GENERAL counsel are tiring of the onslaught of law firm e-alerts, email legal updates and newsletters being sent to them by law firms touting for work and good will.
Law firms picked up on the idea that they could feed their clients legal information, branding, expertise and insight via emails years ago. But since then the number of firms doing it, and the frequency with which they are churned out, have both grown dramatically.
“These things have mushroomed over time. Though they are often relevant and timely, when you get the same information effectively from six or eight law firms, a number of publishers and other sources, it becomes something of a flood,” said Peter Turner, CEO of the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA).
Turner said he does hear from general counsel that the e-alerts they receive from law firms can be annoying. Sometimes they amount to 10 a day, from at least 6 or 7 different firms, and often on the same subject.
“The fact that it’s annoying them is serious, but if you asked what exactly they didn’t want to receive, it’s much more difficult, because they don’t want to miss any good quality material on good quality subject matter,” said Turner.
While Turner himself welcomes the content he receives from ACLA’s external counsel via emails, he concedes that for general counsel the situation is quite different.
“What I do is not the same as being seated in the general counsel’s chair and being bombarded from people who want business from me.”
Turner said that for a lot of mid-level firms that don’t necessarily have the major clients, this is a way to bring their expertise into their view.
“I think that’s part of it for those mid-level firms and niche players who have good research and good quality materials available, but who don’t necessarily have the attention of some of the major players. So this is how they bring it under people’s noses,” he said.
“So some of it has commercial background, yes definitely. But some of it is well-intentioned, keep-you-up-to-date, look-how-good-our-information is. Fair enough,” Turner said.
Turner added that there is some “really excellent comment” coming out of the firms in this format. “For example the James Hardie case, there was recently some good comment being delivered from the law firms.”
Deacons director of marketing, Marcus Warner, said the firm won’t send mass-produced e-updates for exactly the reasons Turner and other general counsel are raising. Instead, the firm talks to clients at seminars to gauge what they want.
Clients will be very clear about what they want and how they want it, Warner said. “Telstra is a classic example. They want the information we give them in a particular format. Our technology lead partner will sit down with Telstra and ask them how they would like to receive their information. Be it Twitter, via e-alerts, or in hard copy. Telstra is one large client that asks us to send information in a certain format,” said Warner.
E-mailouts, which are common at Deacons for those who have signed up to receive them, are usually sent out by partners to a specific and small group of their own clients. “So they would not go to out entire relationship management database and trawl anyone with a technology background. We have partners look at their core clients and then look at whether they want to receive that information.”
Deacons is prolific on social networking site Twitter so it can send out information without clogging up clients’ inboxes. Clients receive the 140-character updates on Twitter, if they choose, and if they want more information, they can click on the relevant links.
At Middletons, another common user of the e-alert to clients, those sending out the content are “very strict on not bombarding our clients”, said Jeremy Hyman, media and communications manager at the firm.
The key, said Hyman, is giving clients the ability to unsubscribe. But, he said, only 2 per cent of the firm’s subscriber base has opted out to receive the alerts.
Turner at ACLA said he is happy to receive e-news from his own law firms, but unsolicited material from law firms is less welcome. “They know us and what interests us, so they filter it. But once you move away from that it gets more difficult.”