Law firms may want to invest more in marketing individual lawyers, versus practice groups and the law firm as whole.

Pursuant to the latest GC Excellence Report, an individual lawyer’s reputation ranks first by general counsel in selecting a law firm. And it’s by an almost ten to one margin over the importance of a law firm’s brand.

From the Global Legal Post reporting on the study:

The reputation of the individual is the single most important factor when deciding which law firm to use, according to the latest benchmarking research. Three in four general counsel (74 per cent) say this was the top factor when selecting a law firm compared to 39 per cent who opted for price. It is the first time in the GC Excellence Benchmark report research, which has been conducted over five years, that reputation has topped the bill.

Personal relationships and reputation eclipsed law firm brands and global presence, items firms appear to be emphasize in their marketing and business development efforts.

The research, conducted in association with TerraLex, revealed that both the individual and team reputation scored high above that of the firm’s brand as the most important factor – only seven per cent chose the law firm brand as important whilst 61 per cent valued the reputation of the law firm. Clients were less impressed with a global presence with only 18 per cent valuing this, down from 22 per cent two years ago whilst personal relationships with the external team was valued by 40 per cent.

It may be a challenge for firms to set individual lawyers apart, but it’s becoming increasingly important.

The cult of the individual has been growing in recent years, according to PR strategist Geraldine McGrory of McGrory Communications. She pointed out that personal profile was now a key differentiator for private practice lawyers and taking steps to ensure they were seen to be top of their league was key. It presented a challenge for law firms, however, as developing a firmwide brand and managing individual profiles had to be carefully handled. She said this meant law firms had to reassess how they dealt with both to maximise the R-Factor.

It’s long been said that people pick lawyers, not law firms. This study seems to confirm that in the case of general counsel.

Also important to note is that a lawyer with a strong reputation may not be as suspecptible to pressure on price. The study found reputaton being more important than price for general counsel – by about a two to one margin.

With the Internet — blogging and social media — acting as accelerators of reputation and relationship growth, an investment in marketing/business development here could be a wise move for individual lawyers and their law firms, on behalf of individual lawyers.