The Legal 500 Publisher, David Burgess, Talks Law Firm Marketing, Industry Trends and Law Firm Differentiation
In this episode of On Record PR, Gina Rubel goes on record with David Burgess, publishing director at The Legal 500. David and Gina talk frankly about law firm marketing, industry trends and law firm differentiation.
About David Burgess
While David has been working in tax and legal publishing for 23 years, over the 17 years he has worked at The Legal 500 and has been involved with every aspect of its portfolio, from driving the launch in the US, to the launch of the GC Powerlist series, an events business that up until 2020 hosted 150 events in 50 countries.
The Legal 500 also hosts a podcast which brings together insights from over 30 years of market-leading research and content, updates and advice from their editors, and appearances from influential members of the legal community
David travels widely across the world each year talking to law firms and GCs to ensure The Legal 500 delivers what the clients need. David also is a regular fixture at conferences.
In 2012 he was invited to join the board of the International Bar Association’s Law Firm Management Group. He is the director of London’s International Arbitration Centre, has been on the advisory board at the Association of Corporate Counsel Alliance, and in 2018 was named in the “1,000 Global leaders and influencers in legal business.”
Prior to the podcast recording, Gina asked David about the trends he’s seeing in the legal industry and how they impact the global legal audience? David said:
- “There’s a greater desire for rankings (which will surprise many) – as The Legal 500 website traffic has gone up 65% in the past year.”
- “Companies are getting ready to change the law firms they use.”
- “The talent war at associate level is a massively over-hyped concept that distracts firms and creates a herd mentality which often means that firms lose focus.”
- Firms still are not listening to clients.
Gina Rubel: Welcome David.
David Burgess: It’s a pleasure, thank you for having me, it’s nice to be on the other side of the microphone for a change.
As our listeners can clearly tell, I am coming to you from the United States and you are where?
I am in London, as anybody involved in any quality directory is, we’re all based out of London. So, although, up until about 18 months ago, when the pandemic happened, I was probably in the U.S. about four months a year. I miss it a lot.
Gina Rubel: We’ve missed the travel too. London is a great place to visit, and I’m sure to live. I have to say I heard you say “where all the quality legal directories are located.” I’m sure some of our listeners may disagree with you, and I know that we are going to have some fun on this conversation.
What is The Legal 500?
The Legal 500 has been going for about 34 years and began in the UK. The idea behind The Legal 500 is to help general counsel do their jobs. That is the primary focus of what we do. I suppose obviously, I could drone on and on, but most people know the wonderful process of submissions and talking to the clients. I look at it in a slightly different way. I think if you’re a general counsel, in many ways we are your TripAdvisor, we’re the people you go to say, “Okay, I am looking at this particular firm to work with, tell me everything I need to know about them.” What we’ve done is all their work for them in the initial sense, we’ve looked at the work they do, the people they have, which practice areas they’re in and how good they are. Which means within seconds, any general counsel can get the sense of which law firms they should or shouldn’t be using and maybe some of the questions they should ask those law firms when they look to instruct them.
That’s the kind of the core of what we do, and obviously, around that we have a whole range of products that are designed to help general counsel do their jobs in a more effective and efficient way, including the recognition program for general counsel, the best general counsel around the world, and various publications and thought leadership that they can access anytime for free, which is also something they particularly enjoy.
SIDENOTE: A registered company in England and Whales with its headquarters in London, according to its website: “For 33 years, The Legal 500 has been analyzing the capabilities of law firms across the world, with a comprehensive research program revised and updated every year to bring the most up-to-date vision of the global legal market. The Legal 500 assesses the strengths of law firms in over 150 jurisdictions, the results of which can be viewed free of charge using the “Rankings” tab at the top of the page. The rankings are based on a series of criteria, but simply put, we highlight the practice area teams who are providing the most cutting edge and innovative advice to corporate counsel. Our research is based on feedback from 300,000 clients worldwide, submissions from law firms and interviews with leading private practice lawyers, and a team of researchers who have unrivalled experience in the legal market. The Legal 500 produces a wide –ranging series of resources for in-house lawyers including roundtables, client insight reports, and recognizes and rewards the best in-house lawyers through our GC Power-list series and The Legal 500 Awards.”
