A group of law firm media relations executives met in New York this week to decide if the industry could develop a collective response to the avalanche of surveys that has landed upon the legal market in recent years.
Law firm surveys are nothing new – they’ve been around in some form for two or three decades – but there’s no question that the volume of them has spiked in the last five years.
Some people, including myself, thought the financial crisis and recession might dampen down enthusiasm for surveys.
If anything, the reverse has happened.
On the media side, legal publishers have faced intense commercial pressure to diversify their revenue sources, and what better way than to launch a new list, ranking or survey?
For their part, lawyers have turned to surveys and rankings as a way of differentiating themselves against rivals in an ever more competitive world.
High-end legal work doesn’t fall into their laps as it did in 2004 – they have to fight harder for it, and many believe – rightly – that in a tiebreaker situation, accolades might tip the balance.
In other words, if a client is faced with two lawyers or firms, all other things being equal, they may opt for the one with better rankings or industry recognition.
I’ve seen this happen several times.
I didn’t attend the LFMP event – Surveyed Senseless – myself, although those that did said there was discussion of what bodies like the LFMP might do to develop an industry response.
Potentially, they would look to place the myriad of products out there into credibility buckets – those deemed to be worth doing, those that might be worth doing, those that are probably best avoided, and the outright scams.
Most law firms do this – or should be doing this – anyway.
I work with several law firms to put policy frameworks in place that help them cope with the plethora of lists, rankings, and surveys.
But I’m skeptical that a one-size-fits-all approach will work.
While the blatant boiler room tactics should be ignored, firms are all different, and a survey that might be seen as speculative or tenuous by one firm may be a good opportunity for another.
Likewise, within the same firm, some practices will secure a high level of industry recognition, other less so, and the latter will be willing to respond to less prestigious surveys.
The key with any policy document is to be flexible – have broad rules, but be willing to bend them.
After all, the credible survey of today was once dismissed as a waste of time.
I worked on the first few editions of Chambers USA in the early 2000s.
Attorneys didn’t want to speak to you.
Most were unwilling to supply any written information – or god forbid, clients.
Some would yell at you for wasting their time.
Fast forward just a few years, and see how things have changed: attorneys fall over themselves to catch Chambers’ attention.
It wasn’t so long ago that Law360 was a cheeky young upstart, now it’s a survey Goliath.
There’s numerous specialist trade surveys that didn’t have much clout a few years ago – now they are respected in their industry niches.
Large firms might pooh pooh co-publishing, sponsored editorial, vanity publishing, whatever you want to call it, in favor of “earned media” but smaller firms with limited or no PR support might be willing to write that check to secure a quick PR fix.
So, yes, law firms – tighten up your approach.
Tell the legal publishers you cannot respond to every survey.
Er…Law360 – is the “Best 17 Gay Female Hispanic South Dakota Trademark Lions Under the Age of 42” – the 12th survey this week – really necessary?
And take a tougher line with the partners.
But remember that the market is fluid – you don’t want to entrench an anti-competitive position in which some surveys are “in” and some are “out”.
The next LFMP event is on November 19 2014, and will feature reporters from the Wall Street Journal.
LFMP also held its first overseas meeting in London on October 21 2014.
Pictured: the LFMP panel featured Christopher Rieck from McDermott Will & Emery, Nicholas Clarke from Alston & Bird, and Emma van Rooyen from Goodwin Procter. Photo by Beth Huffman at Dechert.