content under pressure

Law Firm Histories

By | Mar.01.17 | Content Marketing, Content Under Pressure, Daily Dispatch, Legal Marketing

Content Marketing

This will completely frustrate you Western Civ majors, but your clients don’t care about your law firm’s history.

I know it’s tempting to commemorate a big anniversary with a self-congratulatory press release, glossy collateral or detail-heavy web copy. It used to be fairly common. I once covered the 25th anniversary of a Silicon Valley firm. They ordered a giant “25” ice sculpture and the partners posed around it. Other than the debut of New Coke, I cannot remember a more ridiculous media event.

I won’t go into the reasons why firms commission histories or devote more than a passing glance at the firm’s gestation on their websites. What I will tell you is why it’s nearly always self-centered, not client-centered, and therefore pointless.

There are a few exceptions, but in the main leave them lie where they belong.

Keep It Current

Firm histories show a firm is living in the past. Glorifying “we got there first” doesn’t speak much of where you are today. Clients are not hiring dead partners. They are hiring the live ones. In an ideal world, you could lead with the fact that your IP firm acquired the first patent. But since that happened in 1790, I doubt that applies.

I was once hired to write a law firm’s history to honor its centennial. The firm had a storied past, one deeply embedded in the history of California, the University of California and Chief Justice Earl Warren. But as I tried to tie the firm’s legacy to its current stature, it became increasingly clear that its glory days were behind them. Soon the firm was acquired and the five-figure centennial copy was left on the dust heap of history.

The Only Three Times It’s Acceptable

When is it permissible to laud a firm’s legacy? Use these examples as a guide:

  1. Your founding partner went to law school to right the wrongs he saw committed daily against immigrants living in local neighborhood tenements. Today the firm has a robust pro bono practice. It’s the spirit that lives on. It’s impossible not to feel good about that.
  1. You are an IP firm whose ancestors represented a prominent regional inventor or company. Now there’s a legacy. Think of the tagline: “From Edison to Electric Cars, Patents ’R’ Us Is There for You.”
  1. You helped a local entrepreneur obtain the land and other assets (financing, IP, water rights) that she needed to build the largest employer in your area.

See the trend here? History is only relevant in light of today’s accomplishments. If you look back, create a narrative arc to the present day. Otherwise limit the firm’s history to the art in a conference room or a very limited piece of collateral for the lobby coffee table.

Susan Kostal is a legal affairs PR, marketing and business development consultant based in San Francisco. She is a contributing editor for Attorney at Work and writes the "Content Under Pressure" column. Susan has covered legal affairs as a journalist for nearly three decades. You can follow her on Twitter @skostal and view more of her content at www.susankostal.com.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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One Response to “Law Firm Histories”

  1. Branigan Robertson
    5 March 2017 at 6:03 pm #

    I could not agree more. Nobody cares about your firm until they need your legal services. Period. 25th Anniversary party is ridiculous.


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