Can you define what you mean by “good”? You said, “how good the law firms are.” What does “good” mean?
That’s something that’s changed over the years in some respects. When things like The Legal 500 first started, good defined the work lawyers were doing, you’d look at the matters, the cases that a firm was involved in and that would often define the quality.
As things have changed, general counsel, in house lawyers have become more sophisticated, their demands have changed to a certain degree, and it depends from practice to practice. In essence, we’re looking at:
- The kind of work that lawyers are doing,
- The quality of partners,
- The quality of associates,
- The quality of the firm’s succession planning,
- Law firm D&I programs, and
- How law firms use technology. Most importantly with technology is how law firms use technology to benefit their clients not the firm, which is something that a lot of firms focus on when they tell us about how great their technology is for saving them time, but they’re forgetting that there’s a client at the end of it, and that’s what we’re interested in.
We also look at:
- The people,
- The way that the firm is structured,
- The way the firm does its business,
- All elements of client service, and
We look at all the things that the general counsel needs to know at the end of day. Who is going to be your best business advisor for the legal department?
Gina Rubel: That’s really one of the most important pieces of the process, it’s how “good” is defined and what all the criteria are in that space. We often thought about how many cases or matters they won in the past and/or how quickly they complete those matters when they’re administrative, but I appreciate all that you’ve shared.
How can law firms better improve their diversity, equity, and inclusion from your perspective?
This is obviously something that everyone is talking about, and everyone is trying to work on. We see it from a slightly more third-party independent view. I’m always troubled when I see some law firms producing information on their websites that tells us how importantly they take diversity when we know it’s not true. We know that it’s not their number one focus, it’s something they feel they have to say. It’s trying to find the ones that walk the walk. Firms are in a difficult position because my feeling of D&I is that firms are blamed for poor diversity, and they must take their share of blame. But it’s not entirely the firm’s fault. There are societal issues, there are issues of where you draw your candidates from, there’s a whole range of different things, and there’s also client demand.
One of the things that I’m beginning to see with some clients, not enough, but with some is they want diversity of gender, they want diversity of color, et cetera, and diversity of sexuality, but what they really want is diversity of thought. They want people with different perspectives, different outlooks, who will think in different ways. If you look at the most sophisticated in-house departments, they’re building their legal departments, with lawyers, but also people that aren’t trained as lawyers.
They’re putting it with data scientists, they’re putting it with economists, they’re putting in people who contribute to the business, that have different thought processes, which interact with the traditional legal thinking, and that’s what the smart clients are really looking for. I don’t think that there’s enough done with that because always people recruit in their own image, generally, and your pipeline is you’re trained as a lawyer, as a trainee lawyer to be a certain type of person, you’re not trained to be a businessperson, you’re not trained to be empathetic. There’s a long way to go. The unpopular stance that I have to voice is this is going to take a very long time. It’s fantastic that so many firms are pushing it hard, that so many firms are being pushed at it hard by their clients, but this is something that, unfortunately, it’s going to take generations to fix. It’s not something that will be fixed in five years.
Gina Rubel: I agree with you and I think it’s important to have the programs that allow firms to have something to measure against, and I’m not just talking about law firms, any kind of professional service organization, even law firm marketing and public relations that we do, we have to be held accountable. It is going to take a long time.
Do you see the same issues with lack of diversity in U.S.-based firms as you do in other countries?
That’s a good question because in some jurisdictions it depends on how you measure diversity. We look at it from a very Anglo Saxon, Western, white view in many respects. If you go to certain parts of Asia, the gender bias is not as bad as it is here (referring to the UK), and there are lots of reasons for that. But you will find that there will be more female partners at law firms, and certainly the opportunities are there. We all talk about, it’s got to be about equality of opportunity, and everyone says that there is but there isn’t, and we know that there isn’t. There are so many things that, for instance, hold women back, that shouldn’t but society is built in that way.
