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Top 50 firms that get Wikipedia - and those that don't
Thursday 21 May 2009 by Rupert White
People who work in law firm marketing, I’m fairly sure, would say that you should take every opportunity to enhance your brand, especially if it’s free. So why is one obvious platform being so poorly used by law firms?
Marketing and PR are about profile, and any extra positive profile must surely be A Good Thing. Think of all the ways your firm can enhance its profile online. Use business social network LinkedIn to enhance your personal or even firm’s profile? Go ahead. Email newsletters? Why not? Make sure you have a fantastic website? Obviously. Make your Wikipedia entry the best it can be? A no-brainer. Except, for a lot of law firms, that last doesn’t seem to have registered.
Wikipedia is one of the largest reference websites – 684 million visitors yearly. For a sniff of its power, whether you like it or not, cogitate on this snippet from the New York Times ‘Bits’ technology blog on 30 March, entitled ‘Microsoft Encarta Dies After Long Battle With Wikipedia’: ‘Microsoft delivered the coup de grâce Monday to its dying Encarta encyclopedia, acknowledging what everyone else realised long ago: it just couldn’t compete with Wikipedia… In January, Wikipedia got 97% of the visits that web surfers in the United States made to online encyclopedias, according to the internet ratings service Hitwise. Encarta was second, with 1.27%.’ That’s how powerful Wikipedia is.
It is with that in mind that I invite you to take a wander through just the top 50 entries for the ‘largest UK law firms’ on Wikipedia (using its own list of largest firms as the run-down). This list is out of date – it hasn’t yet been updated with 2008 figures – but of course one would hope that if a firm were doing better than this list states, it would change the rankings itself… I note that A&O, Pinsents, Berwin Leighton Paisner and Dundas & Wilson have.
You can see from looking at the pages of the firms on the list, however, that too many are either desultorily using Wikipedia, with negative brand impact, or even not using it at all. For a top 50 UK law firm, this is surely an own-goal of Premier League proportions – passing up a free, global promotion platform that trainees and young lawyers and clients will, for good or ill, treat as a ‘go-to’ source.
From looking at just the top 50 UK law firms’ Wikipedia entries an obvious divide exists between firms that seem to realise the value of Wikipedia and those that do not. One could further divide these firms into some arbitrary ‘types’, so I shall – let’s call them the Good, the Not Bad and the Ugly.
Firms make it into my Ugly category for some basic reasons: they have made some basic errors in Wikipedia ‘best practice’ and not bothered to put them right, such as failing to put any citations into content, writing about themselves in advertising slogans, or suchlike; making micro-entries that barely describe the firm; or having no entry at all. Not every firm contravening the first ‘Ugly’ criterion deserves to be in that category, though – Clifford Chance has been flagged very recently as being written in marketing-speak, but has hardly had the time to correct the entry.
Unfortunately, the list of the Good is shamefully slim – just seven of the top 50 listed firms had entries that were relatively fulsome and/or detailed and appropriate, not written in marketese, and would give a trainee a good/fair impression of the firm. The list of Not Bads encompasses a broad range of firms and content detail, from the short but sweet to the just about bearable. Just 16 firms make it into this admittedly completely subjective bracket.
Finally, to the Uglies. More than half – 27 – of firms in the top 50 have either entries that make them look bad or lazy or, arguably worse, no entry at all – 13 top-50 law firms do not have a Wikipedia page. I cannot fathom how this has come to pass, especially with firms that traditionally laud their IT savoir-faire, such as Field Fisher Waterhouse, which boasts of being the first UK law firm in the online world of Second Life, and Wragge & Co.
The following firms should spend half a day doing something about their absence from the list: Nabarro; Wragge & Co; Macfarlanes; Shoosmiths; Halliwells; Osbourne Clark; Stephenson Harwood; Hill Dickinson; Field Fisher Waterhouse; Cobbetts; Mills & Reeve; Dickinson Dees; and Maclay Murray & Spens. This is not rocket science.
I say ‘arguably’ above because quite a few firms have entries that might make them look worse than if they hadn’t bothered at all. With further division of Uglies with entries into degrees of seriousness, a few get away with being just half-hearted – Herbert Smith’s entry is miles too short and very salesy, Taylor Wessing calls its lawyers ‘attorneys’ and only wrote five lines; while others are worse – SJ Berwin’s one-line entry, LG’s two-line effort. What firm would want to say so little about itself? But the very worst are those with ancient (in web terms) tickings-off from Wikipedia or just a woeful lack of links and attention to detail, or even entries that are downright sloppy.
