Legal Giant Dentons Demonstrates Exactly How Not To Respond To Critical Media Coverage

from the throwing-a-temper-tantrum dept

People keep telling me that most lawyers today understand things like the Streisand Effect and how trying to shut people up often draws that much more attention to things. It may not be true for small time lawyers, but the big law firms — I’m told — they all recognize this. Enter Dentons. Dentons is a pretty big law firm. American Lawyer magazine recently noted that, after merging with another firm, it was becoming the world’s largest law firm. So you would think some of the lawyers there would know better than to throw an astoundingly childish temper tantrum over the way that very same American Lawyer magazine covered them. But, you’d be wrong.

As a few different lawyers have kindly sent in to us, Dentons has ramped up its ongoing spat with ALM, which started a year ago when Dentons stopped disclosing its “global profit per equity partner.” Apparently most global law firms are willing to disclose this and ALM uses that data to discuss the state of various law firms. When Dentons stopped doing that, ALM (quite reasonably) argued that perhaps this was because the numbers didn’t look that good and perhaps had been dropping:

I?m going to suspend any question of an ulterior motive here?that Dentons didn?t report its latest global PPP figure because, by our estimates, that number would have shown an overall PPP decline year over year of 20 percent, the worst showing in the Am Law 100.

Guess who didn’t like that? Dentons! The law firm sent out a surprisingly petulant statement at the time, that included the following:

This lack of understanding of basic math, let alone simple logic, is not only stunning, but proves our point: contemporary law firms that operate in many different places and in many different business cultures can not be compared with those that don?t. It is an apples to oranges comparison.


Let?s hope that the American Lawyer?s researchers understand math and logic better than their editors, and are willing to engage in meaningful and serious conversations about the changes in our profession and in our business.”

This year… same basic thing. Dentons won’t publish the info, and ALM takes some guestimates — suggesting Dentons’ profits per equity partner are down again. Because that’s a reasonable assumption. In response, Dentons threw another shitfit:

Again, the firm went ballistic. Mike McNamara, US Managing Partner, sent out a “correction demand” on Tuesday saying that AM Lawyer’s methodology was “mystefying” and that it had “created” numbers that were “clearly false”. Although he refused to provide the correct ones. AM Lawyer said it stood by its figures. The rest of the market is cracking out the popcorn and waiting for another ill-tempered open letter to be sent out. Watch this space.

No need to wait long. That was a month ago. Soon after, Dentons went out and set up an entire website calling attention to the fact that it won’t publish its profits per equity partner like so many other firms and is just picking a fight with the largest trade magazine covering the legal fight.

And… that’s not all!

Dentons has started taking out advertisements about this spat — which have only served to draw more attention to Dentons’ unwillingness to disclose its numbers. And then, on top of all that, it complains that ALM won’t run the ad itself.

Hey, Dentons, if you want to pay some media property to run your silly ads calling more attention to the fact that, even as the largest law firm in the world, you can’t resist acting like a child who’s told that he can’t have another piece of candy, feel free to throw that money our way. We have no problem running your ad.

Even more ridiculous, Dentons (again, the world’s largest law firm) is going around claiming that it’s being bullied by ALM. As RollOnFriday notes in the link above:

It’s hard to see the enterprise as anything other than an expensive and very public embarrassment which has given the matter an unnecessary amount of airtime. Dentons might have, more sensibly, just ignored it. Or published its figures like absolutely everyone else.

But, in the meantime, the world is learning (1) that unlike other firms, Dentons won’t publish its numbers and (2) despite being the world’s largest law firm, it appears to act like the world’s most insecure.

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Companies: dentons

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Comments on “Legal Giant Dentons Demonstrates Exactly How Not To Respond To Critical Media Coverage”

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Anonymous Coward says:

You seem to assume that Denton’s doesn’t want people to know that it won’t publish its financial numbers, but why should they care? They just don’t want people think it’s because the numbers are bad. This is not a Streisand Effect where they are calling attention to a fact they don’t want people to talk about; this is a situation where they can call attention to their explanation for why they are doing things a certain way, and criticize the assumptions that they don’t like.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If there was nothing to it, they’d have simply said the FIRST time that such info was now proprietary and not to be distributed outside the company, end of story. That they whine and cry and tap dance around the issue tells everybody that there’s something fishy going on. Perhaps it’s not true, but the usual addage in this case is “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire!”

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

sure, and if you have nothing to hide, you won’t mind the cops snooping through your stuff, amirite?

Cops searching your stuff is not at all like a magazine publishing some conclusions they’ve come up with. It’s also not like speculating on the reasons why a law firm is keeping some information to itself.

MrTroy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The whining isn’t about their info, the whining is about ALM publishing stories that suggest that Denton is hurting, which has a very real chance of impacting Denton’s revenue.

The tapdancing… I don’t know. “Your figures are laughable and your methodology smells like your momma’s moustache! But we’re still not sharing our figures.” They may well be right, but from the outside it’s hard to know. It’s hard to fight FUD without data, but if the FUD is being thrown around in an attempt to get at data that you don’t want to share… is it better to confront it imprecisely and be called out like this, or ignore it and hope that isn’t seen as tacit agreement?

Hyth (profile) says:

Missing the Point

PPP as a measure of financial health provides a disincentive for law firms to create new partners and generally prevents the leadership ranks of big firms from being refreshed. All else being equal, more partners means lower PPP.

Firms simply game PPP by restructuring the payment of top individuals. Other financial metrics are available that don’t hurt the ability to advance within the profession. There is no reason why AM Law’s definition of PPP should determine the structure of law firm compensation or career path.

The above isn’t to say Dentons has pure hands in refusing to provide PPP numbers, but there are benefits to using a different number to evaluate law firm health.

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