Canadian Firms Begin Accessing Association Of Corporate Counsel Rating System

Monday, October 4, 2010 - 01:00

The much-talked-about Association of Corporate Counsel Value Index was always intended to be open to law firms. It wasn't pressure from those firms that prompted the association to allow it to be viewed, says ACC president Fred Krebs.

The AVI was introduced at the ACC's annual meeting last October in Boston. While the rating system has garnered a great deal of interest from in-house counsel, with already more than 1,500 individual reviews on the site, law firms have questioned why they could not view responses.

"It was anticipated," says Mr. Krebs about the ACC's intent to let law firms access their ratings. "We were surprised by the reaction when we launched this and how it was going on, but it was intended that we would be releasing the informationwe weren't talking about it because we were focused on, and still are really, trying to get the evaluations in so it would be a robust tool."

Mr. Krebs says he believes much of the controversy has been from U.S. legal media and blogs, stemming from the idea that the index is a ranking system, something the ACC says it is not.

"It's not a ranking system," says Mr. Krebs. "We are gathering our members' feedback on the value of the services they receive."

Mr. Krebs says the value for law firms accessing the rating system is twofold. On the one hand, reviews will encourage follow up. On the other hand, firms will gain insight into what clients are thinking.

The main criticism is that law firms had no access to what was being said about them, according to the ACC's former national chairman in the U.S., Peter Zeughauser. In an article in Corporate Counsel magazine, Zeughauser said the main criticisms are the evaluators are anonymous and the outside law firms being critiqued couldn't see what was said.

He also questioned the ambiguous nature of the questions being asked.

However, Andrew Fleming, a Toronto partner at Ogilvy Renault LLP, says the anonymity is good for the system. While he welcomes the opportunity to see rankings of his firm - there have been two already - he says the value of the system is increased if in-house can comment freely, without the outside law firms knowing who made the comment.

"It is my understanding there is no attribution so you don't know who said it," he says. "So if I'm in-house counsel and I feel particularly strongly one way or the other, happy or sad, I'll be able to do something for the benefit of my fellow members and also for the benefit of the firm. I think it's great."

Mr. Fleming also spoke of the follow up system Ogilvy Renault employs through the firm's client satisfaction system. For the last two years, Canadian Lawyer's corporate counsel survey showed less than 30 per cent of respondents had been asked to take part in a client satisfaction survey.

Mr. Fleming says he had his own trepidations about conducting client satisfaction surveys because he felt he'd be pestering an already busy client.

"I always thought if I was general counsel in a major organization and I had 50 law firms and they all wanted an hour of my time, I'd be sort of, put out. But that is exactly the wrong impression from what I am getting from our efforts," he says."In-house counsel welcome the opportunity to increase the dialogue, and increase efficiencies and increase the transparency and get things fixed, if things are wrong."

Going forward, law firms will be able to access AVI ratings given to them from clients and the average ranking in each category for all firms. However, they will not be able to view other firms' ratings or the names of the clients that completed the survey.