Unusual determinants of a law firm’s reputation: corporate citizenship and ethical standards

Research on reputations of law firms among corporate purchasers of legal services confirms previous findings and adds a couple of unusual ones. The research, from Strategies: The J. of Legal Mkting., Vol. 11, Nov./Dec. 2009 at 14, aims to “examine the role of reputation in the purchasing process and to understand how reputation judgments are made.” The three authors confirm that a law firm’s reputation “is a key determinant in a company’s decision to retain that firm, as well as to the decision to maintain and grow an existing relationship.” Also, they contend, the partner’s renown is often as important as the firm’s.

One unusual finding is that clients importantly form judgments about a firm’s reputation based on its “good corporate citizenship,” which is “the degree to which the firm is perceived to support its community.” I’m surprised, having never heard of that attribute. Moreover, that aspect of a firm must primarily depend on the firm being local to the client so that the client has some way to assess the firm’s contribution to the residents around it.

Another dimension of reputation “involves the extent to which the firm is perceived to maintain high ethical standards.” Similarly surprised by this attribute, I do not know how a legal department can make objective, comparative judgments about the ethical standards of the firms it uses. Ideally clients would take integrity and moral behavior into account, but I doubt that in-house attorneys do this more than in a fragmented, anecdotal way, if at all (See my post of Nov. 28, 2007: brand and law firms with 11 references.)

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