New Practice Area – Foggy Thinking?

Alternative title: “It’s New! Should I Be Excited?!”

Look carefully through new directory guidelines and you will often see that there’s been a change to the coverage – something changed in some way or something is being looked at for the first time, whether that’s a new jurisdiction or a new practice area.

What do you do when you see one (and after you’ve checked if your firm has such a practice)? Here’s some brief advice:
1) Ask the directory in question for a practice area definition (if none has been provided)
2) Correlate your firm’s own practice area definition to the directory’s description
3) Don’t be constrained – assume that a new practice area will be open to some modification, dependent on the research information accrued. That means you have a chance to shape the new practice area coverage – maybe there is something your firm does that is clearly relevant to the area but which is not covered by the directory’s definition
4) Check with the lawyers – ask them for an honest view of whether the practice is deep or expansive enough to compete with leading practices in the area
5) Check the other directory – if one major directory launches a new practice area, check if the other major directory already covers it, or vice versa. The directories tend to obtain similar information and while the minutiae of results may vary, typically the nature of the practices and the bulk of contenders will be similar. If there is existing coverage by one directory, it will give you a sense of the level of opposition
6) If it’s entirely new – if the practice area has not been previously covered by either major directory, it is worth making a submission in the first year because nobody knows the level of the opposition. If you can substantiate your arguments, you have a fair to good chance of a ranking and the chance to establish your track record from the very beginning of the coverage
7) Outline prior track record – consistency of practice is a key judgement, so outline your firm’s prior track record in the area, whether that’s from decades back or examples of work from the year prior to the main time period under review
8) Get an interview early – in a new practice area, the researcher will be feeling their way through the subject. Obtain an interview and get in early, so that your lawyers can help the researcher to understand the subject and to help shape their view. That allows you to help them and, in doing so, to help them see what’s good about your firm’s proposition.

Premonition: A Statistical Take On Law Firm Rankings

US-based legal analytics company, Premonition, has updated its 2017 UK High Courts Report to include the top ten law firms and barristers by case win rate.

As noted in its accompanying report, Premonition observes:

While the top 10 includes some big names in commercial litigation that one would expect to see in the UK, such as Herbert Smith Freehills and Allen & Overy, it does not include several other firms that are usually well-regarded in legal directory sections for commercial litigation, such as that of the well-known directory, Chambers. For example, global law firm Clifford Chance, which Chambers ranks as an ‘elite’ firm in the UK for commercial disputes, does not make it into the Premonition top 10 based on public win rate data for the Commercial Court.”

Here at SavageNash HQ, we can (and do) argue all day long about the varying accuracy and usefulness of the myriad law firm rankings out there in the market. Our conclusion is that whilst there are some really great ones, there’s an awful lot of utter rubbish.

Premonition’s take on the area certainly does away with the criticisms often levelled at traditional directories that they rely too much on anecdotal evidence rather than substantive results. This is to be applauded – in my view, placing too much weight on ‘market commentary’, at the expense of taking the time and effort to properly assess the work firms are actually doing, can seriously skew rankings.

But, I wonder whether Premonition’s approach misses a whole load of really important unquantifiable criteria (quality of client service, loyalty, depth of bench, complexity of work rather than simply counting the number of victories) that Chambers, Legal 500 and others successfully capture through actually speaking to clients?

For full information, here’s the link:

Is Your Firm Sailing To New Horizons?

Back in 2012, Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP was going bust, just as The Legal 500 EMEA was being dragged over the finishing line by an exhausted editor. In 2017, Dewey is no more but the directories cycle rumbles on. What has this got to do with mergers or new horizons, you ask? Well, more of that later.

Mergers can create an information overload for law firm communication departments and an information black hole for legal directories.

As the partners pick through potential conflicts and move on to exciting new horizons and enhanced prospects, the comms team works away to make sure clients and the wider world know about the synergies, all the while wondering whether they still have a job and who reports to whom now, anyway?

Though it’s a way down the to-do list, someone usually tells the legal directories. (But not always.) Directories might research a topic once a year, but it’s a year-round tool for the millions of readers who use them. And if you tell the directories the details, they will update the online versions – your insights make those updates more accurate.

With 2017 already having seen its share of sizeable mergers and with more combinations in the offing, it’s pertinent to look at the subject again and see what advice might be given. Which brings us back round to Dewey.

For the directory editor (me), the Dewey situation meant marshalling of researchers (what’s happened to Dewey in your practice area and where have the lawyers gone?) and copious scanning of scant newsbites and cross-referencing of available information. Most of the Dewey BD and comms people hadn’t been told much and many already didn’t have their jobs any more.

One international law firm picked up a large number of Dewey’s lawyers internationally (notably in central and eastern Europe) and did a sterling job of keeping us in the loop. It made the information black hole navigable, the time management possible (we know this is happening, we know when, we can’t say it yet but at least we know when we will be able to do so and thus whether we can process a change prior to publication or not) and it allowed us to communicate to the world accurate and up-to-date data on what the post-Dewey world looked like in numerous markets and practice areas.

