Case studies appear infrequently, and with much variation in layout

Reports add texture, reality and detail to a topic when they include a mini-profile of a company that has dealt with it. These vignettes are “case studies,” and one might think of them as extended quotations.

Here are some other characteristics of case studies that we have observed from our collection of law-firm research surveys.

  • By means of layout, color, location, and design, reports with case studies prominently feature them.
  • We suspect there is jockeying and firm politics behind the decision of which client (and therefore which lead partner) will be rewarded with the publicity of a case study.
  • Even more than quotations, case studies require careful vetting and approval by the client.
  • Case studies typically take the better part of a page, but rarely more than that.
  • Reports rarely have more than one or two case studies, and most do not have any.
  • The longer the report, the more likely it includes at least one case study.

What design characteristics mark case studies? The image below captures the top portion of the full-page case study. Allen Overy Models 2014 [pg. 11] prominently announces in large, red font that this is a case study and then presents a three-column discussion about the Deutsche Bank legal function. Later, the report includes a second case study that it handles in a similar style.

The following slice from Pinsent Mason Infratech 2017 [pg. 13] presents a case study that stands out because of its background, which matches the color scheme of the chapter. Also, a z-shaped green line artistically divides the landscape page, sort of like a diagonal from the top left, over and down. It is visible here only in the downward portion as the vertical segment on the left.

The case study starts with a few words of background about the company, Costain. The firm chose to organize its case study, which it labels as “INSIGHTS”, around a question-and-answer format and extends the layout to the right edge of the page.

We have not included an image from Paul Hastings China 2013 [pg. 16] because the snippet would need to be too big. The firm devotes two pages to the largest Chinese acquisition of a U.S. company. Vertically along the left, a a text box announces “Paul Hastings Case Study.”

Permutations of page numbers, styles at the bottom of pages

Page numbers in reports are hardly the most scintillating topic, but they do appear in every single report and, as it turns out, vary significantly in layout. Most commonly, reports use the bottom of pages for numbering, so we will start with examples from that location. As a version of the most simple choice, Taft Stettinius Entrep 2018 inserts a modest, plain number in the bottom right corner of each page. Only the number, not even “Page” or “Pg.” or any decorative element like a dash or hyphen.  Note that all the snippets include the right, left, and bottom edge of the page to make the surrounding white margin space apparent.

The Pinsent Mason Infratech 2017 report adopts the same straightforward style, but it places the number on the left for even-numbered pages and on the right for odd-numbered pages. For those who are hyper-detail oriented, the space between the side and lower edge of the page is much tighter in the Pinsent variation.

Paul Hastings China 2013 deviates from the above two patterns. It places a page number only on the odd-numbered pages. Furthermore, preceding the page number is the title of the report in a reddish hue and then the page number in black.

Finally, in this ultra-exciting mini-tour of page numbering layouts, we proudly introduce the Dykema Gossett MA 2016 flourish: it places the page number and nothing else in the center bottom of the page.

Quotations with head shots, source material and semi-anonymous attribution

The DLA Piper Debt 2015 report [pg. 15] combines a quote from a partner with a headshot of that partner to the lower left. But pity the lonely, inverted quote mark at the top without its mate at the bottom.

Foley Lardner Telemedicine 2017 [pg. 7] has a combination. The top quote is semi-anonymous. Actually, if the sample of respondent companies comes from a single industry, such as health systems, the reader knows both the industry and state. The bottom quote offers a partner’s headshot in the top left plus a quote.

HoganLovells Brexometer [pg. 12] inserted two semi-anonymous quotes one on top of the other. A semi-anonymous quotes conveys a broad description of the quoted-person’s company, but it does not provide a specific person’s name or a specific company’s name. We call this style of partial disclosure a semi-anonymous quote.

Yet another use of quotations in reports appears in the following image from Norton Rose ESOP 2014 [pg. 4]. The firm quoted not a person but a study done by a group. The report encloses that source text in a bordered box, done in light blue to match the prevailing color scheme. The report also places quote marks around the text and presents it in italic font. This would be an example of quoting not a person but a published source.

Embedded quotes, quotes in color and with backgrounds

DLA Piper Debt 2015 [pg. 13] offers an example of an embedded quote, one that flows within the main body of text. Whether to handle a quote within the main text or to extract it and place it with a more visible style depends on several factors. The more jewel-like the quote, the more visible should be its setting.

By the way, reports can put embedded quotes in bold font or italics so that they stand out even when they are embedded.

DLA Piper Debt 2015 [pg. 9] sports bold, red type and extends into the left margin. The paired, extra-large quote marks above and below the words themselves might distract the reader, they certainly clutter the page, and someone could carp that they serve no useful purpose. Readers readily recognize a quotation by the font, its color, position or less blatant marks around the quote.

