Goodwin’s director of marketing. “Also, associates are typically more attracted to firms that are involved in community service.”
Choosing a Format and Controlling Costs
You have any number of options when it comes to choosing how your annual review will look. Cost considerations will no doubt have a major influence on your decision.
The latest 2004-05 Blakes’ review is a splashy 46-page colour document with thick matte pages. Some 10,000 copies were printed. But this kind of mini-book length review is admittedly expensive and could cost anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000.
At the other end of the spectrum, Blaneys’ latest review is a three-page, double-sided, fold-out colour pamphlet (a 19½ x 11 inch, double-sided page folded into three, so each page is 6½ inches wide by 11 inches long). The fold-out is easy and quick for clients to scan, for example, on the subway home or while taking a coffee break at their desk. It can also be read, cover to cover, as soon as it lands on a client’s desk. “We recognize that our clients are busy and are inundated with materials,” explains Finkel. “We wanted concise materials which could be read in a relatively short time.”
Blaneys' current format is different from its original conception. “The format has changed slightly, as we started with an eight-page glossy booklet and now we have a pamphlet-like format,” notes Finkel.
Your annual review can therefore be long or short – and be effective either way. Early on in the process, you should be able to get a good idea what it will cost. Once you’ve decided on the number of pages and number of copies, a printer can provide you with an estimate. Of course, you’ll have to add to that the cost of a writer and designer as well, which should be consulted and hired at the start of the project.
Because any format can work, a small law firm can produce an annual review just as easily as a larger firm. Says Blaneys’ Finkel: “Certainly, any law firm could do an annual review/report, because, as is demonstrated by the differences between our annual review and that of Blakes, for example, there is wide latitude available, not only in the content and design, but also in cost.”
Headlines and Call-Outs Tell Your Story
Some people will read your annual review from front to back. Others will only skim it. And still others will just look at the pictures and headlines.
So when envisioning the design, make sure your story can be told by reading simply the headlines and call-out boxes or highlighted sections.
Developing a Theme
The best annual reviews are developed around a theme. Look back on the first six to nine months of the year and select a theme or common thread that has emerged.
Blaneys’ Annual Review 2005 is built around its move to its new offices. A coloured call-out or box gives the new address in the “ultra-modern Maritime Life Tower” and describes how the “office design was created by a leading firm in progressive business interiors.” On another page, Blaneys links its new offices with better meeting the needs of corporate clients: “With new and larger offices in Toronto’s business core, we have the physical and technological resources to continue meeting those client needs.” The colour photos throughout the review are all of the new offices.
For its last review before merging, the old Hale and Dorr firm picked the theme of “synergy and collaboration.” Says Goodman: “This review was fun and dramatic, yet it retained a sophisticated look and feel. We got very creative and experimented with the use of colour, space and graphics. We designed a simple elegant cover, which opened up into a spectrum of colour that visually carried the theme throughout the piece.”
Another idea for a theme suggests Goodman is to focus your review on a case study – pick a specific case that represents your most significant work of the year, talk to the lawyers involved, interview the client, and build your review around that.
Contents of Your Annual Review
Once you’ve settled on a theme, you’re ready to think about what to include in your annual review:
Of course, the front page or cover should show the firm name, the words “Annual Review,” and the year the review refers to. As well, it should depict the theme or summarize what the review is about.
Blaneys’ front page is emblazoned with the words “A Year of Results” and shows two photos of the firm’s new offices (tying in the firm’s “new offices” theme).
Blakes’ 2004-05 review boldfaces the word “Highlights” on the front cover – emphasizing that the review touches on just the key developments over the year.
Photos of clients’ faces adorn the front page of Chicago-based Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP’s 2004 annual review. On the next page is the note: “We are grateful to our clients, including those pictured on the cover and who are identified here, for taking the time to tell us about our work. Their statements, some of which appear throughout these pages, underscore the importance that all of us at Sonnenschein ascribe to ‘partnering for progress,’ the theme of this Annual Review.”
The front cover page must also be eye-catching. Vibrant colour bands of pumpkin orange, lime green and turquoise blue grab the attention of anyone looking at the cover of Blakes’ 2004-05 annual review.
If your annual review will be ten pages or more, you’ll probably want to include an index; longer annual reviews tend to contain an index or table of contents.
