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Gongs, dinners and just deserts

17 March 14

The Word of Gold: contrary to last month's Opinion article, legal awards have value, and winning one can bring real benefits to a firm

by Stephen Gold

As both my readers know, over the last 13 months I have been writing about the different ways in which professionals conspire not to win business, and how they can avoid the traps. I thought I had covered most of the main issues. But in his Opinion piece for the February Journal, Campbell Read opened a new front.

Sniffing from an Olympian height at the vulgarity, as he sees it, of legal awards, he questions the achievements of those who win them, accuses them of “prostrating themselves” for “baubles” and generally laments their descent from the Corinthian values he ascribes to himself. In his Utopia, all shall shun prizes.

I do not doubt that Campbell is a fine and principled solicitor. If he feels competing for awards is not for him, so be it. But his opposition to them in principle, and his equation of promoting one’s firm with shamelessness, are wrong on so many levels it is difficult to know where to start.

Running a law firm is about service, skill and ethics, but it is also about winning – convincing clients to instruct you, not your competitors, because your proposition is the best for their needs. Campbell speaks of unsolicited gestures of appreciation by clients as the awards that really matter. He must know, therefore, that independent endorsement of a firm’s quality is one of the most influential drivers of buyer behaviour. Why else do so many of us seek accreditation as experts? No one accuses accredited specialists of “prostrating” themselves before the panel, nor should they. I have seen many times the link between winning awards, winning work and being able to charge a premium for it, both during my time in practice and since then working with award-winning firms. “Baubles” rarely win clients on their own, but there is no doubting how effectively they boost market credibility and staff morale.

“I am simply not convinced,” Campbell tells us, “that there is any inherent merit in receiving an award that you have to ask for.” This is especially so if one has entered a competition for “pecuniary” motives (“earning a living”, it’s sometimes called). Campbell seems to be suggesting that the act of competing for a prize diminishes the achievement of winning it. Only an unsolicited prize, apparently, is worth having. Imagine suggesting to another Olympian, Mo Farah for example, that his achievements lack “inherent merit” because he had the temerity to thrust himself forward as a competitor; or criticising him because, while he was training, he kept in mind the pecuniary advantages victory would bring. Before putting these points to him, it would be prudent to develop a similar turn of foot.

Do awards ceremonies succumb sometimes to hype and incongruity? Of course they do. My favourite is the bronze award given to a firm in a category where there were only two contenders. But it is remarkable how consistently the cream comes to the top. Despite Campbell’s complaint that the field self-selects, the major prizes are usually won by firms who would be regarded as outstanding in any circumstances.

The novelist Fawn Weaver once wrote: “You can either feed negative thoughts, or you can starve the suckers.” Perhaps the next awards dinner would be a good place for Campbell to start that starving, give rein to his competitive side, and give a long-overdue airing to that tuxedo.

Stephen Gold was founder and senior partner of Golds Solicitors, which grew from a sole practice to UK leader in its sectors. He is now a consultant, non-exec and adviser to firms nationwide. Stephen can be contacted on 07968 484232, at stephen@stephengold.co.uk, or on twitter:@thewordofgold

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Campbell Read

Monday March 17, 2014, 12:19

Did you actually read my Opinion piece?