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Law Firm Networks

Still Searching for an Impactful Brand

When I began representing lawyers in the mid-1980s, there were around five law firm networks; i.e., formal associations of firms sharing resources, work product, and client contacts. The strategy was to allow for more comprehensive service and marketing platforms than most individual firms can provide on their own. Today, there are some 200 networks as globalization, among other factors, has accelerated perceived demand from diverse client businesses.

Yet the numbers are deceiving as the networks themselves are seldom the choice of buyers for their multi-jurisdictional needs. Instead, the networks are more typically add-on attractions of firms when they’re marketing themselves. In other words: Company X doesn’t think to hire Network Y but may hire Firm Z if its membership in a network seems to be an asset.

Stephen McGarry, the President of The Association of International Law Firm Networks (AILFN) and for decades a law firm network pioneer, has written a most useful white paper that pointedly underscores what these entities must do—indeed, are already doing—to take the next step toward more impactful branding. One important option is to be truly multi-disciplinary; to formalize operations with accounting and other professional firms in order to broaden the scope of client services—and focus in on industry rather than practice area target groups. A corollary benefit is that network members can market to each other as well as to corporations. Accountants need lawyers, after all, and lawyers need accountants.

From my perspective, such multidisciplinary networks are of potential historic importance because they allow law firms to enter a high-growth market without compromising the ethical guidelines that rule their profession. The network infrastructure may entail some complex implementation but, at the end of the day, we’re looking at a wholly new one-stop-shopping business model. It could make today’s competitive landscape seem like ancient history.

For a copy of Steve McGarry’s report, write him at [email protected].

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