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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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2 responses to “Unusual determinants of a law firm’s reputation: corporate citizenship and ethical standards”

  1. Norman Clark says:

    I agree with your comment that most in-house law departments lack the tools to make a comparative evaluation of good corporate citizenship and ethical conduct. They do know bad citizenship and unethical conduct when they see it.
    I think that it is only a matter of time before some clever person figures out how to measure these new indicators of reputation — at least with sufficient credibility to market them. Some law firms in Latin America, eastern Europe, and Africa are getting close.
    As law firms strive harder to please the client, these somewhat vague concepts could become significant selection criteria in the future.

  2. Very surprising results indeed from a European perspective. In our recent interviews of more than 20 leading general counsel, none of them mentioned corporate citizenship and ethical conduct as a decision-making criteria when selecting law firms.