Dentons is set to roll out a giant new legal referral network within days, the head of the initiative revealed this week.
During a Monday seminar on law firm networks at the International Bar Association’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., Jeff Modisett, a senior counsel at Dentons who serves as CEO of the Dentons-branded Nextlaw Global Referral Network LLC, told those in attendance that the network will go live next week with roughly 250 firms and 18,000 lawyers.
Modisett did not return a request for more details by the time of this story, but the numbers he unveiled would immediately propel Nextlaw to the top network ranks in size worldwide in size. Among the elite traditional networks, Lex Mundi has 160 firm members and 21,000 lawyers; TerraLex has 162 firms and 17,000 lawyers; and the World Services Group has 150 members and 19,000 lawyers, according to a 2016 network directory.
Dentons is the first global firm to recognize the potential benefits of underwriting and running its own referral network. Though firms participating in Nextlaw aren’t required to have an exclusive arrangement with the global Swiss verein or others in the network, they will utilize a common online platform that promotes reciprocal referrals, Dentons said in May.
In the same announcement, Dentons global chair Joseph Andrew made waves when he said that the firm-vetted network, offered free to joining firms, was intended to disrupt the traditional networks’ “pay-to-play” referral system. A month later, Andrew again goaded network rivals.
“Let’s see how long the status quo lasts without their expensive fees and territorial exclusivity,” he wrote in a column for U.K. legal publication The Lawyer. (Since May, Andrew has written several columns taking the networks to task as part of a campaign to tout Nextlaw.)
But a trade association representing the most established networks isn’t taking Andrew and Dentons’ challenge lying down. On Wednesday, the Association of International Law Firm Networks (AILFN) unveiled a free online database, Locate Law Networks, allowing anyone to search 45 networks’ combined 3,500 firms, which altogether employ some 300,000 lawyers.
“There are a lot of good networks out there,” said Stephen McGarry, a president of AILFN and founder of Lex Mundi and World Services Group. “The issue is they’re not well known.”
Using the search fields, a potential firm can now easily locate vetted firms in jurisdictions where it has no office. Firms in a specific jurisdiction that haven’t yet joined a network can use the same search fields to determine which don’t yet have members in their jurisdiction. Each network’s contact information and website is listed. Until the database was unveiled, “You would have to click on each network individually and see if they had someone in your location, and you might not even know which websites to go to,” McGarry said.
A map of the 45 largest networks’ AILFN member networks shows that only a few countries remain outside of any networks, mostly war-torn nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Sudan. McGarry hopes the new tool will “help fill up the map.” (This summer, global firm DLA Piper struck an alliance in Afghanistan.)
McGarry, who in June had strong words for Dentons, takes issue with the firm’s characterization of global referral networks as “pay-to-play,” noting that network members are not prohibited from referring matters outside their network. Many firms, in fact, have joined several networks. He said the fees to join a traditional network are immaterial and added that they offer something that Dentons’ Nextlaw cannot: a track record.
Traditional network firms “have all been vetted, on average for more than 20 years. They are regularly visited by a network representative, they’re on committees with each other and their relationships are very strong,” McGarry said. “That’s a completely different from Dentons’ network, where they’re putting together 250 strangers in a room.”