Michael Chambers, founder and owner of one of the world’s leading legal directory publishers, has exited the business, doing what many in the legal market have suspected has been on the cards for some years now.
A team from Inflexion, a London-based mid-market private equity company, has bought Chambers & Partners for an undisclosed sum. That team was led by legal technology entrepreneur Mark Wyatt, who will run the company as its CEO. Steve Halbert, the former head of UK M&A at KPMG, will be chairman of the new company.
The intention is to drive forward the digital side of the business, and to push for further global expansion.
In my view, it was only a matter of time, and I see this as an interesting move for a number of reasons.
The digital developments could be particularly exciting. At the basic level, a revamp of Chambers’ website is needed. Despite recent improvements, it’s been rudimentary (at best) for many years. I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with legal marketers about how outdated the website looks, and how much more could be done to improve Chambers’ online presence.
Beyond that, though, I hope that Inflexion’s intended investment in technology will reach other areas of the business – the research process, most obviously. To take two examples:
- The use of algorithms — working alongside, rather than replacing, existing ‘human’ research — might go a long way toward making sure the rankings more accurately reflect market realities. Basing the rankings less on unscientific comparisons of ‘market feedback’, and more on which firms are actually doing the best work and getting the best results, would surely lead to better market analysis.
- The use of technology to address the ‘time lag’ issues inherent in Chambers’ current research process would be a vast improvement. The way the process works now, by the time the rankings are published, they are based on work firms have done almost two years previously. If I had a dollar for every time a firm has complained to me that, “these rankings were accurate 4 years ago, but the market has completely changed since then”…. well, you know the rest.
At the most basic level, then, I fervently hope that any significant investments in technology will be to make sure Chambers & Partners continues to do what it’s supposed to do: publish the most accurate, up-to-date, rankings and analysis of the legal market. It would be a great shame — and a wasted opportunity — if all investments were simply to cut costs and increase profitability.
As a closing thought, I would be very interested to see whether John Pritchard, owner of Legalease (which publishes The Legal 500 — Chambers & Partners’ closest competitor/arch rival in the global legal directories market) will be following Michael Chambers’ lead in the not-too-distant future. If I were in his shoes, I’d be eyeing this latest development very carefully.