Slogans, quotes and “About the firm”
The index can be followed by a page or two that describes your firm in a nutshell – whether it’s a respected regional business law firm or a plaintiff personal injury boutique. This is where you can insert branding slogans, brief client testimonials, media quotes and the like.
The inside page of Blakes’ review contains quotes from magazines and publishers. There’s a quote of “Canadian Law Firm of the Year for 2004” by Chambers and Partners Legal Publishers, and another quote of “The leading firm in Canada” by The International Who’s Who of Business Lawyers 2003/04.
Half a page of Blaneys’ three-page, double-sided pamphlet is devoted to “About Blaney McMurtry LLP” and describes the firm as “the preferred corporate counsel” and “one of Toronto’s leading business law firms.”
Message from the managing partner
Don’t Let Your Review Be Stuffy
WilmerHale’s Rachel Goodman advises that you adopt a conversational tone.
“So many law firm brochures are so general these days that they all sound alike. In some cases, you could probably substitute one firm name for another, and nobody would know the difference,” she says.
“But people are getting bored seeing the same old thing over and over. You want to have your firm’s personality come through so you can differentiate yourself in the marketplace.”
Many annual reviews contain a message or note from the firm’s chair or managing partner.
If your firm focuses on solicitor services, this communication could talk generally about how the business landscape changed or affected your clients over the year, and how your firm responded. You could add any community or other awards that the firm received, new lawyers hired, volunteer efforts of the firm’s lawyers and any other significant news. At the end, it should thank clients for their business and convey your warm wishes for a continued working relationship in the next year and beyond.
Organization of sections
Typically, different pages or sections are allocated to different practice areas that you want to promote. But steer clear of covering each and every practice area. “There’s a trend toward capitalizing on your firm’s strengths over the past year, rather than capturing all the 20 practice areas that you work in,” notes Goodman of WilmerHale.
Blaneys’ review has three main practice area sections: “Significant Corporate Transactions,” “Effective Dispute Resolution” and “Specialized Expertise.”
But you could try something different. The New York law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP eschewed organizing its 2004 annual review by practice area, preferring to segment by case study instead. Major sections are allocated to different clients, for example, “Procter & Gamble,” “Enron,” “Canary Wharf” and so on.
Client transactions and cases
This is the meat of your annual review. In the appropriate section, it’s your chance to “boast” about important trial victories and/or transactions or deals that the firm has successfully negotiated for clients over the year. Be specific, use client names and provide details. Remember, clients want to see their names in there! Headings and subheadings should be used for each client case.
Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, which is headquartered in New York, works closely with media clients. Under the heading and subheading “DREAMWORKS SKG: Largest Entertainment IPO in Nearly a Decade Completed,” readers learn from Paul Weiss’ 2004 review (called “Shape of 2004”) that the firm “represented Steven Spielberg and David Geffen in connection with the spin-off of DreamWorks SKG’s animation unit, through an $812 million initial public offering, into a public company called DreamWorks Animation SKG. The public offering was the largest IPO of an entertainment company in almost 10 years.”
Some clients may not want to be specifically named. In this circumstance, you can still showcase the matter by referring to the client more generically, such as Blaneys’ description of various clients as “a software development client,” “a top-tier U.S. development and construction firm” and “a prominent national construction owner.”
For a more personal description, you may even want to indicate which lawyer handled a particular client matter. Lionel Sawyer’s 2004 review gives the name of the lawyer or lawyers involved in each case or transaction profiled. For example, under the heading “Pharmaceutical Defence,” the review says that the firm is “serving as lead trial counsel in Nevada for SmithKline Beecham Corporation d/b/a GlaxoSmithKline (“GSK”) in the defence of Nevada cases involving Baycol, a prescription medication. While 95 Baycol cases were brought against GSK, all but 30 have been dismissed… Dennis Kennedy, Hector Carbajal and Leah Ayala are handling this
Also consider incorporating client testimonials. Using the client’s own words is a powerful way of depicting the positive work you do. Consider the following testimonial from Andrea Zopp, senior vice-president and general counsel for Sears, Roebuck & Co. found in Sonnenschein’s most recently published annual review: “Through our strategic partnership with Sonnenschein we have built relationships that have led to creative and cost-effective solutions on our legal matters. Sonnenschein’s team understands our business and its objectives and effectively uses that knowledge to work with our lawyers to get in front of issues before they become serious problems. They are valuable partners to have.”
Other pieces of information you might want to include?
