But an overview remains a vital centerpiece of a good submission.
The biggest weakness with a lot of submission overviews is an absence of structure.
You see just a single passage of text, or a few random bullets with no progression or thread running through the overview.
Or a hastily dumped cut-and-paste job from the website practice description.
There’s no standardized “correct” format for an overview – I have developed a few different styles over the years – but it should flow and be easy to read.
If you’re going to list out a series of bullets, start broad and then narrow down.
Or break the overview into smaller chunks, with sub-heads.
Keep it short
Most overviews are too long.
Until recently Chambers suggested a 250-word limit for their overviews.
Although Chambers has dropped the formal limit, all the directories would prefer something short and snappy.
With the Chambers template in mind, try to keep your overviews to within a single page.
The amount you write will vary between practices, but you shouldn’t be going much over 500 words.
Don’t rehash matters
A lot of overviews just repeat the matter entries listed further down the submission.
80-90% of the content in a directory submission consists of matter descriptions, so don’t use up the limited and valuable overview space to cover the same ground.
Sometimes including matter entries is necessary to illustrate a broader point about the strength of the practice.
If the highlight of your year was that you advised on the biggest IPO in Kazakhstan, then mention that but in the context of broader market developments.
The detail can follow in the dedicated matter entry.
Keep your overview higher level.
Avoid marketing language
Easier said than done, I know, when you’re (invariably) pushed for time, and have got numerous other projects on the go.
The lazy option is to grab some boilerplate text from the website practice description and drop it in to the overview box.
But website practice descriptions say everything to anyone, while saying nothing at the same time.
They’re painstakingly crafted over months, reviewed by committees, and designed not to exclude anyone, and therefore rarely reveal much about a firm that could not also be said about the firm across the street.
By contrast, a directory overview allows you to open up about the practice in way that’s not possible in more “corporate” forms of communication.
The great thing about directories, and one of the reasons I like working in this area, is that you get the chance to write things that would not normally make it on to a bland law firm website or vapid press release – facts, figures, opinions, speculation, gossip.
The main purpose of an overview is to convey a realistic picture of what’s going on in the practice, but marketers sometimes find writing for directories hard, as it requires an adjustment in approach from more polished corporate text.
The directories want to get to the heart of what makes the practice tick, and that means you can write in a more direct style than if you were working on brochure or website copy.
Yes, your overview is technically public in that it can be used by the directory for its editorial commentary, but the directories are not in the business of trashing your firm and will respect your honesty.