Rafael Truan Blanco, Executive Director of The Law Firm Network, speaks to The Legal 500 about the future of law networks
How has the pandemic and the flexi-working revolution affected the network model?
It is widely known that the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies and that, in general, there has been a greater uptake of remote working in law firms. Initially, the uptake of flexible working was also widespread. Although the percentage of lawyers using flexible working has declined, I would put the average number of lawyers still using it at 20% per firm.
We reacted by replacing our conferences with virtual meetings, we even held an Annual Conference virtually and, interestingly, it was attended by 100% of the member firms! Having recovered the face-to-face conferences, even with attendance difficulties, stull derived from mobility limitations, for some members in Asia, the virtual meetings by Practice Groups are maintained and are held every month.
How are networks adapting to fit into the post-covid world?
We have put online communication technology at the forefront of our activity with the adoption of videoconferencing tools, which are now every day for many of us, and we have invested in external and internal digital communication, adopting LinkedIn as our fundamental communication tool.
What are the key differentiators your network offers?
As one of the oldest Networks in the market our fundamental difference is our track record of experience in working together. We have done a lot of cross border work together for many years. We are similar firms, with similar type of clientele and therefore we know how to interpret the common problems of our clients in that segment. Clients using our firms’ legal services benefit from multi-jurisdictional legal services provided by experienced lawyers and a competitive billing structure.
Internally, we are not just a referral club, we are a vibrant and lively organisation that offers its members a multitude of activities and tools for internationalisation, talent attraction, etc..
Have client perceptions of networks shifted in recent years?
Definitely yes, I have no doubt about it: Clients in need of cross-border legal services perceive large firms with multiple international offices as firms where the provision of a personalised and client-focused service is difficult to obtain and that is way these firms are investing in investing in improving the client experience.
This is not the case for firms that belong to international networks; the client does not bear a structural cost. Clients therefore welcome now the fact that their trusted local law firm is part of an international network of law firms because they can place the trust they have in their local lawyer in the network.
What are some of the key issues currently facing clients and how are networks positioned to deal with them?
Undoubtedly, there will be many, but I would highlight legal
uncertainty: The lack of certainty or predictability in the application or interpretation of laws. Not only due to lack of clarity in laws or their arbitrary application, but also due to the constantly changing regulatory environment in many jurisdictions. Law firm networks are composed of experienced local lawyers, typically of medium size law firms, with extensive local knowledge and long-standing experience who can provide a local solution to an international client.
What do networks offer that global firms do not?
Lower costs for the client in any type of advisory area at the same level of qualification; Proximity to the client, a stereotype that is absolutely true, and finally, an easier and more direct access to senior lawyers.
What types of work are increasingly being won by networks over firms without such connections?
In those cases where clients work with a local lawyer without international connections, when they expand internationally or because of their existing internationalization, they need reliable contacts. If their local lawyer cannot provide them, they turn to law firms with these types of contacts while the previous law firm may easily lose the client.
How are networks changing the way that they promote themselves?
I think there is much greater openness in the external communication of networks than there was before. There is much more information available about existing networks, their activities and how they operate. We come from a model where the network itself did not communicate. This is changing and we are now facing a more transparent model where clients can obtain full information about success stories, contacts, members, working methods, etc.
What types of firms should be considering joining a network?
Undoubtedly, those that are growing and do not have an international network of contacts but mainly medium-sized and medium/large firms, because being part of a network requires effort and dedication. Many small firms get involved in networks without realizing that mere membership is not enough to receive or be able to send work. You have to work on internal marketing and develop contacts and trust internally.
What is the future for the network model – which networks are best positioned to thrive in future?
I am convinced that it is a growing model that meets the demand of many firms that want to adopt it as their internationalization model. There are a good number of international networks in the market, some general, others by specialty, etc. Our network is among the top 10, most demanded, and with the highest activity in the legal market, and I believe that those top 10 are best positioned to continue growing and strengthening, but I also believe that networks that serve hyper-specialized sectors, such as labour, IP or fashion law, to name a few, have a future
Click here to read the interview in the Legal 500 website.
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