An Association of Corporate Counsel law firm rating system unveiled last month has triggered a lot of interest from the association's in-house lawyer members, who have submitted 1,500 firm reviews. Lawyers at firms are less enthused.
Firms have been crying foul on several fronts, foremost because the in-house counsel comments are anonymous and could cloak lawyers with axes to grind, such as disgruntled former law firm associates.
That's according to the Zeughauser Group, the legal consultancy. Zeughauser wrote to law firms and news organizations last week detailing the feedback it's been getting from law firms. The organization declared that the ratings were "cause for concern."
"We don't see how not sharing reviews with law firms helps accomplish ACC's mission of fostering change," Kent Zimmerman, a Zeughauser consultant in Chicago, said in an e-mail message to The National Law Journal. He said that his organization is channeling the sentiments of law firm clients who are reluctant to independently take on the ACC.
Since the ACC initiated its "value index" last month, its members have shared their opinions about the performances of 500 law firms. The ACC has used the mainly anonymous input to rank firms on a five-point scale. The evaluations and ratings are viewable only by ACC members.
Zeughauser Group chief Peter Zeughauser, a former ACC national chairman, has had "an extensive dialogue" about the index's perceived drawbacks with the ACC and has met with ACC President Fred Krebs, Zimmerman said.
In an interview, Krebs said that the association plans to make the feedback available to law firms before year's end and is studying how best to do that. The index is still in the early stages of development and the ACC wanted to have a critical mass of evaluations before disseminating the information more widely, he said.
"You need to have a good number of evaluations to make it meaningful. Otherwise, one or two either very good or very bad evaluations would skew the ratings," Krebs said.
So far, about two-thirds of the evaluations have been anonymous, but Krebs hopes that more lawyers will identify themselves in future reviews. The association wanted to give members the option to opine anonymously to encourage candor, he said.
Krebs noted that the index is intended to help in-house counsel squeeze more value for their money at a time when companies are seeking ways to reduce legal costs. The association hopes the information will spur communication both among its members and between them and firms, he said.
So far, the ratings have been quite high -- 4.4 or 4.5 on average, Krebs said.
"We're not interested in bad-mouthing firms or beating up on firms," Krebs said. "This is meant to be a member service and to stimulate dialogue."