To give visual prominence to quotes, HoganLovells MPSurgeries 2014 [pg. 12] applies not only borders above and below the quotation but also paired, prominent quote marks (a careful observer will note that the marks in the first quotation are both on the left whereas in the second quotation they are diagonal and are the quite different in appearance). The contribution is unclear of the thin border at the top and a border at the bottom, let alone a noticeably thicker bottom border. Likewise, outsizes quote marks draw the eye away from the meat of the quote. The green color matches the use of the same color at points on the rest of the page.

HoganLovells MPSurgeries 2014 [pg. 17] highlights its quote with an irregular rectangle of forest green behind white font. The reader’s eye is drawn to the effect, but the tilt and odd shape might cause some cognitive confusion. Perhaps this is a touch too much of artistic license.

Quotes per page and per substantive page

In the never-ending quest to quantify, consider how many quotations nine reports include. Only “non-text” quotes were counted, which is when the quotes are separated from the main text. The plot below shows the calculation of quotes per page of the report (if a report has 20 pages and 10 quotes, the result is 10 divided by 20, 0.5). The bars are sorted from the highest ratio at the top, one quote for every other page of the report, down to slightly less than one quote for every 10 pages of the report at the bottom. Considering the entire data set, the reports average a non–text quote about every three pages.

To see if the separation of the Atlantic ocean makes a difference in the quote-per-page ratio, the U.S.-based law firms were given the orange (lighter) fill and the U.K.-based law firms the black fill. No pattern jumps out from this small data set.

As mentioned before, quotations differ in the amount of work they require of the law firm and perhaps in the purposes and foci of the quotes. Additionally, most methods of displaying quotes take up a fair amount of page space, what with borders and spacing and icons and type font, so the quote’s information value and visual appeal need to be balanced against other considerations.

Another analysis of the frequency of quotations looks at the distribution of quotes in relation to \underline{substantive pages} of reports. Substantive pages \index{substantive pages} are those where findings from the report are being presented, and therefore exclude covers and back pages pages, firm marketing pages, tables of content and introductory letters, and other pages that do not add value based on findings. The chart hereafter shows the results for the same nine law firms.

As as with the preceding plot, this one color codes the law firms to indicate whether they are U.S.-based (lighter, orange) or U.K.-based. The rankings barely changed, which says that the ratio of substantive pages to non-substantive pages in these reports were generally equivalent.

 

Proportion of quotes by role of person quoted

Four law-firm research surveys afford us a glimpse into quantifying the distribution of quotes included in them and the person whom they quote. The four surveys are Allen Overy Models 2014, Berwin Leighton ArbRisk 2014, DLA Piper Compliance 2017, and Fulbright Jaworski Lit 2009. For each of these reports we counted how many quotes appear to be from clients of the law firm, how many quotes are from a firm partner, and how many quotes came from someone else (a third-party).

The height of each column corresponds to the total number of quotes in the report. The two reports on the ends had eight quotes each whereas the middle two reports have five and six quotes.

For this set of reports, the wit and wisdom of law firm partners accounts for almost half of all the quotations. The orange portions of the columns show the distribution of partner quotes by firm. What clients have to say accounts for exactly the same percentage, almost half of the total quotes. The dark segments indicate client quotes. The third-party quote, as there was only one, is least common (the bottom segment of the Berwin Leighton column).

Quotes from partners are much easier to include in a report, since no permission from the partners is needed, partners welcome publicity regarding their area of expertise, and partners can craft their quotes. If a law firm quotes a client, however, it would need to run the quote by the client and secure both approval and permission to use it. Those hoops to jump through can deter firms, but for the credibility boost of proclaiming the implicit commendation of a real person in a real company.


I did not try to analyze the content of quotes, but it would seem that clients would best be quoted for the realities of their circumstances, while partners should be quoted to elucidate legal risks, consequences, and how to address them. As has been mentioned, some of the quotes have the feeling of having been carefully crafted to make a point as compared to being a verbatim transcription of what someone actually said. But, cynics win few friends.

Text boxes to emphasize commentary

Another design choice for survey reports is something we shall call a text box. The idea is to package text in a visible container, such as surrounded by a border, perhaps with a background shading, in a location apart from the main text and even extending into the margin. Although not common in law firm survey reports, the technique can be striking and effective. Such a design element directs attention to whatever is in the text box.

Here is a partial example from Dykema Gosset MA 2014 [pg. 5]. A table sits above the image portion, which has truncated a graphic of a gardener’s watering can in the lower left. The bullet points on the left of the text box pertain to it. The box itself stands out because of its blue background and white type.

The next example of a text box comes from Clifford Chance AsiaMA 2017 [pg. 16]. The purplish background with black type (matching the purple of the two pie charts to the left) sits partly in the right margin and relates mostly to the bullet points above it. This page layout, with such a multitude of components, produces a visually and cognitively complex mix.

