It’s results season in the legal profession, that time of year when firms make it clear just how well (or not) they have performed over the last twelve months. Across the profession, lawyers will be watching to see how their competitors have fared in comparison with their own firms.
For many in law firm management, however, headline figures are a part of a broader story that they are wanting to tell. The challenge is how to communicate that story and give an accurate picture of the firm’s wider development without giving away trade secrets.
If you are sitting in a firm in the bottom half of the rankings and your firm doesn’t have regular contact with the legal trade press, this time of year presents an opportunity to raise the profile of your firm and the work it has been doing.
At The Lawyer journalists will attempt to speak to as many firms as possible to add depth to a figures story. As well as talking headline figures (revenue, profit, profit per equity partner (PEP) and revenue per partner/ per lawyer), reporters will be looking for firm specific news, alongside broader comment relating to trends in the profession.
The Lawyer UK200 is well read by the legal profession as well as its service industries. Solicitors’ professional indemnity insurers, for example, will use it to help assess the financial health of the sector. Some law firm managers may see it as shop window, somewhere to display its credentials to potential new recruits or perhaps a buyer.
Law firm leaders at the top end of the profession may be well versed in being interviewed. Firms such as Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith Freehills, and Mishcon de Reya, are regularly featured in the press and have an ongoing story to tell. For those lower down the rankings, however, the UK200 interview is an opportunity to start building a profile.
Reporters will want to speak to management – whether that be managing partners, senior partners or finance directors.
It is essential that you are familiar with the numbers you have presented and how they have been calculated. Don’t assume reporters are too busy to do some number crunching, if there are figures that don’t add up be prepared to explain why. Failure to respond to tough questions with authority could lead to confusion and may not result in the positive story you want.
Talk about trends within the firm. Which practices are doing well and why? Are there any areas that are having a more challenging time and why? Can you speak about a broader strategic plan, which practices are going to thrive over the forthcoming year? Is the firm planning investment in certain practices or support groups? It isn’t necessary to over speak and divulge huge detail, but provide enough information so the reporter can write an interesting and informative overview.
Of course, it may be that your firm wants to maintain its low profile and partners are reluctant to declare year-end figures. Slaughter and May, for instance, does not officially publish its annual results. Nevertheless, The Lawyer will endeavour to get guidance on how well a firm has performed either from official spokespeople, or from law firm insiders who have become reliable sources. It is important that your partners have a unified message and that this comes down from the top.
Even if you or your partners are unable to comment specifically on figures it is still worthwhile attempting to create a wider narrative around your firm. Slaughter and May does not shut reporters out because lawyers are blocked from speaking to them, instead the firm narrative is strong and consistent. Ensure your partners know what they can divulge and that they stay firmly on message.
At the other end of the publicity spectrum, you may have some strong partners who want to talk about practice management. Building relations with reporters now could generate coverage for months to come. You may have plans to invest in new offices, new teams or new systems that you want to talk about. While it is important to talk about the last financial year, talking about plans for the next year will bring a new dimension to a story.
Year end results stories do not need to be bland and vanilla, it is an opportunity to tell the profession more about your firm and the good work it has been doing.