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Editorial: Leading Leaders Lead the Leadable

Editorial: Leading Leaders Lead the Leadable

Legal Markets
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Did you just glaze over the headline without even registering it? I would have. Of the 30 press releases that last hit my inbox, 26 included – in either the opening paragraph or the last one describing the emitting firm – the phrase “leading law firm.” Indeed, it is such a common trope in the industry that I barely even register it when a firm self-identifies as such.

I point this out because I recently received an e-mail in which I was told that a firm (we’ll call them Firm X) read our news item covering their launch “with great disappointment,” and described our coverage as “biased and discriminatory.” Why? Because their press release included descriptions of how amazing their lawyers were which we left out of our coverage – to their credit, being the wordsmiths that they are, they didn’t describe their lawyers as “leaders” but as “preeminent figures.”

I get it though – and no, I don’t believe it’s a matter of “fake it ‘till you make it” – especially in the case of a new firm. I think there are two phenomena at play:

First, as with professional services in general, the legal industry’s main marketing tool is to put forward the capabilities – skills, knowledge, experience – of its lawyers (that is ultimately what clients buy). Habits of talking up your lawyers are not only reinforced by the fact that you are constantly doing that to pitch for work, but are also distorted by the countless rankings submissions you put forward, where there is a feel that words like leading distinguish your expert from the dozens, if not hundreds of peers assessed and ranked.

Second, I blame my peers. I believe there are a lot of what I would describe as lazy journalists or publications out there. I know that PR reps are taught and told over and over again that a press release should be written in a manner that makes journalists’ job easy: if possible, it should really only come down to a copy/paste to publish. And – may it be out of a rush to simply process news items, or out of simply not caring about the content put forward – I do see that happening a lot. Against that setting, congratulations, if you were smart enough to describe yourself as a “leading law firm” in your press release, you just got a leading-or-not publication to describe you as such in print – win!

I don’t mind it – more power to all who employ the trick and benefit from it. I like to believe our readers are smart enough to read between the lines of marketing-speak. If not for that, out of simple habituation, I suspect most of them simply glaze over such phrases to get to the facts of the news item.

It is this thinking that shaped our publication’s style in terms of processing news items. We focus on “X advised Y in the acquisition of Z” or on “X moved from Y to Z.” Ultimately, we believe that is the value in what we write – in the facts – and of what we are as a result – an aggregator of all deals and moves in the region.

Not understanding this, Law Firm X wrote to me that “it would be regrettable for CEE Legal [Matters] to have acted on any improper or illegal incentive in portraying such biased and discriminatory behavior, which would also contradict CEE Legal [Matters]’ reputation.” What exactly that illegal incentive would have been is something I have yet to wrap my head around, but what I find fascinating is the extent to which this dynamic has become warped in our niche: Somehow, along the way, it is no longer a matter of a PR representative inserting marketing plugs and lazy publications copying that in, thus benefiting a firm’s image. It is now, apparently, a matter of all being leaders in their press releases and publications discriminating against them if they don’t call them that in print as well.

Now I’ll go off and update our company’s presentation from “CEE Legal Matters is a print and online publication for and about lawyers interested and working in Europe’s emerging legal markets” to “CEE Legal Matters is the leading print and online publication for and about lawyers interested and working in Europe’s emerging legal markets.” As far as I know we’re the only one, so I can’t imagine anyone can challenge that description. Maybe there’s some marketing voodoo I’ve been oblivious to and have been missing out on all these years!

This Article was originally published in Issue 9.4 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.

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