There are some areas where it is less so. If you look, for instance, in Africa, in in-house, you get quite a large proportion of in-house general counsel that are female. So, in some ways, we’re kind of a little bit behind on that respect. But I think the U.S. reflects, it’s very similar to the UK and most of Europe, and certainly if you look at those traditional economies that practice law in roughly the same way, I think it’s generally about the same. It is beginning to change but not great. If you look at the board makeups of UK and U.S. companies, that they’re all pretty bad in diversity, if you look at the number of general counsels that come from diverse backgrounds. Again, it’s poor and there are lots of reasons for that and it’s going to take a while. But in other areas, the opportunities are there, but that’s more based on each jurisdiction and how it’s set up rather than them being more progressive, its society is different compared to our societies.
Gina Rubel: I asked that question particularly because I want our listeners (and readers) to know that this isn’t just a United States issue, it’s an industry wide issue that faces companies globally, and it’s different from country to country. It’s important to be mindful that general counsel do want to see, and I agree with you, diversity of thought, not just a traditional way that we have defined diversity.
David Burgess: It’s a traditional privilege issue across the world. If you look at where the background of lawyers traditionally come from in most jurisdictions, they come from privileged backgrounds. They are part of what you might call the establishment in those jurisdictions, which means they’re not going to be properly drawn from the most diverse areas. One of the things that law firms and in-house and law schools, the whole thing must try and figure out culturally is how do you make the law a place where a diverse range of people feel comfortable being in, because at the moment they’re not, it’s not seen as something that is a diverse culture, and that’s a hard thing to change. If you ask me what the solution is, if I knew I would be a consultant earning absolutely millions a day being able to help people change the world.
Rankings such as The Legal 500 are often referred to in the industry as legal directories. Does that accurately describe the service and the information that’s provided.
It is a term that I’ve sort of got an uneasy peace with. I’ve learned to accept it because everyone says it. If everyone’s saying it, and you get annoyed each time you’re going to have a pretty bad life. The problem I have with the phrase “legal directories” is that I’ve been around a very, very long time, as I’m sure some of your audience have and we remember back in the day, things like Martindale-Hubbell, which was a phonebook. Martindale-Hubbell was a tremendous business before the invention of the internet and Google, where you could just type in a firm and get their information, and that was a traditional directory. It’s a yellow page, or white pages or whatever they called it in various places. I don’t think what we do is a directory, we do legal research.
What you’re getting from us is a huge amount of editorial information, there’s a huge amount of analysis that goes on, the amount of data and information that we have to crunch and go through, is phenomenal, it’s huge. I don’t think there’s anybody around the world that gets to see as much information about what’s going on in the legal industry as we do. To diminish that as it’s a listing, is something that slightly rankles with me a little bit.
Everybody knows just when they meet with me, if you call us a directory you’re off on a bad start straight away. I get it, but I also think that, I mean, I’ll be honest with you, there are a number of publications out there. There are 3,000 ways to get yourself ranked or whatever and there’s that wonderful list that goes around talking about how good everyone is and whether they’re reputable or not. I think there’s a big difference in what we do, and probably what one other does, I can’t remember its name, but it’s out there.
What The Legal 500 and Chambers do is different to what a lot of other rankings and listings do. If you look at the sheer number of people that employ to do our research, look at the sheer amount of information that we produce each year. It takes a lot to produce that.
Here’s something interesting that I think I’ve been saying for a long time and I still don’t think it gets into the head of most attorneys, which is if you speak to an attorney, you talk about Legal 500 ranking, they will go and say “What tier am I in? Am I in one, two, three?” That’s all that matters. You go to in-house counsel, and they say, “Yeah, we look at which tier you’re in, but we read about you, we read the editorial that goes alongside it.”
