Law firms are increasingly opting to appoint non-executive directors to boards as part of a drive to bring in outside expertise, according to research.

Some 24% of the top-100 firms now have one or more non-executive directors (NEDs) on their boards, according to executive recruitment firm Edward Drummond. 

The research found that 32% of firms in the top 50 now have a non-executive director on their boards, as do 16% of firms in the top 50-100. 

Tony Williams, analyst at consultancy firm Jomati, said the trend for NEDs is gaining momentum. Such appointments give different perspectives and help firms avoid 'group think', he said. 'But the way it works is if firms engage non-executive directors outside board meetings as well.' 

The research reflects a broader trend across FTSE 100 companies to appoint more non-executive directors to boards, according to the Cranfield School of Management.

The proportion of FTSE 100 companies with non-executive directors has now reached 70%, up from 49% in 1999. 

Williams said the appointment of NEDs to firms reflects an awareness that 'what is good for their corporate clients is also good for them'.

Neill Fry, director at Edward Drummond, said: ‘Law firms have grown so rapidly over the last two decades that only now are the management structures beginning to catch up.’ He expects to see 'more active recruitment' of non-executive directors at law firms over the next few years.