Law firm case studies tend to be ineffective because they tell the wrong story. Here’s how to craft a law firm case study that makes clients actually want to hire your firm.
Have you read any case studies from your law firm’s peer or competing firms recently? Have you read your own firm’s case studies recently?
If you have (or even if you have not), what I am about to tell you should not come as a surprise. Traditionally, law firm case studies are ineffective. While law firms have the best of intentions when crafting case studies, they frequently end up creating uninspired clinical descriptions of successful representations of clients that are as compelling to read as those firms’ own website disclaimers.
Poorly crafted case studies are missed opportunities for law firms. Case studies, when executed effectively, provide prospective clients a glimpse into their future by showing how a law firm can help them overcome the problems they’re facing—in the form of their legal issues—and how they can get back on the paths they were on in life or business before those problems and legal issues arose.
So how can you and your firm craft effective case studies, the kind that compel clients to hire your firm? Follow these three steps.
First, strategically spotlight the kinds of clients you want to attract.
Compelling case studies are mirrors, not windows. Prospective clients should see themselves and their legal issues reflected in your law firm’s case studies. They should identify with the clients being profiled and their problems, and share the same desired resolutions to those problems. When prospective clients learn that another client who’s been in their shoes turned to your firm to help them successfully resolve their legal issues, those prospective clients are going to, naturally, believe your firm can do the same for them.
For that reason, your firm’s case studies should strategically spotlight the clients you want to attract.
If your firm is a catastrophic personal injury firm wanting to specialize in birth injury and medical malpractice cases, don’t craft case studies focused on construction accident cases.
If your firm is an intellectual property boutique that wants to serve biotech companies, don’t craft a case study on a recent win for a media company, even if it was impressive.
If your firm is a large corporate firm, consider crafting multiple case studies in each of your firm’s practice groups spotlighting work the firm has done with the clients those practice groups want more of. The general counsel of a large corporation defending an emerging series of mass tort actions is not going to be impressed by a recent deal that lawyers in your private equity practice group just put together. They are going to want to see how your firm’s litigators have helped other companies successfully defend sprawling litigation, MDLs and mass tort actions.
This advice may strike you as counterintuitive. After all, conventional wisdom says that when communicating client results, your firm should focus on the “best” results it has achieved. That makes sense when your “best” results have come in cases where your firm has represented an ideal client. But if you spotlight a “best” result that you or a colleague obtained in a case that was the kind of case your firm does not want more of or was an outlier based on the unique facts of the case, that case study is unlikely to speak to the clients your firm wants to attract.
Next, get permission from those clients to be the subject of a case study and involve them in the process.
Obviously, you are going to want permission from the clients you plan on spotlighting before you begin crafting case studies about them. This isn’t just a matter of good client service. As the American Bar Association’s Formal Ethics Opinion 480 reminds us, under the ABA’s Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6(a), and likely your jurisdiction’s equivalent, a lawyer must not reveal any information relating to their representation of a client without informed consent of the client—even when what will be revealed is already public record. Putting aside any First Amendment issues you may have with the ABA’s opinion, you will save yourself a potential ethical headache down the road by getting a client’s approval before you begin crafting the case study.
Almost as important as avoiding both angering a client and running afoul of ethical rules, getting permission from a client to craft a case study about them will give you an opportunity to begin a dialog around their involvement in the process. Of course, you will want the client to approve of the case study in its final form. But as you will see in a moment, if your law firm wants to craft compelling case studies, it will need its clients to be involved in the process.
Then—most importantly of all—write an engaging story about the client, NOT your firm.
Far too often, law firm case studies provide a superficial birds’ eye view of the clients’ legal issues. Those legal issues are described with just enough depth to set up similar punchlines: breathless explanations of the amazing things the firms did to help their clients resolve their legal issues. Case studies like this are so self-promotional that they are rarely impactful or memorable.
You know what IS impactful and memorable? Stories. That’s why your case study should be in narrative form. It should read like a features piece from your favorite newspaper or magazine. And it should tell a story that follows this path:
The client, the hero of the story, has a problem caused by a legal issue.
The reader learns all about the hero’s problem and how it is impacting their life, business, etc. The reader understands what the hero wants to achieve—and how this problem is keeping them from doing so.
Your law firm and its lawyers are the hero’s guides. The guides enter the picture by encountering the hero when they are in a grim, uncertain position.
The guides then help the hero with their legal problem, calling the hero to action and ushering the hero through a series of events that helps the hero persevere, overcome the underlying legal issue and larger problem afoot, and ultimately accomplish the goal they sought to achieve before being stymied by that legal issue.
Thanks to the guides’ assistance, the hero eventually overcomes the adversity described in the story and (at least for the moment) lives happily ever after.
In this story, your firm is not the hero. It is the helping hand that guides the hero through their travails.
Because this story is about the hero, your firm’s client, it is imperative that the story focus on what your client was thinking and feeling throughout their journey with your firm. In addition, direct quotes from your client will provide texture and depth to the story that you or your colleagues’ words cannot.
For some legal matters like personal injury matters, the client and their loved ones may have discussed the client’s case so deeply and so often with their lawyers (and those lawyers’ staff members) that this information has already been recorded in the firm’s case file and only needs to be extracted and polished by the person crafting the case study.
When that is not the case, a client should be interviewed by a lawyer or a staff member at your firm who worked closely enough with the client that the client feels comfortable discussing in depth the problems they faced and how it impacted their life or business. If the case study focuses on a corporate client, interviews with multiple client representatives may be necessary to provide a 360-degree view of the problems the client faced and their impact.
While this narrative form will allow your firm to go deeper into your clients’ stories than other firms’ case studies, I am not suggesting your firm publish a case study that spans twenty single-spaced pages. A compelling case study could be 600 words. What matters most is that the case study is detailed enough that prospective clients are able to see themselves in it while your firm is able to show how, in an understated way, it helped a client through a challenging legal problem.
After the written case study is complete, consider how you will distribute it and how else to tell the client’s story.
Now that your law firm has crafted a compelling case study, in order for the case study to do its job—compel prospective clients and current clients with new matters to retain lawyers at your firm—it must be strategically distributed.
Do more than publishing it on your firm’s “insights” webpage and its social media channels. Make sure the case study is referenced in your firm’s email newsletters and during webinars. It should be linked to on the relevant practice groups’ pages on your firm’s website, as well as in the online bios of your firm’s lawyers who worked on the matter. And it should be referenced by your firm’s lawyers whenever they communicate with prospective or current clients facing similar legal issues.
In addition, consider how else to tell this client’s story. Can you record an interview with the client that you could repurpose into additional marketing and business development content? Would the client like to join one of your firm’s lawyers on a webinar discussing the client’s legal problem specifically, or the area of law generally within which the client’s problem arose? The sky’s the limit when considering how to strategically repurpose a compelling case study.
“It’s the [client], stupid.”
With apologies to James Carville, your law firm will stand out from the pack of its peer and competing firms by crafting case studies that are all about the client, and told from the client’s perspective. Let your competitors pump out explicitly self-promotional case studies that heap praise on their lawyers while all but ignoring the client.
You and your firm can do better. Craft case studies that compel prospective clients to hire your firm because they see themselves in the elegant stories your firm tells about how its clients came face-to-face with challenging legal problems—and persevered through them with the help of your firm’s lawyers and staff.
Reprinted with permission from the March 16, 2021, edition of The Legal Intelligencer © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877-257-3382 or email@example.com.
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