The legal press: friend or foe?
With more than 40 per cent of law firms' media coverage originating from the legal press, David Benigson considers how valuable the trade press is to lawyers' marketing strategies
Law firms need to be aware of how much of their media coverage comes from the legal trade press. After analysing the media coverage of the 25 highest-earning UK firms across a three-month period, we have calculated that, on average, 41 per cent of law firms’ mentions come from trade news outlets, including blogs, journals, and magazines.
Law firms rely on media coverage for a variety of reasons. Just a few of these include reaching prospective clients, managing the firm’s reputation, and conducting vital research. Legal trades are certainly important for these activities, but for firms looking to develop business and attract new clients, relying on the trade press may not present the same opportunities as, for instance, a piece of national newspaper coverage.
So what role do legal publications play in the day-to-day operations of the UK’s law firms? To answer that question, we have chosen to focus on the news sources themselves rather than distinguishing between earned, owned, and paid media. Our research overlays UK media data with publicly available revenue figures, which together throw up some interesting trends. For instance, there is a clear correlation between the revenue a firm makes and the proportion of coverage likely to come from the trade press.
In addition, we draw attention to the many ‘softer’ use cases where the legal press is crucial to firms, such as: appealing to talent; positioning spokespeople as thought leaders; and underlining different firms’ specialisms and USPs.
It should of course be noted that the trends we’ve uncovered will be influenced by the varying attitudes to PR and communications of the firms in our study. We aren’t able to take those stances into account here, but our findings may help demonstrate the real-world impact of different firms’ strategies.
Our study analysed all media coverage for the 25 highest-earning law firms in the country. We then segmented this coverage, isolating the stories which were generated by legal trade publications. (This encompassed both online and print coverage.) The totals for volume and for legal coverage proportions are visible in Figure 1.
Media data was correlated with each firm’s annual revenue from 2015/16 (which is available through the Legal Insider Top 200 rankings, as well as other sources). The results of this can be seen in Figure 2.
Our research reveals that, in general, firms with higher revenues receive more of their press from the legal trades. In particular, it is interesting to observe the similarity in coverage proportions for four of the five Magic Circle firms: Freshfields, Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, and Linklaters all generate between 54 and 56 per cent of their coverage from legal publications. Slaughter and May receive 51 per cent.
Outside the few highest-earning law firms, it is interesting to observe that for legal businesses with under £700m in revenue, it is relatively difficult to predict how much of their coverage will come from legal publications.
As displayed in Figure 2, the disparity between different firms’ proportions of legal coverage is pronounced. Irwin Mitchell received just 17 per cent of its media mentions from the legal press, while fully 69 per cent of CMS Cameron McKenna’s coverage came from the same segment. (Extensive reporting on CMS’s merger with Olswang and Nabarro over our period of analysis may well have contributed to this.
We can also reveal that, over the same period of time, King & Wood Mallesons – where issues with the firm’s European arm were well covered during the three-month analysis period – received fully 71 per cent of its coverage from the legal press. KWM was not included in our original study as it fell outside the top 25 highest-earning firms, but this metric means KWM would have topped our rankings in terms of proportionate trade coverage.
Highlighting the proportion of national versus trade coverage for these firms is important, as law firms have any number of different objectives tied to their press coverage. As well as obvious goals such as business development and deal flow, other outcomes such as thought leadership or recruitment and profile building with graduates are necessary in the competitive legal world.
Tania Phayre, head of marketing and business development at Holman Fenwick Willan, says: ‘The legal press plays an important role in generating profile for law firms within the legal sector, and publications in this space are useful for peer-to-peer benchmarking.
‘For this reason, we find that the legal sector publications are used as key reference points by lateral hires; graduates considering which firms to train with; and also with business services staff who want to understand more about a firm’s standing in the market.
‘While much of our PR drive is through national and international business and industry publications where we feel we can better connect directly with clients, the legal press certainly plays its part in generating peer-to-peer profile and also when it comes to attracting new talent – a cornerstone of future business development.’
Phayre’s perspective shows that law firms need to consider not just the media coverage they receive but the outlets it appears in. In particular, the role of legal trades in driving recruitment means it’s vital for communications teams to target their PR activities carefully for different press segments and even for different publications, so as to maximise the return from their efforts.
A vital tool
Law firms know that media monitoring is becoming more and more important. As technology in the sector develops, it is now easier than ever for firms to analyse press coverage and adjust their communications strategy accordingly.
The legal trade press is a case in point. From the data for our 25 firms, we have isolated a couple of pertinent trends. For instance, we have shown that, generally speaking, the bigger a firm is in terms of its revenue, the more of its coverage is generated by the legal press.
Insights like these should inform how firms plan and generate media coverage. Setting targets dictating how PR activity might be split between the legal trades and other press segments is one potential strategy. But this needs to be done with the firm’s goals in mind: for instance, it is arguable that national press coverage could be more important for business development than attracting graduate talent. Press needs to be planned and focused accordingly.
Clementine Travis, account director at Byfield Consultancy, says: ‘The legal trade press remains a vital tool of communication in the industry, aiding recruitment, retention, and market knowledge.
‘Regular engagement with legal publications is part of any comprehensive communications strategy for law firms. This shouldn’t just be based on the distribution of press releases, but the development of relationships between key journalists and law firm management.’
Travis’s assessment shows us that an emphasis on long-term relationship building is essential for firms and the trade publications which cover them to coexist healthily. Ultimately, firms will always be mindful of coverage that could affect how they are perceived by competitors and potential clients, and which indicates how the output of their PR strategy compares with peers in the marketplace.
In light of this, especially with the opinions of the legal sector in mind, it is certain that legal publications will continue to be a valuable resource.
David Benigson CEO, Signal
Signal’s Artificial Intelligence powers the next generation of media monitoring, allowing you to cover everything that matters to you, across the entire media landscape, in real time.