A recent piece up at Marketing Profs suggests using slower summer months to write up case studies of successful projects.  In the hopes of using an actual law firm case study on using case studies as an example, I ran some searches to find a law firm website that includes case studies – and came up short.  So it occurred to me that before describing how to write a case study, I should describe what a case study is and why it’s an effective marketing device.  After that, I’ll discuss how to lawyers can write case studies that will attract clients, but at the same time, not reveal so much as to violate confidentiality rules.

What is a case study and why is it effective?

As defined in Wikipedia, a case study is an explanatory tool based on “an in-depth investigation of a single individual, group, or event” to highlight underlying issues.”  The reason that case studies are effective is because through reference to facts and events, they show, rather than tell, how an attorney can assist.

How can a lawyer write a case study?

Even though there aren’t many examples of lawyer case studies, fortunately, there’s a fairly stock, multi-step formula for drafting a case study, as described at VAR Marketing.  First, select the matters that will serve as the focus of the case study and highlight your “best work and current business practices.”  For example, if you’re marketing your firm’s responsiveness and ability to get the job done, you might want to focus on a client who retained you to resolve a dispute that had dragged out for years on another firm’s docket.  If you want to show your willingness to take on risky or “long-shot” matters, write about a matter where you not only prevailed, but created new precedent.

If you’re a new lawyer who hasn’t had much experience, not to worry.  Though you can’t lie or exaggerate about your involvement in a matter, you can describe your participation – even at a “low-man-on-the-totem-pole” level – in a high profile case that your firm handled.  You could also write about pro bono matters or cases that you handled through a clinic at law school.

Once you’ve selected a few exemplary cases, organize the content as follows, recommends VAR Marketing.  (I’ve modified the steps to make them applicable to lawyers):

•    Client description
•    Client Challenge
•    Solution
•    Results

How can I write about my clients — what about confidentiality issues?

In contrast to some businesses, lawyers are bound by confidentiality requirements and for that reason, may not be able to discuss certain cases simply because the discussion might encroach on a client’s privacy or breach attorney-client privilege.  If there’s a case where you risk breaching confidentiality, you could consider getting a client’s consent to discuss the details.  But in my view, you’re probably better off focusing on a less sensitive case.  In addition, avoid identifying details and stick to discussion of information that resides in the public record – for example, the summary of the case from the court’s opinion.

In describing the solutions and results, do so in a way that makes sense to a client.  Boasting about setting new precedent means nothing; a prospective client will want to understand why the particular precedent matters.  Likewise, you should describe the solution in layperson terms, rather than lawyer-ese.

Not convinced that the case study approach works?  Which of the following descriptions is more persuasive:

1.  Our firm’s lawyers collectively have 50 years of appellate practice experience.  We have a winning record before the XYZ Court of Appeals.

2.  After our clients completed construction of their dream home, the County which had previously approved the plans,  claimed that the clients were in violation of zoning laws and directed them to move their entire house seven feet from the street curb.  Our clients challenged the County’s ruling in court, and lost.  They came to our firm to handle the appeal after several firms advised them to accept a settlement which would partly compensate them for the costs of new construction but leave them without a place to live for at least a year.    Instead, we appealed and secured a reversal of the County’s decision as well as an award of attorneys’ fees, thus enabling our clients to remain in the house of their dreams.

As the examples show, a case study can make your work come alive for clients – which is another reason that case studies are so persuasive.  At the same time, they do require more time to draft than an ordinary practice description – so as I said at the outset, use summer downtime to make the case for your law firm by drafting a case study.