Public Relations firm FINN and press clipping service AuxiPress are launching a yearly ‘influence’ ranking of the Belgian business law firms, based on appearances in the media.
The 2010 results reveal that the largest (international) law firms, such as Allen & Overy and Linklaters, appear in the media most often. Senior partners at these large firms (such as Wim Dejonghe and Jean-Pierre Blumberg) enjoy a solid reputation as experts in the media.
Still it is obvious from the results that the media are not only interested in pedigrees and firm brands. Small and midsized firms that make an effort to have their expertise and research reported about, stand an excellent chance to be included in influential national media. Some smaller firms, like Cazimir, seem to understand very well how a consistent PR strategy can yield solid results.
It’s important to note that journalists report on law firms and lawyers mostly to represent their views on current affairs: they are looking for expertise and guidance.
1. Allen & Overy (72 press appearances)
2. Linklaters (70 press appearances)
3. Loyens & Loeff (55 press appearances)
4. Stibbe (46 press appearances)
5. NautaDutilh (46 press appearances)
1. Cazimir (2 press appearances per lawyer)
2. Greenille (1,04 press appearances per lawyer)
3. Allen & Overy (0,8 press appearances per lawyer)
4. Dumon Sablon & Vanheeswijck (0,68 press appearances per lawyer)
5. Linklaters (0,67 press appearances per lawyer)
FINN and AuxiPress selected the major business law firms in Belgium : approximately 30 law firms varying in size from 5 to 151 lawyers. The ranking was based on the frequency with which these law firms appeared in the press over the past year (from November 2009 until November 2010). Only the Belgian department of the law firms, and their appearances in the Belgian media (Dutch as well as French speaking) were taken into account.
The following national and business media were selected: De Morgen, De Standaard, Het Nieuwsblad, Het Laatste Nieuws, Gazet van Antwerpen, Het Belang van Limburg, Krant van West-Vlaanderen, Metro, De Tijd / L’Echo, Trends / Tendances, Le Vif, La Dernière Heure, La Libre Belgique, Le Soir.
Media with an exclusively regional focus (e.g. Le Sud Presse, Vers l’Avenir, etc.) and specialized jobs sections (e.g. Jobat) were not taken into account, as press appearances in these media would distort the results.
For law firms with a common name (e.g. Tiberghien, Claeys & Engels, Liedekerke, etc.) the search was based on the keywords NAME LAW FIRM + ADVOCATENKANTOOR / ADVOCATEN / CABINETS D’AVOCATS / AVOCAT.
The largest (international) business law firms appear most often in the press: Allen & Overy with 72 articles, Linklaters with 70 articles, Loyens & Loeff with 55 articles, Stibbe and NautaDutilh with 46 articles, etc. These firms not only get more media attention, they are often mentioned in the press as reference law firms in the sector as well, particularly in terms of size and expertise. We call these firms the most influential business law firms in Belgium.
For example: Allen & Overy and Baker & McKenzie are called the “Anglo-Saxon Battleships”. In an article in Trends focusing on “De onzekere toekomst van de Vlaamse topadvocatuur”, three partners of Allen & Overy, Linklaters and Baker & McKenzie are elaborately interviewed.
Most of these (international) firms count top influencers among their partners, such as Wim Dejonghe (Allen & Overy), Thierry Claeys (Claeys & Engels) and Jean-Pierre Blumberg (Linklaters). These famous lawyers appear in the press with elaborate portraits, sometimes quite personal, in which they discuss the current law climate or future law trends (e.g. In Trends / Tendances, De Standaard, De Tijd, etc.).
However, if we consider the relative amount of press releases compared to the size of the law firms, the ranking gives a new picture. In this ranking, smaller firms, such as Cazimir and Greenille, appear in the top 5 of the most influential Belgian business law firms. We call these firms the most PR-minded business law firms in Belgium.
Some of the largest business law firms with international fame seem to be less sought out by Belgian journalists: the Belgian departments of the major Anglo-Saxon firms Baker & McKenzie and Clifford Chance respectively appeared only 16 and 7 times in the Belgian press.
This leaves room for law firms with a large or several Belgian office(s), but who have no foreign departments, such as Laga (31 press appearances) or Claeys & Engels (35 press appearances). Typically, these firms have strong references in Belgium, and count Belgian top influencers with a specific expertise: Hilde Laga in dispute resolution and banking and finance, Thierry Claeys with his Claeys-formula.
