As we continue Byfield’s 15th anniversary celebrations, Director Ben Girdlestone and Associate Director Beth Durkin reflect on how corporate communications has evolved in the legal sector over that time. (Two minute read.)
Ben: My first job in the sector was at a silver circle firm and I have a clear memory of the finance director handing me a bit of paper with the firm’s annual results scratched on it. This was a good two months after the year end and I had a clear instruction to ‘send it out if you feel like it’. Not many firms issued their results then so that was quite far ahead of its time!
Beth: I don’t go back quite as far as you(!) but in my five years at Byfield I’ve witnessed a real growth in the media’s interest in law firms as businesses. Very real issues such as mental health, salaries and burnout have contributed to this, particularly since the beginning of the pandemic.
Ben: As KWM was collapsing in Europe five or so years ago, I asked a national business editor why the coverage was fairly modest given the size of the story. He told me that many journalists felt there were simply too many law firms doing roughly the same thing and they couldn’t really tell the difference between them. That’s no longer the case – the profile of our sector has increased massively in recent years. You only have to look at the column inches in the FT on what firms did and didn’t do in respect of Ukraine to see this in action.
Beth: I agree. Law firms have really had to evolve, driven by the need to differentiate. There’s no one primary factor driving this, but the result is that firms have become much more institutional as interest in their activities has increased. We see proper planning now for annual results, partner promotions and other corporate news events – I don’t think you are going to be handed important information scratched out on a piece of paper again!
Ben: The two biggest changes for me are, firstly, that comms people have got a lot better at considering all their stakeholders in the round – partners, staff, regulators, media, clients etc. – than perhaps we were previously. We’ve all been guilty of focusing too much on what the media may or may not say at the expense of other audiences, but I believe the pandemic has wrought a permanent change here. Secondly, many law firms are now truly global businesses and they absolutely weren’t 15 years ago. In today’s environment you have to have a professional communications infrastructure, otherwise the firms would collapse.
Beth: It’s certainly a great time to be in legal PR with so many interesting client challenges to work on and I’m glad I decided to work in a specialist agency with a range of clients across the sector. The spotlight on law firms has truly never been greater and of course the consequences of scoring a PR own goal have grown too. I can’t wait to see what the next 15 years brings!