- Pro bono initiatives – for example, the number of pro bono hours your lawyers logged, or a particular non-profit agency for which the firm does pro bono work
- New firm developments, like the opening of new branch offices
- Community involvement – for example, community awards, or community arts and culture donations
- Support of law school scholarships
- Client seminars delivered over the year
The Production Process
One person in your office should coordinate the planning and production of the annual review – perhaps your communications/marketing director, if you have one, or the partner in charge of marketing.
Budget at least three to six months for producing an annual review. This means that if you want a 2006 annual review to be published and released by, say February 2007, you need to start work on it in September, 2006. Be aware that producing an annual review is a time-consuming endeavour.
Hire a writer and designer
They should be involved and consulted at the outset. Once you know how many pages your review will be and the size of those pages, you and the writer/designer can decide on the word count for each section.
Invite the firm’s department heads or lawyers to submit details of deals, successful court victories or other significant milestones for inclusion in the review. To assist the lawyers, ask them to complete the section template provided at the end of this article. You’ll probably want to give them at least one month to draft their sections.
It’s very important that clients referred to in the review give their approval to being included and named. At Blaneys, “each submitting lawyer is responsible for getting the approval of the client who is referred to in each piece, and no item is included without the client signing off,” says Finkel. And don’t forget to thank your clients for taking the time to provide you with their testimonials or photographs!
Streamlining the information
The annual review coordinator will be responsible for culling down the number of examples that will be included in the review. The writer and designer can then take over. Once drafts of the various examples or sections have been written, these should be sent back to the submitting department head or lawyer for their review and approval, before the project is sent off for publication.
· Budget more time than you think you’ll need for developing and producing your annual review. Start early. It will take at least three to six months to produce the review, longer if the review is a lengthy document.
· Appoint one person responsible for coordinating the project, setting deadlines and following up with the contributing lawyers.
· Develop a style guide. Blakes developed a style guide for words such as “wholly owned” and “advisor.” A style guide will help to achieve consistency in the editing process.
· Pick a theme or focus – don’t just list all the firm’s accomplishments for the year.
· Have fun and be creative. “This is the one piece where you can stray from the typical buttoned-up formal tone,” says Rachel Goodman, WilmerHale’s communications manager.
Distributing the Annual Review
At Blaneys, “the annual review is distributed with our newsletter mailings, included in presentation packages about the firm, distributed at seminars, distributed internally, and displayed in our reception area,” says Finkel.
The 10,000 copies of Blakes’ review was sent across Canada to existing and potential clients, students, potential hires and other law firms.
When sending out your review, perhaps include a cover letter from the managing partner that briefly explains what’s in the review.
Annual Review Section Template
Department Name (or Practice Area) __________________________
Partner Responsible ________________________________________
Word Count Required ______________________________________
Date Due __________________________________________________
In this section, provide the main headline. What was the biggest thing that happened in your department (or law practice) this year? What was the biggest case won or deal closed? Was there a specific trend that influenced your work? Start with the best and most interesting thing you have to say, so that readers will be hooked as they continue throughout the rest of your section.
Provide factual client examples that back up your claims made in the Introduction. Client consent will need to be obtained. Be sure to describe your cases and deals in a way that is understandable to the non-lawyer.
Here’s your chance to brag a bit. Were any of your lawyers honored in some way? Any new board or organization appointments? Did a lawyer in your group publish a book? This is where you can add the human element of how the lawyers in your department are not just good at what they do in the office, but also in the community!
Wrap things up here. What do you think you’ll see more of in the next year? Is there something that we should be watching your department do in the year ahead? Here’s a chance to talk about how you see your department’s practice and story evolving over the next year.
Now that you have written this draft, are there images that pop into your head that would be appropriate to complement the written piece? Please provide the annual review coordinator with your thoughts on appropriate images to include as part of your section’s overall design.
* Adapted from the Section Template annexed to “Preparing an Annual Report: How much information to disclose?…What to spotlight?… Examples of best and most effective reports” cited above. For more information, contact Stephanie S. Goldstein, Chief Marketing Officer, WilmerHale, or Rachel Goodman, Manager, Marketing Communications, WilmerHale.
Janice Mucalov is a freelance writer in Vancouver.
Neither the author nor the CBA should be construed as endorsing any product or website listed in this article. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CBA.|
In this document, any reference to "jurist" or "lawyer" includes, where appropriate, "Québec notary".