Almost all selected law firms, whether internationally active or smaller, Belgian-based, appear more in the press with the expert opinions of their lawyers, than with their firm. The ratio of people-articles versus firm-articles is approximately 80-20.
Most firms have one or a selection of partners and lawyers who act regularly as an expert in the press: Wim Dejonghe (Allen & Overy), Jozef Lievens (Eubelius), Flip Petillion (Crowell & Moring), Luc Vanheeswijck (Dumon Sablon & Vanheeswijck), etc. They appear in weekly or monthly “Question & Answer” sections of business media, such as Trends / Tendances and De Tijd, to which readers can send their law questions on various topics. The law guides provide their opinion and expert tips on a variety of law cases and day-to-day law topics: the Fortis-case, tax fraud, the rights and obligations of employees, successions, etc.
Here lies a major opportunity for smaller, less branded law firms. The media are clearly interested in opinions and interpretations of law experts on various topics. If smaller law firms start focusing on the expertise of their lawyers, they as well might get regular media coverage. It works as a snowball: the more a lawyer appears in the press with his or her expertise, the more journalists will start contacting him or her spontaneously whenever he needs a law guide / influencer in that specific area of expertise.
Law firms investing strategically in public relations. One firm that catches the eye is Cazimir. The newly founded law firm (in October 2009) counts only 10 lawyers – it is the third smallest office in the ranking –, and managed to appear in the media with 20 articles over the past year. The average number of press appearances of the Belgian law firms is 23,2. Clearly, Cazimir strategically invests in its public relations.
Law firms publishing proprietary research. Especially middle-sized and smaller law firms seem inclined to make use of this inventive PR tool. Laga appeared with its study on termination fees in Europe – a hot topic in today’s economically uncertain times – in Gazet van Antwerpen and De Tijd, and with its research on the wages at chemical plants in De Standaard. Eversheds appeared only 2 times in the press this year, but one appearance in De Tijd concentrated on its study on the growing power of in house counsel in Belgium. And NautaDutilh released an extensive study on off-label use of medicines in the specialized magazine De Huisarts.
Law firms finding a long term PR-channel to showcase their expertise. A few business law firms found a fixed outlet for their expert opinions: in regular sections on law advice (e.g. in Trends / Tendances), or through a weekly column. Stijn Demeestere, partner at Lydian, has such a column in Jobat. Every week, he offers his views on labour topics such as educational leave, holiday arrangements, termination fees, etc.
Media exposure is an excellent criterion to assess the influence and importance of a business law firm. More and more highly-reputed law firms have come to realize how public relations is the perfect tool to market their expertise.
Until about ten years ago, most business law firms in Belgium put little effort in their marketing and/or business communication. Regulations of the bar were very strict: like doctors, law professionals were not allowed to market their brand or to advertise. They simply had no need for it.
And yet, under the influence of Anglo-Saxon law firms, which emulated the marketing initiatives of other professional services organisations, such as consulting and accounting firms, these rules have started to relax. Since a few years, Belgian law firms too have come to realize that they can benefit from a marketing and communication function.
Gradually, this marketing function in Belgian law firms even took on more strategic aspects, such as branding, market research and press relations. More and more business law firms have come to discover public relations (PR) as a tool to market their professional knowledge and expertise.
Still, a lot of lawyers are suspicious of journalists or the media. They don’t know how to approach the press, or they misunderstand the means of media outlets.
Lawyers are experts. Law is difficult, and it changes often. Journalists have too much work to understand and digest all the changes themselves – few journalists have a law degree. They need a reliable guide. In return, they will give the guide and its law firm exposure. This expert status gives lawyers the credibility they need to attract new clients for the firm.
Law firms are confronted with the public interest on a daily basis. Almost every field of expertise lawyers can work on is of direct interest to the general public: the relationship between employers and employees, the environment, real estate, etc. These are matters that the media are naturally interested in.
Law firms are divided into departments, and so are media. The fact that a HR lawyer of a firm appears in the jobs section of a large business paper, is not likely to dissuade a journalist specialized in real estate to call another lawyer of that firm the same week to ask his opinion. For the media, these matters are unrelated. For a law firm, this is the perfect opportunity to get mentioned twice in the same week.
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