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Law firms, you really need some new buzzwords

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If you want to differentiate yourself don’t use the same, contrived superlatives, one future trainee argues

As Hogan Lovells’ website states: “It can be hard to tell one top law firm from another. All claim to work with prestigious clients on major international deals. All declare that they offer great training, prospects and support.”

This statement accurately summarises a key problem — all the law firms are saying the same thing. Applicants are asked not to repeat website catchphrases and buzzwords on application forms, but why are firms’ graduate recruitment sections on their websites littered with the same, contrived superlatives?

I’ve picked out a few of the main culprits below:

Innovative

Apparently, it’s all about building the ‘law firm of the future’ now. This buzzword is highly overused and I think the plethora of awards available in this category makes it seem like every firm is innovative in some way or other now.

Firms are proud to proclaim their “innovative nature” and tell applicants that they have “innovative work processes”.

The problem is, once something has been done by a few firms, it loses its innovative magic. If a firm is going to use the dreaded innovative buzzword, they should have solid evidence to back that up. Right now, every firm is just banding it about like they’re in Silicon Valley.

Collaborative/collegiate

I guess this comes down to the working environment in the firm’s office and across offices. Is there a competitive, backstabbing Lehman Brothers culture at the firm? Or are everyone best friends and always lend a helping hand? Firms’ websites go to lengths to propagate the latter.

“Collaborative” is littered across multiple firms’ websites (see examples here, here and here). Variations include “collaborative environment” and “collegiate working style”. Some firms are especially keen to point out that they “work collaboratively across all [their] offices”. I’d be surprised if a firm’s German office refused to speak to and hated the firm’s London branch.

If the firm can back this buzzword up with initiatives like mentoring schemes or how their office is structured, then that indicates a lack of hierarchy. But this buzzword mostly just says ‘we’re nice to each other and all get along’ — not particularly helpful.

Global reach

One of my biggest bugbears from law fairs was when I would ask a trainee why they chose to work at their firm specifically and they would say something about the international reach of the firm. That could be said of about 30 other firms. Whilst some firms have more foreign offices or international capability than others in particular jurisdictions, it’s the same phrases that appear again and again: “truly global law firm”; “pre-eminent global law firm”; “leading global firm”.

Firms are very keen to emphasise their “global strength”, their “global view” their “global reach” and their “far-reaching international presence”. International reach is a big selling point for prospective applicants, and firms are right to emphasise it, but a simple map of their offices would be better than using this buzzword and its variations.

Client-focused

Firms that claim that they are “client-focused” (examples here and here) probably think they really are. The problem is, a solicitor’s primary duty is to their client. So, all solicitors and all firms could be described as client-focused.

If a firm is using the client-focused buzzword, it might be trying to imply that there is a culture of client devotion, or something like a sector focus, that makes it stand out. Maybe it relentlessly adds value to every deal it advises on. It may indeed have initiatives that allow it to give a better service to its clients. But it remains a hard fact that all firms exist to serve clients. This buzzword does nothing to help law students distinguish one firm from another.

Fraser Collingham is a University of Nottingham law graduate and future trainee.

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