That’s the thing that they get their information from. So, they will be looking and saying, “What is it about this particular practice in this particular law firm that would suit working with my company?” Have they got a particular specialism? Have they who worked with another company that I know well, or I know about that particular issue so therefore, they’ll know all the issues upfront. It doesn’t necessarily matter if they’re in tier three, or tier four or tier five, it’s what suits them. Whereas a lot of attorneys will look at it and go, “Well, obviously, no one will choose us if we’re in tier four.” They will, it’s just you have to look at both things together. So that’s why we’re not a directory.
Gina Rubel: I love that you just said that. It’s so important. As the CEO of a 20-year-old law firm marketing and public relations agency, I can’t tell you how many lawyers say, “Well, why am I only in X tier this year?” yet not realizing that it’s the information, the details, that are so important.
There are lots of other very good business people out there, and being a good lawyer is, as my good friend Susan Hackett says, “That’s table stakes.” Yeah, that’s just, everyone’s a good lawyer, there’s loads of lawyers. What makes you different? It’s partly what you do. It’s partly with the partners and the associates you surround yourself with, it’s also how you treat individuals, and I get to see this a lot when I go into firms. For me, I’ve been on record many, many times by saying how important I think legal marketing, business development and PR is, it’s incredibly important. In a normal company it’s important, why shouldn’t it be the same in legal?
Gina Rubel: Listeners, I did not pay him to say that.
David Burgess: No, I’ve been saying it for a long time. If you look at any successful business, it’s made up of a diverse set of people who are very good at their jobs, and they’re generally left to get along with their job. You don’t often have, you’ve got a business with a huge advertising budget, and a CMO in charge of it. They don’t get told what to do by somebody else all the time, they’re trusted to make the right decisions.
Legal has a huge problem with that. I can see often how a law firm, you can tell the character and the culture of law firm, often by the way they interact with staff. You go into some, and the way that they interact with each other is so comfortable: so giving, everyone’s allowed to speak, it’s rare. I speak to CMOs and business development directors who talk to their clients, which is fantastic. I go into a number of law firms, and they say, “Well, I’m not allowed to speak to the clients.” You can tell a lot about the culture from that kind of conversation, and that does spill over to clients, because your culture is what defines you, how you act all the time. I’m always disappointed when I see that.
Gina Rubel: On the other end of that when working with outside partners such as Furia Rubel, we’ve walked away from clients where the culture of the marketing department is the same as the culture of the firm, which means micromanagement, questioning everything, asking for daily reports, all the things that waste time and become busy work as opposed to getting the job done, being effective.
David Burgess: The amazing thing is that every law firm strives, every partner will strive to be the trusted adviser to their client. But internally, they don’t want to trust people. You’re not going to be given trust if you don’t give out trust.
Gina Rubel: That’s why there’s such a high turnover with the professional staff.
What can legal marketers do to be more respected in the legal practice in general? When I say legal marketers, I’m talking about researchers, librarians, BD, traditional marketing, internal and external communications, the whole nine yards.
It’s a good question but it’s not an easy one to answer because there are so many elements that need to change. The attitude of partners needs to change, the tone from the top is very important. I think if you’re lucky enough to be in a firm where you’re trusted to do that work, that’s fine but a lot of it comes down to being able to demonstrate how you can add value and how you are helping with the client process. The problem is, and I feel sorry for a lot of people in legal marketing, because in most businesses, being able to show how you can work to benefit the clients is much simpler than in legal where, I’ve sat with partners who said, “It’s all very well and good what marketing is doing but clients only want to hear from partners.” Every client I speak to says that’s simply not true.
There’s a lot that organizations such as the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) can be doing in this front. I’m particularly heartened to see that LMA National this year, is that Catherine Zinn is in charge this year and Catherine always has the voice of the client in her head and in everything she does.
