Allen & Overy, Biglaw, In-House Counsel

Inside Straight: ‘Litigation Highlights!’ And Law Firm ‘Annual Reviews’

An in-house lawyer receives an email from a law firm with the subject line, “Litigation Highlights!” Does she pop it open?

Probably not; it sounds like an advertisement.

Is there a subject line that stands a better chance of success?

Yes: Something that specifically identifies a subject that might matter to the recipient. Maybe: “The Constitutionality of ‘ObamaCare': A Preview of the Arguments.”

The recipient might or might not care about that subject, but, if she does care, at least she knows to open the email.

My not-so-hypothetical “subject” line — “Litigation Highlights!” — is off-putting enough, but, if you made the mistake of opening that email, the substance could be even worse….

Remarkably, I often receive promotional emails that contain a series of items bragging about a law firm’s “litigation highlights” — cases the firm recently won. And I’ve received similar things — by email or, incredibly, in 30-page packets that arrived by U.S. Mail — from litigation consultants: Thirty pages of descriptions of cases in which the experts testified and their side prevailed. Why would an in-house lawyer possibly care about this? Why would a lawyer at a firm possibly care about this? In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and take my rhetorical question one step further: Why would anyone possibly care about this? The only people reading these things are the lawyers (or consultants) at the firm that mailed it. Each lawyer is flipping through the brochure, page by page, to see whether the firm chose to highlight that particular lawyer’s recent triumph. (“Yes! There’s my case — the fourth item on page 18!”)

Come on, guys: You think your firm is great; we get it. Your firm occasionally wins cases; we get it. When you assemble a bunch of your victories in one place, and omit all of your defeats, then it seems as though you’re a pretty good law firm; we get it. But why would in-house lawyers possibly care to read about your recent victories? You’re writing these materials for your own benefit, not mine, so you’ll never attract my attention (although you may draw my on-line scorn).

If I sent you an email pontificating about my recent victories, would you read it?

Wait! I take that back! I’m a client. Some industrious lawyer would read my email, write back that he had won a bunch of similar cases, and turn my email into a marketing opportunity. I’ll need to concoct a better illustration.

Suppose the local photocopy shop sent you an email with the subject line: “Photocopying Highlights!” Suppose you accidentally opened that email. And suppose the email explained that the copy shop had recently had several significant engagements: The copy shop had to run 300,000 pages of photocopies for a client in less than 12 hours, and the copy shop succeeded! The copy shop had to duplicate and bates-stamp a million pages of documents, and the copy shop did it electronically! The copy shop had to ship some documents to New York, and it did!

Get my drift? You’re really not interested in reading the copy shop’s self-indulgent bragging. The copy shop’s victories are not what matters to you, the reader.

That’s what doesn’t work; what might? Bruce MacEwen, over at Adam Smith Esq., published a post last week about Allen & Overy’s most recent annual review. That report seemingly did not inflict upon the reader a litany of the firm’s great triumphs. Instead, the report contained essays written by distinguished people cogitating about the world’s economy and political problems. I don’t know if that will sell any legal services for Allen & Overy, but at least there’s a chance someone will read the thing.

Many emails, and websites, and brochures compete for in-house lawyers’ limited available time. If you want to cut through the clutter, then think about marketing from the recipient’s point of view. The question is not what the law firm wants to say, but what the potential client needs to hear. Become a provider of useful — or, at a minimum, interesting — information, rather than a bragger about your achievements, and you’ll have taken a step in the right direction.


Mark Herrmann is the Vice President and Chief Counsel – Litigation at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law (affiliate link). You can reach him by email at inhouse@abovethelaw.com.

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