For law firms, Oxford University’s law fair is one of the biggest and most important at which to spar among the intellectual elite. Of 72 attendees, we went head-to-head with 30 firms to review how they’ve packaged their credentials and personalities in hard-hitting brochures (sourced from Oxford Law Fair).
The evidence from Oxford, and from LSE last year, suggests that firms don’t spend (enough) time developing a brand narrative that’s different from others. The usual promises appear. These may be valid, but they’re hardly ammunition for when it comes to the tricky ‘what’s so special about your firm?’ question at the end of the interview.
Some narratives pivot on the future: ‘Shape our vision. Shape your future’ (DLA Piper). Some go global – for example, ‘Join the Global Game-Changers’ (Hogan Lovells). Others dangle the prospect of great opportunities: ‘There’s no limit to what you can achieve’ (Latham & Watkins) or, even better, ‘Unparalleled Opportunities’ (Morgan Lewis). Some are (literally) saying nothing ‘Trainee Solicitors’ (Vinson & Elkins).
Most firms can and do make similar claims. (Others say nothing, too.)
Branding of graduate recruitment is not cheap. While the urge to be safe may be strong, it does seem a waste of opportunity – and resources – to avoid digging deep in order to arrive at something more compelling. From the batch of firms we reviewed, only a handful appear to have worked hard on differentiation.
These include Allen & Overy, whose ‘It’s time’ highlights how the firm’s approach and culture is now ripe for graduates wanting to embrace the change and technology that’s sweeping law. Content hangs on this theme, which both mirrors a truth (that A&O is a leading player in tech) and taps into a sense of where the future lies (innovation) by recreating a promise that is both authentic and ambitious.
Macfarlanes builds a story about what it believes to be different about its offering: ‘Meaningfully Different’. That’s not easy to get right, but the firm carries it off. Branding provides a good sense of how its positioning and culture makes Macfarlanes an attractive (and alternative) place to join, while the quality of design and printing leaves us in no doubt: this is a top-notch firm.
Pinsent Masons goes even further. ‘Take the Law into Your Own Hands’ tells a story of how graduates can influence not only their careers, but also their wellbeing and communities. A thematic approach gives a clear sense of what the firm does, how they go about it, and how grads can fit in. It’s one of the better examples on show.
Using platitudes and empty promises won’t help you to tell your story convincingly. Sullivan & Cromwell, for example, doesn’t have a big graduate programme – and it doesn’t hide from this. Instead, this fact is used for differentiation. ‘Be one of six’ is a clear promise that you’ll have individual attention (within a huge, credible firm).
Most firms position themselves as being highly credible. A big brochure means a big firm (Gibson Dunn and Norton Rose Fulbright, for example). Several pass the ‘thud’ factor and few use A4, preferring to pack a punch with a shorter, thicker brochure. The square format is also popular, as are uncoated, soft touch and velvet-finish covers.
Some firms – possibly sceptical of big brochures, or perhaps just late to production – take the opposite approach. We found a few (Bristows, Clyde & Co, and Cooley, for example) with small, brief, pocket-sized offerings, while others (such as Penningtons Manches Cooper) had just a handful of pages. If creativity is used in these and other formats, brevity can be a good way to say ‘Hey, look at us, we are creative and original.’ If not (and for the most part, it wasn’t), this can make firms look dull and fairly ordinary.
We were particularly interested to see the inclusion of topics near and dear to the hearts of Gen Z: sustainability, diversity and inclusion, as well as issues such as flexibility, wellbeing, access to legal tech, and firms’ sense of purpose.
Many brochures included some reference (albeit limited) to these topics, although a third of firms had no mention of any. Hats off to Eversheds Sutherland, the only firm of 30 to clearly reference its purpose. It didn’t stop there, talking convincingly about its commitment to legal tech, diversity, inclusion and mobility. Pinsent Masons went a similar way, referencing how its vision and values make positive impacts.
CMS did more to demonstrate its inclusivity, combining content for undergraduates and apprenticeships into one brochure for ‘Early Talent’.
Good design, good photography and good printing could be seen as basic requisites. On the evidence of Oxford, UK firms are doing better than US counterparts, with their quality of design more closely aligned to the quality of their corporate brands. Understandably, as these firms recruit more, they will spend more. But arguably, with less on-campus brand awareness, most US firms need to work harder to differentiate themselves.
Apart from a few that use external agencies (Kirkland & Ellis and Weil, for example), most US brochures fall short. This is surprising. Back home, many of these firms are giants. Here, competition is fierce, especially at Oxford, so we’re unsure why a leading firm such as Paul Hastings reverted to coloured copy prints of its brochures. (Did it run out of hard copies?)
Last year, most brochures we reviewed were fairly generic, making promises that were only skin deep. Brochures were mostly credible, but undifferentiated, conservative and safe.
It’s the same this year. In our experience and opinion, something more is needed to change perceptions and make people believe ‘Hey, we’re just as good as (and even better than) them’.
Start by developing a narrative that differentiates your firm from others, using aspects that already exist at a corporate level. Develop this to incorporate all aspects of the way the firm projects itself to the market. Then, use creativity and stories to bring your brochure (and campaigns) alive and make it resonate with design-and-content-savvy Gen Z.
Here are our five tips for getting the most out of your brochures (and campaigns):
If you’re planning your 2020/21 graduate recruitment campaign, we hope you’ve found this review useful.
Take a look at what we said last year about the 2019/20 batch of brochures from LSE.