DLA dumps directories

Other firms await future DLA rating; The Legal 500 refuses to comment

DLA is to become the first major law firm to pull out of both Chambers & Partners and The Legal 500.

The firm is refocusing its investment for 2001/2002 into a number of other areas and has decided not to submit an entry for either publication.

DLA will instead concentrate its resources on client relationships, management, internet deal rooms and the development of its website, as well as a number of new legal products and services.

“Like any business, we’ve got to prioritise,” says DLA managing partner Nigel Knowles. “We can’t do everything so we’re concentrating on our priorities. This is a firm that makes its own decisions, and this is the right decision for DLA.”

The firm’s move comes in the wake of research which shows that legal directories only play a minor role in influencing the client’s choice of lawyer. It also comes amid mounting criticism that directories’ editorial is often recycled from the firms’ own submissions and that many of the researchers are ignorant of the market.

The report by Wheeler Associates, which was published last year, claims that new business is driven by referrals and that firms should focus on their relationships with existing clients in order to attract new clients. And yet researchers believe that the top 20 firms each spend up to a total of £100,000 a year on directories.

One source says that DLA’s withdrawal could trigger a reaction from a number of other firms that have contemplated pulling out in the past.

The head of marketing at a top 20 firm says: “Each year there are increasing squeals from firms, but for the time being we’ve no plans to pull out. DLA has made a brave move and if it doesn’t affect them then perhaps others will follow.”

The senior business development manager at a top 10 firm says: “Every year we consider pulling out. My view is that it hasn’t proved to be worth the effort that goes into it. If the firm’s marketing was so good that it didn’t need any endorsement then I’d pull out, but we still have a long way to go.”

The source says there will come a time when partners will be confident enough to turn around and say they have no need of the directories at all.

Another insider says it will be interesting to see whether DLA’s ranking is affected. “Chambers has always said that firms’ rankings remain independent,” she says. “So if DLA’s high ratings continue then more people will be encouraged to pull out.”

But the managing partner of a top 30 firm says he doubts if DLA’s decision will have much of a knock-on effect. “It’s a fact of life – directories are useful as a recruitment and marketing tool,” he says.

Niche City media and telecoms firm Rosenblatt Solicitors is one of the few City firms not in Chambers.

“Directories provide a self-fulfilling element with peers. Clients probably couldn’t give a stuff,” adds Rosenblatt.

Chambers editor Michael Chambers says that the Wheeler report underestimates the effect of directories on clients. He says that Chambers provides partners with independent and objective market research which is monitored by the British Market Research Bureau.

“Directories work in cycles,” he says. “During recession they play a vital role in attracting clients and in a boom period they help recruit the lawyers.”

The Legal 500 declined to comment.