Footers in reports

Five reports, selected at random from as-yet untouched reports, give us grist for the mill of how survey firms grind page footers. The five reports are Berger Singerman SFLRE 2017, Clifford Chance AsiaMA 2017, Davies Ward Barometer 2007, Fulbright Jaworski Lit 2008, and Dykema Gossett MA 2014. Footer styles vary widely (centered, balanced left and right, different fonts, gaps above and below, and otherwise) but their content consists typically of one or more of the following: the law firm’s name, the title of the report, the page number, or a notice of copyright.

Consider the footer from the Dykema Gosset report [pg. 15]. The snippet below includes two footnotes just above the footer to convey the gap between the text and the footer. [No line exists below the actual footer, as the gray line marks the bottom of the page.] Note that the footer is light blue and nestles in the center of the page. It states the title of the report, adds a separator bullet, and then the page number.

Footers should be analyzed at the same time as headers. It is likely that between the two of them, a report handles background information as a leit motif. For example, it would dilute the attention of readers to put the firm’s name in both the header and the footer on each page.

As it turns out, each of the five reports inserted a footer. Berger Singerman used the footer to identify itself. Clifford Chance inserted the title of the report on the left of the footer and its name on the right. Davies Ward put the date of the report on the left side and the page on the right.

Fulbright did something more complicated, as can be seen in the image below.

Fulbright used the footer to assert its copyright on the left side of odd-numbered pages and on the right side of even-numbered pages. The gap between the last line of text and the footer matches the gap of Dykema Gosset (again, the bottom gray line is actually the end of the page). Meanwhile, having placed a thin border around each page, Fulbright included the URL of where to find the report as a quasi-footer in the middle of the bottom page border.

Broad selections challenge designers of multiple-choice questions

When you write non-numeric selections of a multiple-choice question, you want them to be different from each other and cover the likely choices as completely as possible. Yet at the same time you don’t want too many selections. You also would like them to be close to the same length. We have compiled other good practices.

The selections also need to be quickly and decisively understood by respondents.  Respondents don’t want to puzzle over meanings and coverage of terms. Partly that means you need to cure ambiguities but partly it means to choose terms in selections carefully so that nearly everyone interprets them the same way at first reading.

We found an instructive example in one of the law-firm research surveys. Did the questions in the plot below achieve quick clarity?  We do not know if the left-hand-side labels mirror the selections on the questionnaire. Some surveys have more detail, and even explanations, but the report gives an abbreviation of the selection.

I wonder whether most of the general counsel understand “Partner ecosystem”, let alone in the same way. Should there be a two notions joined as in “New sources of revenue and new business models”? Some companies might pursue revenue or a new business model, but not both. Likewise, why pair “Clean energy and environmental regulation”? They could be seen as two separate trends. The selection “Geopolitical shifts” feels so broad that it invites all kinds of interpretations by respondents.

This question challenged the survey designors with an impossible task. First they had to pick the important trends — and what happened to “Demographic changes”, “Big data”, “Urbanization” and “Taxes” to pick a few others that could have been included? Second, they had to describe those multifaceted, complex trends in only a few words. Third, those few words needed to fix a clear picture in lots of minds, or else the resulting data represents a blurred and varied clump of subjective impressions.

Standardized topics of law-firm research surveys

The topics covered by law-firm research surveys vary widely. To convey that diversity, we standardized the subject of each of the 166 surveys at hand so that similar topics can be aggregated and counted. The plot below shows the standardized topics down the left axis. Twenty-two of them capture the range of survey topics. The number of surveys starts with a single one for three topics (“VentureCapital”, “Infrastructure” and “ESOPs”) and reaches a maximum at 37 (“Industry”). 1

The findings would be distorted, however, if one law firm sponsored a multi-year series of surveys on the same topic, which could not be detected if the bars simply showed the number of surveys. So, the plot breaks each bar into a colored segment per law firm that surveyed on that topic. For example, only one firm surveyed on “BusinessConditions,” the top bar, because it is solid blue with no segments. By contrast, five firms sponsored one or more surveys on mergers and acquisitions (“MandA”), as shown by the five different segments in the second bar down from the top.

 

Some of the standardized topics need definition. “LegalIndustry” refers loosely to surveys that inquired into how law departments are managing themselves and their outside counsel. “Industry” has the most surveys devoted to it. If a survey looked at the shipping industry, it was standardized as “Industry.” If another survey looked at the transportation industry, it was also standardized to “Industry,” and so forth. The “TradeGeo” bar represents the handful of surveys that looked at international trade regarding a certain country or geographic region.

If we were to group the standardized topics into meta-topics, we might merge “CorpGov,” “Shareholders,” and “Compliance” into something like “Corporation Law.” We might combine “Privacy” and “Cybersecurity” or we might combine “Arbitration” and “Disputes” into “Dispute Resolution.” On the other hand, readers may want to read the titles of the reports and draw their own conclusions about topics.

Notes:

  1. Some standardized topics combine two words, such as “DomesticRels,” so that the software treats them as a single word.