Flacks do it. Ad agencies, too. Bean counters have been doing it for years. Now, finally, lawyers are catching on as competition in the legal business gets keener.

Small and midsize firms in most professions long ago learned that they could expand their market areas and their range of services by forming networks. CPA Associates, for instance, just one of about a dozen networks linking smaller public accounting firms, goes back to 1957.

Some networks are informal arrangements -- based on no more than a handshake -- in which members agree to make referrals to one another. Others, more structured, may include peer-review requirements and support services that members may purchase on a fee basis.

What's driven law firm to seek out law firm recently is the growth of a few mega-firms that promise full service to national clients. Other law firms fear that to compete they'll have to make the same promise. But they don't want the problems that mega size brings. Unilaw, a year-old network of more than a half-dozen legal firms looking for a new more to join them, is the first attempt to link full-service practices into a national affiliation.

"Lawyers have just not been as management- or marketing-sensitive as accountants," says Wayne, Pa., marketing consultant Robert Denney. "Lawyers," he adds, "are just slower to catch on."

He said it; we didn't.