The Association of Corporate Counsel is continuing its Value Challenge initiative by asking members to confidentially rank law firms.
Three things have followed:
1. Some law firms don’t like it, and have retained a former ACC board chairman to carry their water. One main public concern is what “disgruntled former law firm associates” might be saying.
2. Predictably, some early information about the rankings has slipped out. This is unfortunately to be expected these days and only fuels some of the concern mentioned in 1., above.
3. Informed commentators are starting to examine closely the concerns of the law firms. One of the first is Paul Lippe, who provides a very nuanced view of where we are and where things are going. It’s required reading from someone who’s leading a team at Legal OnRamp that’s doing something about these things.
But today, fresh off a lot of good food and hopefully a bit of thankful reflection, a few observations about legal ratings from the inside out perspective:
1. Law firms should worry about “disgruntled associates.” But they should not worry that they are now in-house counsel and exacting revenge on their former employers. The news flash is that GCs don’t usually hire disgruntled associates, since they won’t fit in and are rather easy to spot.
2. The second reality law firms should understand is that nearly all better companies rate and rank their employees, including in-house counsel. It is anonymous and it’s taken seriously. It’s also part of the culture, and vital to lawyer development.
3. If law firms don’t like these basic big-picture ratings now, just wait. Everything is rated and ranked, online and elsewhere. It’s part of the information age we are in, where customers are able to get more data and use it faster to make better business decisions. Retaining law firms and selecting lawyers are big business decisions.
Many law firms are understandably nostalgic for the time-honored selection process, which started with a referral that went something like this:
“Good firm; smart lawyers.”
There was a time when that wasn’t a bad starting point. Except that there are a few thousand good firms and tens of thousands of smart lawyers, all charging clients many billions of dollars. The GC can’t reply to the CEO, CFO or the board about outside counsel selection and management using the quote above.
The ACC ratings are a small step, and they are just the beginning. They will undoubtedly be refined and improved over time, and others will enter the picture as well.
And law firms can either (a) fight the trend, or (b) try to get better. We call (a) “nice work if you can get it” and (b) “looking in the mirror honestly every morning.”