Gina Rubel: It’s a good thing you mentioned Catherine, because I happen to be on the Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference Advisory Committee this year, I’m working with Catherine. One of the goals is to make sure that the voice of the client is heard on almost every panel. The other thing that’s interesting is when you talk about Catherine, I was going to mention her as someone who has the respect of her firm, and does get to speak to clients, and the clients respect that, they want that. She’s a perfect example of a powerhouse legal marketer who is a female, who is respected by her firm, and has been respected by other firms in the past.
David Burgess: Clients come to her and say, “I have a problem, can you help?” They don’t go to the partners, they go to someone who they think understands what their problems are. you’re prepared to listen, and you’re prepared to do the best for me as a client, and that’s a great lesson that everyone should learn. It’s no coincidence that Catherine is much desired by many firms because she has a book of business with her. You look at it and you think, “Well, why aren’t more marketers, why haven’t they got that book of business?” It is because they’re not allowed to, and that’s really wrong.
If I was in legal marketing, I’d get fired within about 20 minutes. I would be going out just calling clients directly and saying, “I just want to talk to you about what’s going on, I need to know more information.” There’s part of me that thinks I know that everyone is concerned about how they’re seen and the structure and order of things, but just go and speak to some clients. They want to hear from you. They want to know what’s going on. They want to give that opportunity for feedback. There’s a great piece I think last week, I think it was on law.com, talking about clients being fired and clients firing law firms and no one hearing about it.
Read: The American Lawyer, Why clients opt for ‘ghosting” when breaking up with law firms.
I once sat in a law firm in New York with about 40 partners and I asked them, “Have you got clients out there you haven’t spoken to for three months?” And they all put their hands up. My point was, they’re not your clients anymore, somebody else has got them, or somebody else is talking to them, why are you not doing it? Why are you not asking people within your department to talk to people within that structure. It doesn’t always have to be the partner talking to the GC, you have an associate that gets on exceptionally well with the head of litigation in a company, get them to talk.. They’re the ones who make the decision as well trust people to do that, trust your business development and marketing people to do that. They know the right questions to ask and they know the right ways to listen?
Gina Rubel: David, you are preaching to the choir, and what’s interesting is oftentimes, even as one who has served in an outsourced CMO role, attorneys also need to read the information that’s being shared. For example, they want in house marketers to report data, we report data, but they don’t read the reports and oftentimes, the legal marketers don’t even get the opportunity to present to the EC with that data. Just having a voice within the firm, and being able to share the successes is so important but also it’s on the attorneys and EC to listen.
David Burgess: Yes, and I think there’s another element to that from the EC side of things, which is you’ve got to have a culture where it’s acceptable to fail, because you don’t succeed unless you fail. I think it’s gotten worse and worse over the years. The old adage of three strikes and out –it’s one strike and out nowadays. You do something wrong, that’s it.
Gina Rubel: Well, I don’t know, post COVID they can’t find people to work. There’s a whole new culture. But before we go too much further into what legal marketers can do for the seat at the table because I know they’re listening, I also want to give them some key takeaways from you.
What are the some of the things legal marketers are doing well on the submission process for The Legal 500 that catches the attention of the editorial team?
What we really want to be seeing is, what’s your story? What’s the story you give to a client? Every law firm says that their law firm is different. Well, tell us why you’re different. What are you doing differently with your clients? When people say we’re slightly different, we put clients at the forefront of things, well everyone should be doing that. That’s irrelevant. What we want to hear is, effectively, i if we’re a client looking to instruct you, a legal firm to the client, what is it that’s going to make me sit up and take notice about your firm? What are you doing that’s specific to me or to the audience I’m in?
It depends on the type of firm you’re in because if you’re in a full-service firm, and you do everything, you’re tempted to say, “We’re fantastic.” If you’re a smaller firm that has a niche, or a more niche practice, or has niche clients, you may be in a particular industry, your temptation is to say, “Oh, we do lots of things.” It’s the worst mistake you can make.
Think about where your strengths are and play to them. If you have a particular strength in the automobile industry, talk about that, because you’re not going to get clients from financial services necessarily, but you want to make sure that you get as many from the automobile industry as possible. Use that. It’s a problem that law firms have all the time is that they get very good at one thing, and then they want to run away from it to say they do lots of other things because they think it affects all the other practices. It doesn’t.
