Not content with growing to become the world’s largest law firm, it has now launched a new online site to connect lawyers and drive referral business.
Dentons currently refers work to almost 1,000 firms, and picked up 500 inbound referrals in 2015, making it the largest law firm referral network in the world
While most law firms have a list of referral partners on a scrawled piece of paper, or on a Word document lying around, Dentons has gone on to turn those connections into a fully-fledged product – a smart move that will drive even more business into its arms.
At the same time, the move will create a potential rival to existing law firm networks – and even the legal directories.
In essence, the thrust of most legal directories is to provide information to enable potential buyers of legal services to make a more informed choice about which legal advisor to use.
Where directories come into their own is internationally, where the market is fragmented, where information is more scarce, and where local firms are keen to pitch themselves as the preferred referral destination for foreign and international law firms.
Denton’s new service does exactly this.
While the site will initially be populated with Dentons lawyers – Dentons has a fee earning headcount of 10,000 (it recruited 714 partners and lawyers in 2015 alone) – in time, lawyers from other firms will be added.
Unlike existing law firm networks, the Nextlaw product does not charge firms a fee, and is not territorially exclusive.
In other words, multiple firms from the same country or city could join, while traditional networks tend to have a chosen firm per jurisdiction.
I’ve heard from friends in various firms that they’ve already been invited to join.
Where the platform starts to look more like a directory than a network is its use of an algorithm to highlight the most active firms, and those that promote the most referrals.
So those firms that share business among the network move to the top of the search results.
And in a Bloomberg article, Dentons boss Joe Andrew said that there will be user generated reviews of members, “likening the platform to a business-to-business version of Uber or Airbnb” – another feature of many directory-style products.
But surely a legal directory has to be independent? It can’t be tied to a law firm?
Maybe in time, once it’s up-and-running, it will be spun off as independent network/directory business?
The word innovation is thrown around like confetti, but a lot of what is branded as innovative in the legal market, particularly in “BigLaw”, isn’t that innovative.
To be innovative, you have to try things that other firms can’t or won’t do, you have to have an appetite for risk, you have to defy conventional wisdom, you have to be prepared to fail, and you have to be prepared to annoy people occasionally.
With an unpredictable “what the hell will they do next” quality to them, Dentons is really thinking about the future in an original way.