So, dear reader, for your delectation, here is the Gazette Wikipedia Top 50 Law Firm Hall of Fame and Shame.
The List: The Good
Clifford Chance: Good, long and seemingly frank in that it mentions CC’s 2002 ‘last’ ranking in an American Lawyer survey. It has a list of cases tried, plus a list of offices, and trails the firm’s ‘assistance to Guantanamo captives’, with a good list of practice areas. Sadly now marked by Wikipedia for reading ‘like a news release… or otherwise written in an overly promotional tone’, in April 2009.
DLA Piper: Not a salesy approach and longer than Clifford Chance’s entry, with a good list of offices. Almost strangely frank about recent redundancies, but a good effort. I gave this a mental ‘tick’ for trainees, though judging by the entry they’d be hard-pressed to gain employ.
Slaughter and May: It’s not that long, it’s not sub-headed and it’s not written in sales-speak, though it is self-important. Aloof, but in a good way, and neatly written as if by an outsider: ‘Slaughter and May is rumoured to be one of the relatively few major law firms left in the world with no written partnership agreement. The firm has always declined to confirm or deny reports.’ If one knows the firm and the legendary brevity of its bills, it’s an apt entry. Trainees and clients alike know what to expect.
Norton Rose: An interesting concentration on the firm’s history, including a description of how its US effort hasn’t really gone that far. Also a good Wikipedia link to history outside the firm through its connection to the Bishopsgate IRA bombing. It’s not an ideal layout, with awards and an offices list towards the end, but it’s good.
Clyde & Co: An entry that starts dry but useful – outline, practice areas, offices list, firm awards, some interesting history – but it’s not short and it’s a good read. Also shows a good use of inline links and links off to other pages within Wikipedia.
Withers: A nice long entry, a bit heavy on the history but includes a list of notable clients and offices, so all the right stuff is there. Only downside is the lack of a ‘databox’ at the top – the only Good firm not have one.
Charles Russell: A good example of how to do it, with a description, a profile of a nice length, offices list, top cases and clients, then a neat subhead on pro bono work and its support of Team GB Paralympian Helena Lucas. Another firm that gets the mental nod for trainees.
The Not Bad
Freshfields: A bit crowing at the top, and quite corporately written, but bearable. A good work areas list, some corporate social responsibility and a slew of citations and references. Freshfields only drops into the Not Bads because of how self-promoting the tone of the entry is.
Allen & Overy: A bit salesy but there’s a good short history, and it’s good to mention the firm’s Guantanamo work. There is also a list of offices, but also a bizarre ‘out of the blue’ news item on advice on an HBOS merger in October 2008, which makes one wonder when last it was updated. Very short for such a big firm.
Lovells: An entry that’s short but sweet – not too salesy, a good history and seems current. No easy-to-read list of offices, though some are buried in the content, and an almost non-existent references list. Could do a lot better.
Eversheds: A small entry for a big firm, with a few dubious ‘salesy’ phrases such as ‘a very impressive backlist of clients’ as well as news that’s out of date.
Simmons & Simmons: Also a bit short, but has a neat list of offices. A who’s who is listed, so we know who the managing partner is, and a (very) potted history and a list of selected clients. Nothing really bad or good here.
Pinsent Masons: Very short, but straight and not salesy. It talks about the brilliant OUT-LAW IP news website, but not very much. An opportunity thoroughly missed.
Addleshaw Goddard: Short but to the point, and it does its bragging behind references to magazines. But it’s a bit too brief, sadly, and references the frankly best forgotten incident involving the firm’s relationship with judge Peter Smith. Not a situation to make hay with.
Hammonds: This firm has not bothered to rectify issues with its entry for over a year, but they are at the very low end of bad practice – the entry simply lacks links and the warning is not a serious one. However, it received its warning in January 2008, and the only reason it is not in the Ugly section is that in every other way it is an acceptable entry.
Irwin Mitchell: A short entry that is at least to the point. However, Irwin Mitchell comes across as a firm with a bizarre fear of numerals – ‘the firm has one hundred and four partners, one thousand two hundred fee-earners and two thousand three hundred staff’, which smacks of padding and pomposity. Clients would fear bills written like this, surely?
Salans: An interesting entry with a very international feel, which doubtless is what was intended. There is a nice brief outline, a fair history and lots of linking. A good offices and affiliates list, neat ‘notable mandates’ list. Only missed the Good section through its brevity.