Strength wins, having good strengths is a positive. Talk about that.
The other thing they need to do is be brief. I’m the classic example of how not to be brief. Be pithy, be short, and explain what it is that you’re saying and then back it up. Nice and quick, nice and simple.
Firms tend to throw in the kitchen sink at submissions. Look at what we wrote last year, look at how many firms we ranked, how many individuals we ranked. Look at it and say, “Honestly, am I there? Are we competing there? Who are we competing against and why?” But if we’ve recommended three lawyers from the top tier firm, and your tier four firm, don’t give us five lawyers that you think are fantastic, think about one or two that really make the difference.
Gina Rubel: Oh, but how easy is that for in-house marketers or agencies when they’re being told, “You have to submit all of these people”?
David Burgess: I have it easy because I’m allowed to say what I like, and you have to deal with the real world.
One of the biggest mistakes is that the main rankings that The Legal 500 do are based on the teams and the quality of the team and good individuals make up a team, but they can also unbalance a team. We always say, don’t pass it around the firm, don’t give everyone the chance to edit it. What tends to happen is you get a camel, which is horse by committee, you don’t get the true sense of what’s going on, and everyone, they’ll look at it and they’ll count the number of deals they’re involved in compared to somebody else. A client doesn’t care about that. A client looks and goes, “What am I going to get out of it?” Not, are you making sure that everyone’s equal and got an equal say in your submission? They don’t care about that. Think about what the client is looking for. I don’t envy anybody involved in a law firm who has to do the politics internally to try and manage that process.
You’ll get better results if you stick to the idea that it’s a team game, because that’s what clients are looking for, and make sure all levels of the firm, from very experienced partners right down to associates, are included. Because clients will look at the associates, they’ll look at who they’re getting. If all your focus becomes about the most important senior partners, you’re not talking about the quality that you’ve got and that affects the client perception of your firm.
And the most important thing is get it in on time.
Is it wise to submit to The Legal 500 year after year knowing that somebody may not get it in year one, but by year two, or year three they may have that opportunity?
The best way to go about it is talk to us first. Contact our editor and say, “Look, we’re thinking of submitting for this, do you think we have much chance?” We may know some bits and pieces about that practice, there may be areas that we don’t know so much about. We’ll ask: How far away are you competing from the firms in the bottom tier of that ranking? If you’re miles away, don’t bother, keep your powder dry, focus on other things that will give you the benefit. There’s no point doing things where you’re never going to get in.
There are also areas where you might look into and say, “Well, so we think we’re competing.” You’re putting a submission; we may rank you we may not. It all depends on what’s in there. But then if we do rank you, great, you’ve got a success and you can build on that. If we don’t rank you, you contact us and say, “How far away were we? Should we keep submitting?” If you’re close, and we’re saying, “Look, we just didn’t see enough evidence of X and Y, that’s why you weren’t in there.” If the firm thinks “No, we are doing that,” you can tell us about it next year, you can keep submitting and chances are we’ll recognize that. If we give you the feedback and you’re miles away, we’ll be honest, and it’s better to be honest, because we don’t want marketing or business development or external agencies wasting time putting together submissions that we know are not going to go anywhere.
Gina Rubel: That gives us the data and information to go back to the client or the law firm in-house and say, “This is our struggle, what can we add to our overall strategy for the firm to get there?”
David Burgess: It might be that you don’t submit the next year, but you’re in a recruitment mode, you’re building up those clients, and then you get to a point where you think it’s worth having another crack at this. I think we’re ready for it. The other thing about Legal 500 in the U.S. is, it’s quite hard to get in. We don’t go extensively nationwide all the rankings at the moment. It’s difficult to get into an M&A table because you could put loads of firms in there, and what are you giving to the client? We keep it relatively short. It’s elitist unashamedly, and if you look at it, there’s only about 300 firms that get ranked across legal firms in U.S., and only about 140, 150 of them get more than one ranking. It’s tough to get into Legal 500 but the rewards are massive.
