Pamela Woldow Posted October 28, 2009 at 12:11 am.
The ACC’s new lawyer rating system – created by and for corporate counsel — is just coming out of the gate. And, thank heavens that clients have finally decided to share their collective information in a usable info-exchange. It certainly sends a clear message that the other commercial rating services, largely funded by advertising from the very lawyers they rate, are seen by corporate counsel as pretty much useless.
In surveys year after year, corporate counsel report that their most trusted sources for information about outside counsel are other corporate counsel – and definitely not pay-to-brag directories. With technological advances and robust new platforms, the exchange of this information definitely has become easier.
The ACC had the courage to create a uniform rating system that can capture and consolidate the experiences of its members. It provides no guarantee that all these opinions are objective, accurate or wise, but it sure puts the ball in play. Critical to this free exchange of candid information is limiting the possible influence of law firms, and, along with that, their predictable bellyaching and either covert or overt attempts to influence the calculus of information flow and ratings. If law firms want to know what their clients think about their services, they certainly can – and should — ask. There’s a rich variety of ways to elicit that information, e.g., end of matter reviews, monthly briefings, annual meetings, client satisfaction surveys. Yet, in my role of working primarily with corporate counsel, I have been surprised by how seldom outside counsel want or seek feedback.
Moreover, I have a different view on the suggestion that permitting an ACC member to file an anonymous rating is somehow an abdication of responsibility. It appears to me to be a reasonable starting point for the commencement of a transformative rating system. There are several issues which bode in favor of letting ACC members contribute ratings either with attribution or anonymously: (1) generating buy-in for the new rating system, (2) building the volume of ratings, and (3) maximizing useful and candid information.
The anonymity of a rating only addresses the weight that counsel might attribute to it – and actually may counterbalance our tendency to accord too much credence to “august sources” or high-profile opinion-leaders. True, anonymity may, in some eyes, diminish the ratings’ reliability. But the point of ratings is to raise questions, not provide incontrovertible truths or final decrees. Ratings should not be taken as substitutes for counsel’s own research and judgment. By analogy, good movie reviews tell us what to look for, not what to think. Agreement or disagreement remains the prerogative of the viewer – once the viewer has gathered information to frame his own conclusions.
Is the new system perfect? Certainly not yet, but the improvement of and transparency about outside counsel, represent an important first step in a long journey.
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