Law firm mergers are similarly complicated things and there are many learnings to be had from the ongoing communications throughout the Dewey debacle. So, if you are in law firm BD or comms and have a merger – or team move – upcoming, here are some points which may be worth bearing in mind:

  • The directories are happy to provide factual updates when old information becomes out of date, so take advantage and get the merger reflected at the earliest opportunity.
  • Don’t leave the directories to find it out for themselves as it happens or, worse, 3 months later. A big international merger may come to their attention, but a smaller local combination (or a team move) might not.
  • Tell them ahead of time. Unless you’re lucky enough to time your merger to occur during a directory research process (in which case you can fully brief the researcher as it happens), the researcher will have moved on to other subject matter and might not be looking out for the merger that is underway. Communicate to them what is going to happen at what stage, so that the directory can reflect as accurately as possible the nature of the newly merged entity when the guide publishes and then make pertinent updates post-publication, as necessary.
  • The devil is in the detail – you need not do much, but what you do and how you do it can be immensely helpful to the directories and allow updates to be processed more efficiently and quickly. So, don’t tell them “we’re law firm A merging with law firm B” or just forward a press release in the hope that the researcher looks at it. Instead, give them details: when does the merger become effective? What is the formal new name of the firm? Which practice areas are being significantly augmented with additions? Where does the merger give you real strength in an area in which, before, you didn’t really have a team?
  • Lay the ground work with the editor for a full, close review of the case next time around. What does the merger do in each practice area? Which partners are coming in? Can you confirm if any of the clients have already confirmed they are coming over with the move? How many lawyers does this really give you in each practice area and how does this compare to the firms ranked higher than you? This allows the editor to brief the researcher to make a specific point of looking closely at this merger and what it means, even before the next research gets underway.
  • A merger might not directly impact a practice area, so the researchers will be looking to find out what difference has been made. In the event that the merger has made a difference to the dynamic of the practice, substantiate the point with evidence (e.g. new office in certain jurisdiction, two new clients from said jurisdiction as a result).

When communicated effectively, all of these relatively simple points can make a real difference in helping to persuade the directory of a need for a real re-evaluation of the merged firms rankings, rather than a broad-based assumption that might not fully do justice to the merged entity.

What’s New for The Legal 500 US 2018 Research

With The Legal 500 having just announced its new guidelines and deadlines for the next round of US research, I reached out to US editor Seth Singh Jennings for a rundown and explanation of what is new for the upcoming guide. Before we get to that, here are the basics of the research period:

  • Referee spreadsheet deadlines: November 8 or 15, 2017, depending on the practice area
  • Editorial submission deadline: November 8 or 15, 2017, again depending on the practice area
  • Law firm interview period begins: December 4, 2017
  • Contacting of referees: during January 2018 (precise date to be determined by number of referees received to contact); law firms will be informed one week before referees are contacted
  • November 8 deadlines: sections within the following chapters: Dispute Resolution; Government; Intellectual property; Labor and employment; M&A/corporate and commercial; and Real estate
  • November 15 deadlines: sections within the following chapters: Antitrust; Finance; Industry focus; Investment fund formation and management; Media, technology and telecoms; and Tax
  • Publication of The Legal 500 US 2018 edition: May/June 2018 (precise date not yet specified)

When looking through directory guidelines, it’s always important to look for what’s new – not just assume what you can expect to find. Miss something new and you might be off-target with some of your information or, worse, fail to submit for a newly covered practice area in which you are hands down the best. As indicated by the guidelines, you will find there are a number of new practice areas, or at least amendments to the ways in which existing ones are being covered.

The changes make good sense and here’s the reasoning from the editor (Seth):

The explanation for the changes is fairly simple in each case. For Antitrust: Civil litigation/class actions, we found that we were trying to compare firms doing quite different things, so we’ve separated it out. Of note, we expect it will give greater prominence to the plaintiff firms in particular.

For Corporate investigations, it was a similar thing – we were comparing firms that represent individuals (in cases which often go to trial) with firms representing corporate clients in investigations (much of which is confidential). We thought it made sense to separate this out, given that we have resources to do so.

With Structured finance, it’s always been the case that the field of derivatives and structured products is quite different to securitization, with firms typically having distinct practices. Individuals rarely do both aspects.

With Transport, the issue we faced last year was how to compare firms with submissions weighted heavily towards aviation litigation against firms doing strictly aircraft asset finance. Again, it felt like comparing apples and oranges to some extent. Since the Asset finance category was largely composed of transport finance anyway, we decided to make Transport finance a distinct section and then spin out the litigation and regulation pieces too. When it all comes back, we’ll see what we have. I certainly expect the finance sections to stay separate, but we might amalgamate the regulation and litigation if those seem to overlap quite heavily.

So, there you have the reasoning. Now, as a person handling submissions for your law firm, what can you actively do with that and what does it mean for you? Well, these changes should be welcomed. They mean more practice areas, but they don’t really mean more work for you at the marketing end – it means you and the directory using the same information in a different way. With practice areas being subdivided like this, it really benefits specialized teams that hitherto were competing with moderate success against full-service practices by making it easier for the researcher to give full credit for niche expertise when balanced against broader-based practices. For truly comprehensive practices, it means two rankings instead of one!

Another benefit to be had from the changes is that it allows you to showcase more of the examples of work which you have to put forward. Take the Securitization section, for example – before, these pieces of work would have been competing for air with derivatives and other structured products. Now you can communicate 10 examples in each of the areas, so bear this in mind when refreshing last year’s submissions with new content.

Lastly, it’s also worth taking a view as to how each of these changes compares with the similar categories used in Chambers & Partners. Some of the changes will mean that some information which would have been relevant before in submissions to both Chambers and The Legal 500 might now have to be re-housed elsewhere in order for it to get in front of the eyes of the right researcher.

Nonetheless, overall these changes will require small changes in approach and allow your firm to present more of the great info that you’ve managed to gather throughout the past year.

As with any change made by the directories, these will have come about through a combination of market feedback, requests from readers and the observations of the editors and research teams. The directories are open to change where it is merited, so do feel like you can push for change – at any point in the year – by making a reasoned case to the editor, either through the submission or by a discrete conversation at some other point in the year. Having very recently been an editor in just such a capacity, I know that those thoughts and suggestions are genuinely welcome.