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Another first for global law’s self-styled mavericks as Dentons’ mega-referral network expands into lobbying

It has already made a much-hyped move into the referral network game, now the headline-grabbing Dentons is plotting another iconoclastic move by extending its Nextlaw group to cover public affairs advisers across the world.

The 8,000-lawyer giant today (12 September) unveiled the launch of what it calls the Nextlaw Global Public Affairs Network, having signed up 60 organisations spanning 100 countries.

The move is touted as the next stage in the development of the Nextlaw legal referral network that officially launched last year. The parent network now boasts 475 law firm members, according to Dentons making it the largest such club in the world.

As with the original network, the public affairs spin-off will charge no fees to members and will help law firms work with organisations on matters including lobbying, government and media relations, in what Dentons global chairman Joe Andrew described as a ‘natural synergy between the legal and public affairs professions’.

Open to any public affairs business in any part of the world, it will use the same technology and platform as the legal referral network and provide members of the latter with a database to refer clients to. It will also offer the possibility to join forces for integrated service.

Paul Hatch, chief executive of Nextlaw Global Public Affairs Network, told Legal Business that the launch followed the ‘realisation that a lot of legal problems are susceptible to solutions out of the courts and this often involves public affairs’.

He said Dentons was not looking to directly monetise the network but hoped to improve its service to clients, as well as deepening relationships with organisations and law firms across the world.

Member organisations so far include Portland Communications, Hill + Knowlton Strategies and FTI Consulting, along with a number of medium and small public affairs shops.

‘The public affairs industry is highly fragmented, and in the current environment it’s a challenge for many clients to easily and efficiently manage complex projects on a global scale,’ added Dentons chief executive Elliott Portnoy (pictured). ‘It’s an industry dominated by a few huge firms, with many smaller firms filling niches. We’re changing all that.’

The launch of the lobbying network is the latest chapter in Dentons’ efforts to juice up its brand by two core tactics: pursuing unprecedented scale on the back of aggressive consolidation and fostering a reputation for experimenting with the legal business model.

The firm introduced Nextlaw Labs in 2015 to develop, deploy and invest in new technologies and processes for the legal profession. The global referral network was launched the following year, along with a verbal broadside directed at traditional ‘pay-to-play’ referral groupings.

Dentons has once again been expanding globally during 2017 after a relatively quiet 2016. In July, the firm’s UKMEA branch merged with Glasgow-bred Maclay Murray & Spens, bringing its total UK lawyer count to over 800 and ushering what was historically one of Scotland’s largest law firms into the Dentons fold.

Also this year, Dentons combined with Dutch practice Boekel and Monterrey-based Canales Zambrano y Asociados. Other ventures this year have included expansion in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.

The largest firm in the world by fee earners, with around 8,000 lawyers, it is the sixth firm in the Legal Business Global 100 table based on revenues.

Opinion in the profession remains sharply-divided on Dentons with some peers admiring its strategic daring, while a larger group argues that its hastily-assembled empire is built on sand. Either way, the empire keeps on expanding.