How do you see law firms successfully leveraging The Legal 500 recognitions?
Firms don’t do enough. The one thing that I’m always astonished by is, obviously, the rankings come out, and firms put out a press release that say, “Look, we were ranked in 12 areas and the following five people leading individuals.” Great. Problem is, no one reads them. No one cares. It’s much better to release that information in different ways. Create more content around social media about it, you’ll be surprised at how many people and your clients are looking at LinkedIn all the time, and you’ll be surprised about how many people want to comment and congratulate you, which gets it higher up in visibility. All these things are simple and any legal marketer worth a salt bill will tell anybody in a firm, this is how you do it. Be proud of it.
Gina Rubel: But they don’t listen, they don’t want to update their LinkedIn profiles, they want the firm to share it, and the firm is going to get 250% less engagement than the attorney’s profile on LinkedIn.
David Burgess: It’s a hard one but what you need to do is find your allies. You need to find two or three people in the firm that get it, and there will always be two or three people in the firm who get it. Who will want to work with you on a campaign, who were happy to say I’m going to post something that says, “I’m absolutely honored and delighted to have been ranked in Legal 500,” and this is what it means. Thank you to all our clients. It’s great. Do more of that, it makes a big difference.
Gina Rubel: The transcript of this podcast should be given out at every law firm partner and associate retreat.
David Burgess: I tell them.
Gina Rubel: They’ll hear it from you, David.
David Burgess: Yeah, well, I do tell them and some do listen. The other thing, of course, is I say to lawyers, and they asked me about this and say, “We’ve got this ranking, what do we do?” I say “Well, where do you spend most of your time?” “At my desk?” Great. You’re looking at your computer, what’s open all the time? Email. What’s on your signature? Oh, it’s got the author information. Why doesn’t it have a logo saying we’re ranked tier one for international arbitration? Because every time you send an email to everybody involved, it’s going to be involved in that industry, that’s what they’ll see. It has a subliminal message. It’s direct, it’s instant and it goes to people use it, use it all the time.
I think it’s fair to say that a couple of us out there in the market are pretty good at what we do, and are well recognized by clients around the world. So why not use that? Use it all the time, it’s so simple and easy. I have to say, firms in the UK are generally better at putting this stuff front and center on their websites than firms in the US. It’s odd in a way, because America is much more brash and bold when I speak to attorneys about them telling me how great they are. They will constantly tell me how great they are, but they seem to shy away from it when putting things out there in public.
How can in-house counsel better support the overall legal industry and the law firms with which they work?
We’re beginning to see it from some in-house, they’re being much more vocal and bolder about working with their law firms. There’s a big D&I campaign in the UK that has been set up by Shell and Vodafone amongst others, and they’ve invited some of the leading UK law firms to be part of this working group to try and increase diversity in the legal industry. The way that in-house counsel should behave is they should be more honest about what they need. They’ve got to. One of the things that has cropped up in the past 18 months, which has been a pretty big topic before then but it’s really been exasperated by COVID, is mental health and well-being. The biggest driver of mental health problems in the legal industry is demand from clients. For instance, “I need this done now,” and it doesn’t have to be.
We can all take steps to do that. I personally have taken one step with my teams. I often sit on a Friday night or a Saturday morning and think about something from work, because I’m that sad. But you know, you’re struck by an idea and go, “Oh, I’m going to fire up an email.” Everybody should use delayed emails. It’s a simple thing. It’s very easy to use an Outlook, just click on it, and say, “Do not send before 7am Monday morning.” Because I know so many people look at their emails on a weekend, when they shouldn’t. They will look at that, they’ll look at it on Sunday evening and go, “Oh, I’ve got this to do.” They go into the week feeling down, they don’t get a good night’s sleep on a Sunday; people should be able to enjoy their lives.
