Lauren Hughes took over the editorship of the Legal 500 US earlier this year, bringing with her many years’ experience as a researcher on the US and other Legal 500 editions. I caught up with Lauren to talk about her plans for the forthcoming edition of the Legal 500 US – the deadlines for which are coming up in November – and to hear about some other new initiatives at Legal 500 that will be particular interest to the US legal market.
As the new editor of Legal 500 US, are you planning any changes to the structure of the book this year? Any new practice areas the market needs to be aware of?
It will be much the same structure as last year’s, but with two additions: Cyber Crime will be included as a section within the Media, Technology and Telecoms chapter, and Sport has been reintroduced within the Industry Focus chapter. The timings remain the same as ever; submissions are due just after Thanksgiving, and research will take place through December and January.
You have plenty of first-hand experience of reviewing submissions, having been at Legal 500 for some years now. What are some of the things that US firms continue to get wrong with their submissions?
Not tailoring submissions for the Legal 500 is the biggest mistake. Our focus is on the elite only, so firms have to demonstrate that they have a strong national practice to even be considered. So, for example, receiving four submissions for four different offices is not helpful when trying to assess the overall capabilities of a firm. Nor is receiving a list of individual lawyers followed by each of their work highlights. We are much more interested in what the group has achieved collectively.
Another mistake is to send in submissions covering multiple sections, meaning I’d have to search it to find the bit that’s relevant for me. Firms should bear in mind that we allocate different researchers to each section, so it’s much better to send us a separate document for each.
And finally, listing lots of deals and cases with too much technical detail, without including context to explain why the matter is impressive.
But I should add that on the whole, the standard of submissions from the US is usually pretty good!
One key difference between Legal 500 and Chambers is the fact that Legal 500 accepts unlimited client references. How do you manage the process of contacting them all, and any follow up that might need doing?
We have an amazing admin team here, and they pull together the vast number of client reference emails we get each year, and ensure that we are not sending multiple emails to the same person, that kind of thing. As for how on earth they manage it, who knows! But we don’t chase the referees down as we don’t want to bug them. If they want to respond, they will.
What can firms do to optimize response levels from their client references, and when should those actions be taken?
It goes without saying that they should ask for permission before putting their names down. But they may want to remind them again when December comes round, and at that time they will also be able to provide the name of the individual researcher who’ll be emailing them. And I always advise contacting the researcher towards the end of the research period to ask if they’ve received a sufficient number of responses.
Also references don’t strictly have to be clients, nor do they have to be the GC; it can be anybody who can provide an assessment about the practice. It’s better to choose the people who are more likely to respond.
The referee feedback is a key component of the research, but for us it’s not necessarily the be all and end all. We understand that a lack of feedback can be put down to a number of different reasons, so if it happens it doesn’t necessarily mean the firm will drop a tier. Being able to demonstrate a strong track record of work is more important.
Tell me about your research team – is it the same team as last year, or will there be any new faces?
I’m happy to say there are many of the same faces as before. Continuity is important to us and to the firms, and we get a lot of good feedback about that. As the company is in growth mode, it’s inevitable that there’ll be some new faces too. And there are a few members in the team who have been promoted to other positions, but they will still be around to mentor and oversee the others’ work.
For any new researchers, what steps do you take before research starts to educate them a little, to make sure they are not coming to it completely cold?
The editors will always work more closely with newer researchers. Some will be new to the US market but will have worked on our other books, as the team rotates. For those people, we will spend some time at the start of the research to go through the slightly different approach needed for the US market. Speaking more generally, new starters always get the opportunity to listen in on interviews, and take part in a number of formal training sessions too. For the first year or so, they are assigned a ‘mentor’ who sits nearby and can answer all their questions. But the training never really stops. We regularly have practice area-specific training sessions, either conducted internally or with lawyers.
I have to mention that we always welcome hearing firms’ thoughts about our researchers. Equally, our publishing director is always happy to give feedback on firms’ marketing and BD staff, so it works both ways!
What are your thoughts on allocating experienced researchers to the same sections as they covered in previous years. Good idea or bad idea?
Good idea. Definitely. As I mentioned, firms always tell us that they appreciate it as it means they don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time and can trust that person to make a well-informed assessment of the market. M&A, employment and technology are some examples of areas that have had the same researcher for many years.
A key new initiative for Legal 500 this year is the Corporate Counsel 100, which launches this weekend. Could you give us some insights into this new initiative?
The whole concept of the Legal 500 is to produce useful copy for corporate counsel, and at the moment we do that by helping them choose which law firm to instruct. But we thought, why stop at that? So the Corporate Counsel 100 is a way of letting them know what their own peers are up to, and enabling them to share ideas. When it came to selecting people for the list, law firms jumped at the chance to nominate as it’s a way for them to give something back to their clients, as opposed to asking them to provide yet another reference!
The research and writing process for this has been consuming all my time for the past while, so I hope people will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I interviewed so many inspiring people and was quite blown away by some of the things they’ve achieved. It’s also been a great way for me as editor to learn more about what they want and need from their outside counsel, and about how the Legal 500 can help facilitate those needs.
We’ll be launching the list at the IBA and ACC conferences this month, and the full editorial will be available online. There are plans to replicate it in other jurisdictions, so stay tuned.
Are there any other U.S.-focused initiatives you’re planning for the coming year?
There are quite a few! Some are in the early stages so I won’t say too much, but we have added a new research arm to the business, who will be producing bespoke industry insight reports on request. We are also planning to do more roundtables. Then there’s the global client feedback report that’s in the works. And, the UK awards seem to be going down well over here, so perhaps we might replicate that model in the US.