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The making of the law: why public affairs can help law firms and their clients

8 September 2016
Dr Carolina Gasparoli

The idea that PR could play a key role in showcasing legal firms' expertise, becoming a powerful business development tool, is now widely recognised by practitioners. This is less the case for public affairs, which seems to struggle to establish itself as a distinctive contributor within the legal sector.

Just a handful of firms have a public affairs or government affairs department in the UK, due perhaps to some degree of scepticism towards lobbying as a legitimate part of the political process. In addition to this, the advocacy element, that both practicing the law and influencing political law making have in common, may sometimes blur the distinction. However, it is crucial to recognise that there is a genuine difference between these two activities.

The business case for public affairs needs to be seen in the context of a profound transformation in the way the law is made. In the last fifty years, there has been a decline in voters’ loyalty to political parties and a rise in single issue voters. In addition to this, politicians have become increasingly reliant on an agenda dictated by a variety of stakeholders including pressure groups, think tanks, business organisations, and traditional and social media.

Political decisions are influenced by a myriad of factors among which the lawyers' view is often only one element. This means that those who put forward the most reasonable argument do not have any natural advantage over those who are capable of providing the most compelling one.

If the law is increasingly the result of often complex interactions, the expert’s knowledge is best used when is combined with an in-depth analysis of the societal and politically crucial issues that are likely to affect the decision making process.

This is why it is imperative not only to understand where and how the decisions are made, but also who influences the decisions makers, and what your business or organisation can do to influence them. Public affairs helps identify these disparate factors and navigate a fast-changing political and policy environment, making sure that your client's voice cuts through the noise.