Dentons to start ‘Uber of global referrals network industry’

A new global referral network that Dentons LLP is launching this summer differs from existing services of its kind in one important way: It’s free.

The global law firm has announced the creation of its Nextlaw Global Referral Network, touting it as a disruptive force in the global referrals network industry.

Dentons has appealed to hundreds of firms to join the network, which it hopes will connect clients to firms that not only suit their location but also their needs.

“Not only do we have 902 professionals around the globe who can help you, but we also have a global referral network, where we can instantly find you lawyers who have true experience, understand your business, and are in the place where you’re trying to do a deal or solve a dispute,” says Joseph Andrew, the global chairman of Dentons.

“That ability, we believe, is a game changer.”

Dentons expects the new network’s lack of fees will give it a competitive advantage over its competition and will disturb the referrals industry akin to the way Uber and other ride-booking services have led to upheaval in the taxi industry.

Existing legal referral networks charge fees to their members, which Andrew says limits a network’s ability to link clients to the lawyers they need.

“You don’t get the best law firm in a given location,” he says. “You just get the law firm that is willing to write a cheque to belong to it.”

Jeff Modisett, a lawyer and technology entrepreneur who will serve as the network’s CEO, says this problem can worsen when member firms demand to have territorial exclusivity in their network. Firms will automatically get referrals because they are in a given location, but they might not necessarily have the capability to deal with a specific need, Modisett says.

“If it was exclusive, you would refer your client to the one law firm that covers that territory,” Modisett says.

“They may be the best M&A corporate securities law firm in the whole area, but what if your need is IT or litigation or maritime law? You still would have to go through that particular firm, and if they couldn’t do it, then you’re back where you are without a network.”

Dentons claims this will not be the case with the Nextlaw Global Referral Network, as it will not grant territorial exclusivity to members.

Any firm in the world will be able to apply to join the network online, regardless of location.

The new network ties into a trend of work being easily outsourced to freelance lawyers and small firms who advertise online, says Colin Cameron, a management consultant based in Vancouver.

“You have freelancers on the net and now you have law firms available very quickly on the net through this type of network,” Cameron says. “It could speed up and make more available choices for clients. It could certainly disrupt the industry, giving access to more firms.”

Cameron says the new network could be particularly beneficial for smaller mid-level firms that could not afford to pay membership fees for a similar network. These smaller firms could potentially have access to a large global network, which will give them work they were not able to obtain before, Cameron says. It may also give the smaller firms a better chance to retain their own clients, as they would be able to refer them to a firm with higher levels of expertise in another country or specialty, he says.

“There are certainly more potential benefits for small mid-sized firms that may not have been involved in a network before because of the cost,” Cameron says.

While Cameron says the network has the potential to be a “game changer,” he has concerns about how Dentons will be able to vet what is expected to be a vast network of members for quality.

 “You start to wonder how they can enforce the standards,” Cameron says. “Do you really know who you’re dealing with and how are they going to control that?”

Cameron also questions where the bar will be set to vet quality standards for such an extensive and vast network.

Elliott Portnoy, the global Dentons CEO, says the firms that have been originally invited to join the network have worked with Dentons in the past. He added Dentons lawyers will vet all firms after they apply to join the network online.

As the network grows, Dentons expects to create a vetting committee that would include representatives of some of the service’s member firms.

Once vetted, firms will be able to search and browse for lawyers in specific locations that may best meet their client’s needs. After a referral is accepted, the firm does the work and keeps in touch with the referring firm.

Once the work is complete, the referring firm will have the opportunity to leave a comment that can be seen by the entire network, or just by the other firm, depending on whether they choose to make the comment public or private.

“We’ll have broader input from other firms about each other in addition to the quality appraisals about Dentons lawyers and others,” Portnoy says.

“In time, we hope to be able to build in the functionality of client appraisals directly.”

Andrew added that the collaborative nature of the network would help to make sure quality standards are sustained.

“We’re big believers that the smartest person in the room is the room as a whole,” Andrew says.

Dentons is eyeing to launch the network in early July.

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