City & Corporate: Macfarlanes in trawl for support

Law City firm searches for retained agency for first time in bid to raise profile of all its areas of practice.

Leading City law firm Macfarlanes is looking to employ its first retained comms agency as it seeks to raise the profile of its practices in the UK and internationally.

The firm is understood to have held discussions with a number of agencies in relation to the account, thought to be worth a six-figure sum annually.

There are a number of specialist legal PR agencies in the market, but it is thought Macfarlanes is primarily looking for a consultancy with a wider skills-set.

One agency source noted: 'Not only is it looking for professional services and legal PR, but it wants agencies with experience in capital markets, investor relations and financial services.'

The law firm's shortlist is thought to include some of the bigger London-based financial agencies with professional services capabilities and an international network.

Macfarlanes has used agency support on occasion in the past, but this is the first time the firm has looked to formalise an agency relationship. Its former agency use has been typical of the approach in the sector, with the big five 'magic circle' firms - of which independent Macfarlanes is not a member - primarily co-ordinating PR from within large in-house teams.

Ian Martin, a partner at Macfarlanes, confirmed an agency procurement procedure was under way and said it was looking for agency help to raise its profile in two key areas.

He said: 'Our private equity and private client work is very high profile, but we are now looking at how we raise the profile of those other practice areas to the level they deserve.'

The firm is looking to boost awareness of its restructuring and litigation practices in particular. It has made significant hires in those areas this year, and identified them as growth areas post-credit crunch and sectors in which mid-sized operations can win business that would traditionally go to the magic circle firms.

The other area Macfarlanes will continue to promote is its international strength. Martin said that, as an independent, the firm had a powerful message to get across to international clients: 'Clients may not always get the best quality and service by using the local offices of an international law firm.'

The firm recently represented oil trading firm Trafigura on the case that last week saw it agree an out-of-court settlement to pay EUR33m to claimants over the alleged dumping of toxic waste in Somalia.

HOW I SEE IT - GUS SELLITTO, JOINT MD, THE BYFIELD CONSULTANCY

City law firms are increasingly realising the value of good strategic PR and, although a number of them do have very strong in-house PR teams, looking for external support.

Macfarlanes has an impressive client list that it has managed to build off the back of its own internal reputation. It is looking to capitalise on that reputation and perhaps take advantage of some of the problems the larger firms, including the magic circle, have experienced during the downturn.

I think we will start to see City law firms selectively outsourcing specific areas of comms work.

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