David Dalgarno

Fiona Callister talks to David Dalgarno, the man who started his career at a textiles company but now sees that the business world is more than just material.

Some years ago, I attended a conference for in-house lawyers in London which was attended by many firms.

Each firm was encouraged to bring brochures which would be made available on the day.

After a short speech, we all went for coffee and I followed the crowd into a large boardroom to see serried ranks of brochures laid out before us.

I followed two guys and noticed from their badges that they represented two of the FTSE's largest companies. What followed next has stayed with me for several years.

As they approached the table they spotted a very impressive brochure from one of the most eminent City firms. With one swipe of his arm the first man knocked the top two copies onto the floor with a ring of expletives, culminating with: "Who do they think wants all this? What's more, don't tell me that we're not paying for it."

The point of the story is to ask whether the profession has become so concerned about image that we fail to question enough, or at all, the marketing that we do.

Do we have any evidence that clients approve of, or are positively influenced by, the advertising/PR that we feel we have to do? Where is the evidence of the business it attracts?

I asked the chairman of a public company, for which we act, his attitude to legal advertising. But his answer cannot be repeated in a family newspaper.

Is it not true that so much advertising is borne out of insecurity – the feeling that we must not be left out of a particular feature? The fact that 15 other law firms also advertised seems to be lost on everybody except the advertising manager.

And another thing – photographs. Page after page of beaming new partners appear, with photographers striving to capture that unique shot. Why do so many of them shoot partners looking down with the lens up their noses? I trust it is not the view that clients are likely to have of their lawyer!

And judging by the number of partner defections, I would have thought that some firms would wish to remain slightly less high profile.

Perhaps our forebears knew more than we realised when they spared us the challenges of advertising. What did we all do before our marketing and PR departments? Heaven forbid that the partners actually did some marketing.

It seems to me that it is patronising in the extreme to assume that clients are fooled by marketing. Do they search page after page of adverts, digits poised ready to ring that special number? I think not.

I suppose some bright spark somewhere can lay claim to being the first lawyer to give away a corporate umbrella emblazoned with the firm's name or logo. I am tempted to go back to a black umbrella just to be different.

Incidentally, I thought differentiation, wherever possible, was the name of the game.

Jim Davies is managing partner at Davies Wallis Foyster