The Legal 500 US 2020 – An interview with US Editors Ian Deering and Helen Donegan

The Legal 500 US 2020 – An interview with US Editors Ian Deering and Helen Donegan

2019 has seen several interesting developments to The Legal 500’s US guide. Following former US Editor Seth Singh Jennings’s move to pastures new, Senior Researcher Ian Deering was appointed joint US Editor alongside Helen Donegan, who joined The Legal 500 in 2019 and has more than a decade of experience in legal publishing. I sat down with Helen and Ian ahead of the publication of the 2020 US research guidelines (now available here) to discuss their aims and objectives for the US guide over the next 12 months and beyond – here are some key takeaways from that discussion.

On the Editors’ respective remits

Having two editors on one guide is a novel approach for The Legal 500, which has historically had one Editor in charge of the guide per jurisdiction.

Ian’s focus will be on the rankings and editorial content produced in the US guide itself, while Helen’s remit will be on creating new, US-focused content across The Legal 500’s other content platforms and products, including their GCand fivehundredmagazines.

Given the all-encompassing nature of The Legal 500 US guide, separating out the roles of overseeing the research into and production of the US rankings and editorial, and that of generating new editorial content for The Legal 500’s various other publications and initiatives, will enable the editorial team to maintain the high quality of the core US guide while also giving them the opportunity to expand the scope of their coverage into areas that would not necessarily fit within the guide’s methodology and remit.

On the topics the new content will be covering

Helen is looking at a number of topics to cover in the coming months, largely driven by discussions with law firms in the US as well as feedback from the GC community – these include areas such as legal tech and leadership, although a key priority will be diversity and inclusion (D&I). Given the increasing role that D&I is playing in client purchasing decisions, the directories have been exploring ways to showcase firms with strong D&I initiatives and stories to tell. Given the relatively structured approach to researching the US rankings and editorial for the guide, providing a specific platform to showcase D&I and other developing areas of legal business will give the editorial team space to do deep dives into these areas.

The work being done to showcase the US legal market’s approach to D&I will form part of a broader approach to D&I across the jurisdictions covered by The Legal 500.

On US law firms’ response to the new initiatives

While US law firms have primarily engaged with The Legal 500 through the guide, the response to the new editorial initiatives has been positive. The proliferation of “pay-to-play” operators has made the US legal market decidedly wary of new products from new market entrants, so an established player like The Legal 500 seeking to drive engagement through free content is a welcome breath of fresh air.

Helen emphasised the importance of dialogue with US law firms and the GC community, and encourages firms to get in touch to discuss how they can take part in these new editorial initiatives.

On the upcoming US research

In addition to the new editorial content, we also discussed plans for the rankings and accompanying editorial. If you’ve pored over the recently released submission guidelines, you’ll see that The Legal 500 will not be introducing any new practice areas. However the team has introduced practice area definitions this year, the first time The Legal 500 has done so for any of its guides.

These definitions (which are available to review in the “Practice Areas” section on The Legal 500’s US submissions page) will provide valuable guidance to firms submitting this year (if you’re weighing the pros and cons of submitting this year, this article might help), Ian was keen to stress that these guidelines are open to change, and encouraged firms to get in touch with any feedback on how these definitions could be updated.

We also discussed planned changes to the format of the guide’s editorial coverage. Editorial paragraphs will have separate sections focusing on the practice, key clients, work and individuals – long-time devotees of The Legal 500 may recall the first US guides adopted a similar structure. The new format will enable the editorial team to utilise more of the information provided by firms in their submissions.

On Ian and Helen’s US travel plans

As part of their ongoing engagement with the US legal market, Ian and Helen will be travelling extensively as part of their respective roles. Having recently returned from trips to New York and Washington DC, Ian will be jetting off to visit firms in San Francisco, and also plans to travel to Chicago and Texas in the coming months. Helen will be visiting New York in September. If you are interested in meeting them while they’re doing the rounds, do get in touch with them to set up a meeting. Here are their contact details:

Ian Deering – E-mail: ian.deering@legal500.com Tel: +44 (0)207 031 0014

Helen Donegan – E-mail: Helen.Donegan@legal500.com Tel: +44 (0)20 7070 0403.

If you have any questions about the upcoming US research and the new editorial initiatives discussed here, Helen and Ian would be delighted to hear from you.

My name is Alex Boyes and I am one of the directors at SavageNash Legal Communications. I’m a former editor at The Legal 500 and also worked at a large international law firm. Together, SavageNash Legal Communications has over 40 years’ directories-related experience, from both sides of the directories process. If you’d like more guidance on making submissions to Chambers or The Legal 500 in the next cycle, please do get in touch via our website or on LinkedIn.