Is it time to season law with politics?

Some will look askance as another import from North America takes root on our soil. But political lobbying or 'political advocacy' as its proponents this side of the Atlantic like to refer to it, may be a new practice development area.

City firm Lovell White Durrant has just formally set up its service. Two years ago Clifford Chance established its public policy group.

But on an informal basis they and others have doubtless been advising clients on the implications of proposed legislation and making representations. Baker & McKenzie says it has been a significant area of practice both in the UK and Europe for 10 years. There have always been individual lawyers able to blend their legal knowledge and political experience as advisers to business and specific campaigns.

The research commissioned by Clifford Chance (see page 28) shows how highly-regarded and well-positioned law firms are to monitor legislative developments and to use their good contacts in government and argue their points tellingly. In this area they have no peers. Lawyers are seen "as bringing objectivity, intellectual rigour, status and clout to any issue". But lawyers need to more proactive and politically aware to use their full potential on public policy issues, says the research.

Will we once again see law firms shy away from a potentially lucrative field, where they are ideally equipped to meet clients' needs? It is the professionalism and integrity of lawyers that attract clients and they will not want these to be cast aside in the pursuit of some devious advantage.

If firms are interested in the political arena, but are squeamish about some of the aspects, it could be sensible to work with 'political lobbyists', who will have the publicity and campaign handling skills which law firms do not have usually have. Indeed, they could probably look after these aspects more cost effectively than law firms ever could.