How can law firms enhance their reputation?

Recently we were fortunate enough to host a panel discussion alongside Pro Manchester for guests from across the North West legal sector. Titled ‘The growing importance of reputation for North-West law firms’  the event was attended by some of the region’s leading law firms and legal professionals. The engaging debate covered a lot of ground with expert insight on issues such as the ongoing war for talent through to the role of individual lawyers as brand advocates. Below we have summarised the key talking points that came out of the event.

The current landscape across the region:

While the realities of the current economic climate are certain to present challenges, the mood in the room was overwhelmingly positive. With M&A activity beginning to pick back up and many national firms demanding offices in both Manchester and London the outlook for firms across the region is bright.

The war for talent was a key talking point throughout the event. This is a challenge facing firms in across the UK and has been fuelled by the growth in hybrid working, rising salaries and a shift in candidate priorities. Many candidates are increasingly prioritising the values adopted and communicated by firms as opposed to just their compensation packages.

Discussing these challenges, Robert Levy, Executive Partner of Kuits commented ‘One of the key challenges is recruitment but more specifically it’s about recruiting the right talent. There are hundreds of great lawyers across the North West it’s about trying to find those with the technical legal expertise as well as the ability to market the firm, build long-term relationships and also win business.’ This was a sentiment echoed by Steve Kuncewicz, Partner at Glaisyers ETL who added ‘Star lawyers who are also good at client work and building brand are becoming increasingly valuable for firms. On the candidate side, morals and ethics are much more of a driver than they were before the pandemic and talent needs to buy in to this. So, building a reputation for all of the above is more key than ever’.

Reviewing the impact of hybrid working and a positive workplace culture, Kuncewicz added ‘Implementing a positive worklife balance is so important for both retention and recruitment. Sometimes pushing back on unreasonable client demands actually has the potential to deepen and strengthen relationships’.

The sector’s relationship with the media:

Former National Newspaper Journalist and PHA’s Director of Corporate Neil McLeod offered a thought-provoking perspective on how these challenges are being discussed in the media. ‘The legal trade press continues to be a valuable source of insight on trends impacting the sector. However, the more mainstream national and business media are becoming increasingly invested in the legal industry. The FT and several other publications are really digging into holistic career development within law firms and increasingly covering legal workplace trends and company culture in a way that they haven’t historically. The legal sector is beginning to enter storytelling mode and beginning to communicate on wider issues beyond just company news’.

Following on from this point PHA’s Grace James commented ‘In my experience there are a lot of firms that are very good at talking about themselves and what they’re doing, but they’re not as well versed in looking beyond that and commenting on wider trends and stories which is critical to building reputation, reaching new audiences and developing authority. North West firms do regional media very well, but aren’t necessarily looking beyond that and considering how comms can help attract potential clients and talent. Asking what you want your audience to read and where they interact is critical’.

Opportunities for growth:

This focus on broader industry commentary opportunities and developing thought leadership was cited by the whole panel as critical to enhancing reputation. When asked about the importance of providing commentary on topical issues Levy commented ‘We ultimately want our people to be known as advisers – to do this we need our lawyers to be offering opinions, commenting on topical issues and building profile. Lawyers are very good at talking about what they’re doing but professional PR people spot opportunities to comment that we don’t. If you’re prepared and brave enough to comment there are huge opportunities available to improve reputation in the eyes of potential partners, clients and talent’.

Speaking practically about how firms can capitalise on these opportunities, Grace James talked about the importance of building trusted relationships between partners, marketing teams and PR/comms professionals. ‘Good legal PR is about working with time-poor lawyers in an effective way. When done right, your agency will enable you to build your own brand as well as that of the firm, communicate your key messages whilst also freeing up time to focus on the day job and ultimately earn fees’. To read more about how to engage fee earners with Legal PR click here.

Capitalising on the myriad commentary opportunities was penned as a critical tactic to enhance reputation through press and social media. However, there was also an awareness of some of the challenges when doing this and the potential pitfalls. Kuncewicz commented ‘‘Clients buy people – it’s a noisy online environment so giving people a sense of who you are whilst maintaining professionalism can really open doors. As much as having a voice is important, having a filter is equally so and effective PR advice can often help prevent mishaps. A good social media policy should not only talk about what lawyers can’t do; it should offer enabling guidance that gives them confidence and enables them to use platforms positively’.

Concluding the discussion, Neil McLeod added ‘Legal PR teams should be working with law firms to create a framework that gives lawyers confidence to comment on issues and build profile. It isn’t about one piece in The Times; it’s considering a full mix of channels, tactics and audiences that enable you to build reputation and ultimately capitalise on the opportunities and overcome challenges presented by the current market’.

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