Travers Smith: A short but three-sectioned entry with profile, history, and practice areas. It’s all basic information, but it’s all there.
Barlow Lyde & Gilbert: A profile, though repeated when tied in with a line or two of history, a list of practice areas, some big clients, some awards. Good linking, well referenced.
Holman Fenwick Willan: An entry that is mighty short, though does point out the firm’s concentration on shipping. Let down by snobby language (though it is hardly alone) – ‘Holman Fenwick Willan is a prestigious law firm’, indeed.
Dundas & Wilson: A long ‘stub’, it does however concisely describe the key practice areas, the firm’s cross-border nature, and some key clients. A tiny flash of up-to-date news about work on the Madoff liquidation can’t save this entry from being at the south end of Not Bad. Could be much better.
McGrigors: Really far too brief, with just four lines saying this is a Scots firm that also works in London. There’s a list of offices, but no practice areas, or in fact anything else. With offices in the Falkland Islands, you’d think a little McGrigors history wouldn’t go amiss.
Ince & Co: This is the last firm entry in the (2007) top 50 and would be by far one of the best, with a profile and then content on each of the firm’s key practice areas, good internal links and a list of offices, if it wasn’t for the chest-puffing that pervades it: ‘Renowned for its acumen on major admiralty matters’; ‘Ince & Co has been involved in countless arbitration and court cases and virtually every major maritime casualty in living memory’, and so on.
Olswang: A one-paragraph stub, which is bizarre as Olswang likes to be seen as an IT-savvy law firm. Just lawyer numbers, offices and a tiny history in one paragraph. Must try (a lot) harder.
Linklaters: A bit salesy in the achievements section, but a long entry with a neat history, a list of areas and sectors – but it’s a short for such a big firm, and it has had a hanging warning from Wikipedia about its lack of citations since August 2007. Tut, tut.
Herbert Smith: This is way too short for such a big firm – just a brief outline of the firm, and from a very corporate perspective. It’s there, but it’s (far too) brief.
Ashurst: This is even shorter than Herbert Smith’s effort, and brimming with braggadocio. A missed opportunity, especially when it comes to selling to trainees.
CMS Cameron McKenna: Ouch – right at top sits a Wikipedia warning saying ‘its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations’ that dates back to February 2008. Not good. This is also short for such a huge organisation, but it does quickly offer the grand tour of the huge number of businesses CMCK includes. It’s not really bad, but it’s way too brief, and no entry should live this long without being fixed.
SJ Berwin: Really quite bad, just a one-liner: ‘SJ Berwin is a European law firm and one of the 100 largest law firms by revenue.’ Dearie me.
Berwin Leighton Paisner: Short and no styling features, no headers, the web link to the firm’s own website isn’t clickable, and no internal linking. A poor effort.
Taylor Wessing: One paragraph, in which the firm’s lawyers are called ‘attorneys’. Trainees, you know what you’re in for.
Denton Wilde Sapte: Short but not too short, but let down by a Wikipedia flag saying ‘its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations’ that was placed on it in February 2008. This really should not happen. But the information is there – lawyers, offices, a bit of history, key practice areas. A black mark so easily avoided.
Bird & Bird: Another entry whose ‘sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations’, since February 2008. Not content with failing to fix this for ages, the firm also has the silliest of web addresses, as it’s unguessable (www.twobirds.com). Unwise.
Beachcroft: Once again, not finished – the entry ‘does not cite any references or sources’, said Wikipedia, back in July 2008. Very short, though there is at least an office list.
Trowers & Hamlins: Extremely brief and sadly has a Wikipedia alert saying the entry ‘needs additional citations for verification’ from September 2007, which is like the web’s 19th century. The entry is also not well written, and has web code showing. A truly desultory effort.
LG: This is one paragraph, two lines long. Really not very good at all.
Burges Salmon: This entry isn’t a bad length, and the profile outlines fee-earners and turnover and contains a list of practice areas, a history, then some location details, including an honest description of why firm hasn’t moved on schedule (not their fault, of course). But the entry is let down by a jolly stern ticking-off from Wikipedia about something that the Gazette does not really understand – but it reflects less than well on the firm, in our view, that it has not reacted one way or the other to the rebuke, since it first appeared as long ago as June 2008.
The list of firms was taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_UK_law_firms, and all information was correct as of the morning of 21 May 2009.