A war has erupted in the legal media world between the law firm Dentons and the American Lawyer over its coverage of Denton’s financial figures.
The row has been boiling since 2014, but was reignited recently after Dentons took the bold decision to launch a PR offensive against American Lawyer.
Firstly, Dentons released a new website called Accuracy100 in which it criticizes the methodology used by American Lawyer to measure law firm financial performance.
Secondly, the firm has taken out advertisements – “The ad The American Lawyer wouldn’t let its readers see” – in other legal publications attacking the American Lawyer.
Below is one of these ads, running alongside a piece in Above The Law.
A quick recap for those of you who haven’t been following the minutiae of this feud:
1/ Dentons opted not to provide its profit-per-equity partner figures to American Law in 2014 when the magazine was compiling its annual rankings
2/ Through 2014, Dentons and American Lawyer exchange various letters to explain and defend their positions – the letters get increasingly heated
3/ Things blow up again in April 2015 when AmLaw publishes its latest financial survey; Dentons objected to the global profit figure AmLaw estimated in the absence of an official figure from the firm
4/ Dentons ramps things up further with the release of its Accuracy100 website and anti-American Lawyer ad campaign
This is a big issue, and it would take a long time to write a thoughtful essay.
A few quick questions and thoughts, though:
Generally, I’m a fan of the AmLaw rankings.
But from a law firm PR perspective, I take my hat off to Dentons for having the balls to take on American Lawyer – I’ve never seen a law firm so visibly go after a legal publication in this way.
Why didn’t Dentons just provide a figure? Yes, they’re not obligated to, and I know they have objections to the methodology, but surely the easiest way to correct any AmLaw discrepancy is to provide your own figure.
So what if it’s low? If as law firms say, clients don’t care about the figures, what’s the problem?
Maybe it would work in your favor if clients saw that your profits are lower?
AmLaw in my view is entitled to come up with an estimate based on publicly available information, and their own reporting, which I assume includes off-the-record conversations with current or former Dentons people.
If AmLaw leaves it blank, it would embolden other firms to withhold figures. Within a couple of years, you would have row after row of gaps, and the list would slowly lose value and credibility.
Skeptics may say “great”, but the market would be worse for not having profitability information available.
People want to know about money. There’s a fundamental human thirst for financial information. That genie is out the bottle.
AmLaw and others already publish a large number of other financial stats and measures of law firm performance; profitability is just one figure among many.
I’ve never bought the line that AmLaw encourages firms to pursue short-term decisions to keep profits up at the expense of long-term investment; law firms are resilient businesses and most people are clued up enough to realize that profits go up and down
That said, AmLaw should make it clearer that some of the figures are their own estimates when firms do not provide official numbers; some of their disclaimer language is too generic.
If Dentons is serious about ushering in change in the way law firm finances are analyzed, rather than going after AmLaw, why don’t they prioritize other surveys that they think better reflect law firm performance (there are many others, not just AmLaw)?
Here’s a thought: rather than “attack ads”, why doesn’t Dentons use that time and energy to act as a business accelerator for a new type of law firm financial survey that it believes is better suited to the modern globalized legal market?
I’m sure the Dentons management and these other law firm heavyweights such as Peter Kalis, the K&L Gates chairman who has come out against American Lawyer in recent years, could get together and fund a new startup – the more competition, the better.
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