In-house counsel needs to really look at what’s urgent and what isn’t urgent, what can be saved for later. The other thing that I think they can do, these are small things but I think they’re important, and they send a message. When lawyers go off on parental leave, and this mainly affects women more than men, when people go for parental leave they’re often replaced by another lawyer because things need to be done. Make sure when that person comes back, you reintegrate them as a client and say, “I would like to continue working with X whenever they’re back, and I want you as a law firm to make that happen for me.” Make sure you re-onboard women coming back in after parental leave, because we’re losing a whole raft of talent because they go, “All my clients are gone, I’m finding it hard to get back into it.” Law firms move on to the next thing.
Empathy is an important thing. Understanding people, trying to work out what makes people tick, what motivates them. Leeway is important, but a give and take gets you so much more engagement as an employer.
Gina Rubel: And loyalty. Loyalty, it costs so much to onboard and off board, train, maintain. If you look at the numbers, the more empathy we give, the more people want to be a part of that culture.
David Burgess: I agree. In-house counsel can play an important part because they’re the ones that ultimately hold the purse strings.
You don’t want people to burn out, you don’t want people to hate their job. You want people to enjoy working in the law, you want to enjoy helping their clients, with an understanding of what’s important to people. I’ll tell you one story, I think it just sums up to me perfectly about how dysfunctional law firm in-house behavior can be, but also how dysfunctional men can be.
A client called a partner on a Saturday and said, “I really need some work done. We’ve got something that needs doing.” She said, “I can’t. It’s my son’s birthday party.” He said, “Well, that’s no good to me. I’m going to call somebody else.” He called up another partner, male partner. What the in-house counsel didn’t know was they were married. The father picked up the phone and counsel, “I need some work done urgently.” He says, “Okay, I’ll do it now.”
Everything is wrong there. The only person that’s right, the mother who said, “It’s my child’s birthday party, I’m not missing that.” That should be, “Of course you’re not. That’s fine. Don’t worry. I’ll get someone else to do it temporarily, you’ll be back on-board next time it’s important to share those moments.” That’s how it should work, and it doesn’t work like that often enough.
Rugby or football, aka soccer?
Football all the time.
Favorite British band?
Ultimately, it’s the Beatles. You can see my yellow submarine behind me.
Favorite U.S. destination?
I love going to DC, I love Vegas, but I’m always at home in New York.
An essential book, blog or podcast not your own, that people should be listening to?
Books: Two books that I recommend everyone read, obviously, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles is probably my favorite book. Another wonderful story is about a Welsh boy growing up in the valleys in the early 20th century– a book called How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn.
Blog: Bill Henderson’s Legal Evolution. I can’t get enough of reading his thoughts on the law. It’s exceptionally good.
Podcast: I won’t do law because that’s too boring, I’d have to say I Am The EggPod, which is all about the Beatles’.
How can people get in touch with you?
The best way is to go to legal500.com, you can find me on the contact as David.email@example.com. Search my name on LinkedIn. I think I’m David Burgess Legal 500 or something like that. Let me think, Twitter is DavidBurgess73 or @TheLegal500 and Instagram is David John Burgess, and I’m not very good with my social media sometimes I’m a bit patchy. But I try, because mainly I’ve got to just understand what it is that young people are interested in, because it’s the only way we can find out. I’m not on TikTok though, and I will not be on Clubhouse. I mean, I can’t dance so I’m not on TikTok and Clubhouse is the emperor’s new clothes and as we’ve just seen all your data is up for sale on the dark web. Thanks Clubhouse.
Gina Rubel: Thank you again. Listeners, David has a wealth of knowledge, I hope you’ve enjoyed this program and we look forward to our next visit with David, hopefully at the Legal Marketing Association, National Conference in Hollywood, Florida, October 23 and 24th, 2021. David, stay well.
David Burgess: Thanks for having me on, it’s been an absolute pleasure.
For additional conversations about law firm marketing, check out Furia Rubel’s Law Firm Marketing Podcasts.
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