DIY publishing

When a law firm produces a biannual guide to its publications, two things are clear: it must bring out a reasonable number of publications, and it must take them seriously. So it is with Clifford Chance.

The partnership sees publishing as an important business service for its clients and as a marketing tool. To this end, its City of London office has an in-house publications unit which works with the firm's lawyers and marketing team and the external designers and printers.

Clifford Chance produces a wide array of publications which fall into five broad categories: information about the firm, European issues, memoranda, technical documents and newsletters.

Memoranda are produced in response to changes in legislation and have a short shelf life. Technical publications are more substantial, dealing in detail with long term issues.

European publications focus heavily on EU matters and generally feature input from Clifford Chance lawyers in offices across the continent.

Over l00 publications are currently available from the firm. Does this mean it treats publishing as a communications panacea and is indiscriminate in what it produces? Head of marketing, Robert Pay, says not.

“For every publication that sees the light of day there are four that are stillborn,” says Pay. “There has to be a commercial rationale to bring out a publication. There are too many bad publications by law firms.”

Often the need for a specific publication becomes apparent when a practice area or group is drawing up its marketing plan. On other occasions the idea for a publication is raised by a lawyer in response to a particular event or opportunity.

Irrespective of the idea's origin, the firm must first decide whether a publication is the most appropriate way to proceed. Frequently, says Pay, it can be more effective for a lawyer to write a feature or organise a seminar than to start work on a new publication.

If a publication is the best way forward, the marketing team will meet with the relevant practice group to hammer out the basic criteria – a clear definition of the target market, the level of understanding it should be pitched at, the tone of voice to adopt, and whether it should be a one-off or periodical.

Practising lawyers write and edit the great majority of titles. But in the case of newsletters, such as the European Financial Services newsletter which is published 10 times a year and has a targeted circulation of 3,500, there is a dedicated in-house editor, Charmaine Cole.

“I select a variety of topics and draw up a list which I present to our editorial board (of partners and lawyers),” says Cole. “They then discuss who should write about what and which angle to take.”

Clifford Chance makes regular use of design consultancy Atkinson Duckett. Part of the brief is to ensure that there is a recognisable corporate style running across the publications. “Many of our clients receive more than one piece of literature from us, so it is important that they all look like they are from the same stable,” says Pay.

To make doubly sure that the publishing process runs smoothly, Clifford Chance has an in-house production manager who is the main point of contact between the law firm and its design consultancy and printer.

Robert Gray is a freelance journalist.