The Thought Leadership trends of the world’s leading law firms. Gulland Padfield publishes Review of Global Law Firm Insights and Publications

The Thought Leadership trends of the world’s leading law firms. Gulland Padfield publishes Review of Global Law Firm Insights and Publications

Gulland Padfield, the strategy firm to the legal services sector, publishes its latest review of the trends in the Thought Leadership publications of leading international law firms.

The report ranks the output of leading law firms and looks at the quality, effectiveness and impact that recent publications are making on firms\' reputation and their client acquisition activity.

Speaking about the study, James Edsberg, Consultant at Gulland Padfield and co-author of the report said, “Over the last 24 months, leading law firms have made a greater investment than ever before in content marketing. But firms have recognized that to generate content which meaningfully impacts on client acquisition, they need to cut through a growing blizzard of technical updates and opinion pieces produced by competitors. The leading firms in this year’s report have focused on more substantive pieces of research-based marketing or Thought Leadership. They are devoting a larger proportion of law firm’s Marketing & Business Development to the creation of more disciplined programmes . More importantly, initiatives have evolved and are now much better aligned to a firm’s Client Acquisition Strategy and Brand Management.”

“The days when weighty, printed reports were produced and then left as ‘pick-ups’ in reception, are over,” Edsberg notes. “Instead, content and outputs are being used more cleverly and digitally to target the right audiences with the right insights. Lawyers’ expectations of what good Thought Leadership can deliver have also shifted. Law firm partners now acknowledge the positive impact Thought Leadership publications have in helping them to build their practice with existing clients and to engage with potential clients and intermediaries.”

“We’re seeing a number of distinct trends in the published reports and thought pieces of the world’s leading firms,” explains Henry Weston-Davies, Consultant at Gulland Padfield, the co-author of the study. “There is a clear dividing line between firms pursuing the ‘traditional’ approach to Thought Leadership and those following what Gulland Padfield defines as a ‘Thought Capital’ approach which focuses explicitly on client acquisition and the creation of content ‘assets’ which generate long-term measurable ROI.”

As well as mapping the business issues and topics that law firms are covering, other key findings from the Gulland Padfield study include:

  1. While the General Counsel and In-house legal directors remain the principal clients for law firms, and the main audience for their Thought Leadership publications, leading law firms are now targeting additional client audiences and a wider set of stakeholders. They seek to influence an often global network of individuals vital to the appointment and retention of law firms’ services including corporate CEOs, Board level executives, Non-executive directors and Chief Risk Officers.
  2. Law firms recognise the need to not just frame the challenge facing a client but also to define how they would advise their clients to manage that issue. Firms which invest more time in the development of management frameworks or diagnostics which their clients can use to deal with a challenge, are seeing stronger and more fruitful business development conversations. But there is further work to do with only approximately half of thought leadership reports containing clear case studies and frameworks – the most effective tools for linking the issue with the advice the firm can offer.
  3. The quality of the analysis and research methodologies used to create insight have improved. Firms are moving away from opinion poll and survey-based initiatives towards other research and analytical approaches. These are structured around a series of core ideas or hypotheses that deliver a more strategic perspective.
  4. Some of the leading firms are planning and executing Though Leadership in a globally co-ordinated way across the firm to support the promotion of practice areas and disciplines. In this, law firms are following the best practice of the leading strategy houses such as McKinsey, Bain and BCG and also the ‘Big 4’ business services groups of PwC, Deloitte KPMG and EY. Over the last 10 years, these latter firms have exerted considerable effort to co-ordinate an explicit strategy for their Thought Leadership.
  5. Patterns are emerging in the topics chosen by law firms for their published Thought Leadership. Regular indexes of M&A and deal flow are common but often difficult to distinguish from each other. Regulation & Compliance and recovering growth trends in sectors or geographies are popular. The challenge for law firms is they are under pressure to be seen to produce content on the areas core to the firm (e.g. M&A) but could do much more to differentiate that content in a cluttered market.
  6. Law firms are using thought content to develop reputations for specialism and to shift away from an explicitly ‘full service’ positioning (a descriptor favoured by some law firms but which many law firm clients interpret as being ‘generalist’) towards a multi-specialist reputation positioning.
  7. Key to the success of any Thought Leadership initiative is a detailed approach to engage with the firm’s legal practitioners at the right points along the production process to ensure the content is used effectively in client acquisition activities. Leading firms are committing greater resources to internal engagement before rather than after the final output is even produced.
  8. With a few exceptions, UK-headquartered international law firms are making much greater use of Thought Leadership as a strategy to promote their brand and to engage clients. This contrasts with US-Headquartered international law firms who substantially lag behind in the depth and number of insights and perspectives they have published in the last 24 months. Looking at the leading firms, there remains a significant opportunity to align a firm’s thought pieces and publications with a firm’s Brand & Communication Strategy.
  9. Law firms appear to be getting wise as to when, how and with whom they should partner to co-author content in a Thought Leadership initiative. In the past, law firms have allowed themselves to be eclipsed when teaming up with business schools, opinion polling companies or publishing groups who often insist that their brand is as prominent on the output as the law firm paying their fee. Firms are having more confidence in their own brands and the expertise of their people.

About Gulland Padfield’s Review of Law Firm Thought Leadership

Gulland Padfield’s analysis examines the publications and publically-available Thought Leadership output of some of the world’s leading law firms and other professional services firms.

Featuring case studies and benchmarking global law firms against other global professional brands, the report is designed to help law firm Management teams, Practice Group heads and Regional Management (as well as the Marketing, Practice Management and Business Development functions), to design an effective 2016 Thought Leadership strategy and assess the success of their investment in Thought Leadership initiatives to date.

The report looks at recently published Thought Leadership reports from the major law firms and features:

  • analysis of the published reports, so-called ‘white papers’, significant thought pieces and other research-based analysis and insights. (It excludes legislative and regulatory updates and law firms’ newsletters).
  • ‘Deep dive’ reviews and rankings of the published content of specific, featured law firms including Freshfields, Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Allen & Overy, Slaughter & May, DLA and a number of the US-Headquartered law firms including White & Case and Baker & McKenzie.
  • Gulland Padfield’s proprietary ‘Thought Leadership Matrix’ which compares each Thought Leadership publication across 17 weighted criteria to measure quality of analysis, degree of primary analysis, structure, accessibility, differentiation and format. It also assesses the different engagement strategies employed by firms to communicate the report to clients and other audiences.
  • It reveals the current patterns in the legal Thought Leadership and how they are likely to develop in 2016.
  • It benchmarks law firm publications against ‘best practice’ examples of reports from the ‘Big 4’ professional firms of PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY.

For further details of our Report contact or

About Gulland Padfield
Gulland Padfield is the award-winning strategy consultancy that works with professional services firms to improve their performance and profitability through greater client focus. The firm pioneers a better understanding between Client Strategy and Business Strategy by helping institutions to analyse and put their clients’ current and future needs at the heart of their business strategy, operational efficiency, technology and investment choices, client relationship approach and a firm’s market positioning.

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