The launch of the 2014 edition of Chambers UK is imminent. And before the ink has dried, results have been assessed, hands have been wrung and teeth have been gnashed, it’ll be time to start all over again with preparing submissions for the 2015 edition (isn’t life wonderful?). I caught up with Jonathan Rubin, Editor of Chambers UK, to talk about how the 2014 edition will look – and about some tips and insights into the 2015 edition.
Are you planning any changes to the structure of the book this year? Any new practice areas/changes in approach the market needs to be aware of?
The new 2014 guide (which launches on 30 October 2013) will have a very different feel to the 2013 version. The first thing that you will notice with the 2014 guide is the change in editorial layout. We have done this to allow for greater emphasis on the strengths of a particular law firm, and what it is they actually do.
Secondly, this year we have written about firms on a regional basis (while maintaining city-based rankings), while also highlighting those firms outside of London, who have a national presence in new ‘National Leaders’ tables. This shows to clients of law firms that the best possible option for them is not necessarily based in London. For the 2015 guide, we are looking to expand our regional coverage further, by introducing new regional tables in areas as diverse as Fraud and Asset Finance.
We will also look to continue to develop the new Hotels & Leisure and Commercial Contracts sections, featured for the first time in the forthcoming 2014 guide, and we will introduce two new sections in 2015 – Art & Cultural Property Law and POCA Work & Asset Forfeiture.
UK firms have been submitting to Chambers for more than 20 years. What are some of the things firms continue to get wrong with their submissions?
The key thing firms have to remember when drafting submissions is to know their audience. The best submissions are those that are written in clear, plain English, and talk about how the firm adds value to the client.
Additionally, I think firms think about submissions the wrong way round. It is a mistake to use “what are our ten best matters” as a starting point. The best submissions are those that start by telling us the story of what it is a practice can do, and then illustrate that with the ten matters. Rather than seeing the top ten by value, or by highest profile client, we want to see breadth of expertise and ability to provide clients with business critical advice.
Oh, and of course, always get your submissions in on time!
Chambers limits the number of client references firms can submit. What is the rationale behind that, and how should firms with plenty of lawyers ranked in a section already work within those limits to get more lawyers on the list?
The rationale is quite simply timing and resources. In addition to generating and following up on our own leads, we speak to literally thousands of referees put forward by firms. We only have a finite amount of time to research every section, and we place great importance on actually speaking to referees. We are fundamentally committed to this method, as we get far better feedback this way, particularly when it comes to finding out about the up and coming stars in the market.
One piece of advice I would give is for firms to be careful how they select their referees. I would always advise selecting those referees who are best placed to speak about the team as a whole, and a wide range of individuals in that team. In particular, we are always interested in hearing from clients about the junior members of the team as well as the unsung heroes, rather than the established names who everyone already knows.
What can firms do to optimize response levels from their client references, and when should those actions be taken?
There are two things firms can do:
First, before compiling referee spreadsheets, ensure that referees are both willing and able to participate. It is amazing how many referees get put forward that are not permitted to speak to us about their service providers, by virtue of their own company’s internal policies.
Secondly, during research, follow up with the researcher to find out when they will be contacting referees. All initial contact with referees is by email, so remind clients that they should be expecting an email, who it is coming from and what it is. This, we find, greatly increases the response rate.
Tell me about your research team – is it the same team as last year, or will there be any new faces?
In a team of 50 dedicated UK researchers, there are bound to be people that some of your readers have not yet dealt with. But my deputy editors Jamie Horne, Liam Whitton and Bryony Hirsch will all be familiar names in the market. I am also delighted to be joined by Georgina Watts, who has been promoted to deputy editor following her outstanding research on previous guides.
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 deputies and I will be spending the period after launch (30 October) to the start of research (around February 2014), going out to the market, to find out what is going on in the market and the key areas that we should be looking at across the board. As a result, all researchers are armed, regardless of their experience, with information directly from the market itself before they start research. This information covers both specific issues in a given practice area and the actual activity of law firms – lawyer moves, firm mergers etc.
As well as reviewing the rankings and editorial that researchers produce, it is our responsibility as an editorial team to ensure they are adequately informed of all the issues at hand throughout research.
What are your thoughts on allocating experienced researchers to the same sections as they covered in previous years. Good idea or bad idea?
I think it is important to have consistency at the editor and deputy editor level, as we are the ones who meet with firms initially, set the tone for research and then evaluate the research. Nonetheless, it is useful for certain practice areas to have the same researchers year on year, but I think there is also a lot to be said for a fresh pair of eyes who can look at a section differently.
Are there any other UK-focused initiatives you’re planning for the coming year?
One major initiative we are certainly focusing on this year will be to develop and implement a “No firm too small” strategy. We recognise that not all clients are FTSE 100 companies or major global private equity funds. In fact, the clients who perhaps find our guide the most useful are smaller, sometimes family-owned businesses, who are not sophisticated users of law firms. Accordingly, and in recognition of this, we are introducing a number of ‘SME/Owner-Managed Businesses’ subsections to existing chapters, including Corporate/M&A, Litigation, Banking & Finance and Real Estate, to highlight the work that law firms do for these sorts of clients.