The Case for Case Studies

After lawyers’ profiles, some of the most frequently visited parts of law firm websites are the Frequently Asked Questions section and Case Studies. Which two website sections are the most difficult to get lawyers to contribute? FAQs and Case Studies.

It shouldn’t be difficult to figure out why FAQs and Case Studies are so popular. When we have a question nowadays, we don’t go to an encyclopedia, we hit the Search button on our electronic device of choice and enter a search term. If your website comes up in a client’s search for the meaning of some arcane term in their leasing/employment/supply contract, you’ve already made a contact without knowing it.

Easy enough, but the real art and science of marketing legal services comes in informing people about problems they didn’t know they could have. That’s when the Case Study comes in handy. Don’t just tell your website visitors that they should always have a real estate lawyer check their leasing contract before signing it, show them what can happen if they don’t.

For example, let’s say that a client wants to close its business premises for two weeks to complete major renovations. Thanks to a clause in their lease that requires them to continuously operate their business, they are in breach of the lease and the landlord is threatening consequences. Had a real estate lawyer reviewed the lease before the client signed it, they could have negotiated a different provision.

Another example might be a start-up client whose major current concern is obtaining funding for their business. When you mention a shareholder agreement, their eyes glaze over, but two years down the road they’re having differences about how to run the company and have no basis for negotiating a way out of the impasse.

When you tell clients they need your services, that’s just a hustle. When you show them what you can save them from, that’s a service.

Effective case studies are those that make the reader think, “That could be me.” The problem must be easily recognizable as something that could happen in the circumstances. The client’s behaviour must be believable, not extreme or stupid. The legal solution must involve the application of skill and experience, not something that a first-year associate could do without supervision.

When I introduce the idea of writing case studies to my clients, I get a chorus of “Yes buts”. Yes, but what about confidentiality? Yes, but aren’t we giving away our advice? Yes, but who’s going to write them?

There’s no need to use real clients in a case study. All you need is an authentic problem that could occur and for which there is a legal remedy. If you get your messaging right, you’re not giving advice, you’re giving a warning: “This could happen to you.” And as for who’s going to write them, the only involvement a lawyer needs to have in writing a case study is to supply the problem and its possible consequences. Your marketing department or consultant should be able to produce short, concise scenarios that will make your website visitors reach for the phone.

Human beings love stories; we have been telling them since we gathered around the fire in caves. When people ask me what I do, I tell them that fundamentally, I’m a storyteller. The marketing skill lies in first getting clients to define specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely goals. Once good storytellers know what the client wants to achieve, they can figure out what story to tell, to whom, when, where, how—and why.

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