The Times law pages are changing. No longer are they interested in the law, but more so in the business of law. And in doing so, they are increasingly making themselves look foolish.
First, was its flawed Best Law Firms 2019 directory. Today, it picks a fight with the legal PR and communications teams that feed its pages.
It accuses legal PRs - and wider business development teams - of effectively being a waste of money. It then suggests that these teams are a weak link in the way law firms manage client relationships.
Why? Because when its researchers attempted a half-baked version of The Legal 500 and Chambers directories, six law firm PRs shared confidential information.
Putting aside the directory research process (built over many years and based on trust) - and reading between the lines - one might be forgiven for thinking that The Times law pages do not approve of the increased commercialisation of the law.
Law is big businesses. Our law firms are some of the most innovative, successful businesses that UK has ever seen. That has not happen by happy accident.
Lawyers and the professional management functions they employ work hand in glove to deliver outstanding client service.
PRs, marketing and business development teams shape the way firms communicate with clients (who remembers the turgid junk most law firms produced 20 or so years ago), the way legal advice is delivered, and in the winning of new work.
Yes of course there is still an element of 'thus and them', but largely limited to older fee-earners rapidly approaching retirement.
Today's younger lawyers do not make that distinction. They see the value management functions deliver - even if The Times doesn't.
Communications staff at six prominent English law firms mistakenly divulged confidential client information to The Times as part of the newspaper’s recent best law firms survey. Five of the practices are large, well-known City of London outfits, and the sixth is a respected smaller specialist firm. The staff members involved were not being malicious and were not whistleblowers, because the information did not concern any alleged wrong-doing. They were simply negligent. Such an egregious breach of arguably the most core function of a law firm raises an issue that has been bubbling for some time: are partners getting value for money from the hordes of public relations, marketing and “business development” teams that they pay for?