What is Chambers and Partners?
Chambers and Partners is the most renowned legal directory in the world – and I'm not just saying that because I used to work there. The first Chambers guide was published in 1990, covering the UK. However, the company has grown substantially since then and there are now seven guides, which between them cover 185 jurisdictions around the world. The office is based in central London, with a research team of over 150 editors and researchers. The team conducts in-depth interviews all year round, and guides are published at various points in the year. For example, the Chambers Europe guide is published in April, followed in May by the Chambers USA guide, while the Chambers Latin America guide is released in September.
As the research period can take anywhere from six months (UK/USA research) to ten months (Europe), researchers will track significant market changes as they happen. So while rankings are generally fixed as per publication, the team frequently updates the online editorial to reflect any changes, say if a lawyer moves to another firm.
Unlike many other directories, the majority of research at Chambers and Partners is focused on clients – their needs, wants, deepest desires. The researchers speak to thousands of clients per year, many of whom are more honest with Chambers than their own lawyer (see more in methodology – below)!
What is the research methodology?
A lot of people assume that the methodology is incredibly complex or that there's an algorithm for achieving a ranking. In reality, the process is very simple: the researchers investigate a particular practice area by assessing a firm's recent work in that area. They do this by speaking to a firm's clients, other lawyers with whom they work, and reviewing information provided by the firm (a submission).
The researchers are looking for firms highly recommended by clients, so of course the best way to find out is to ask the clients themselves. These interviews take place on a completely anonymous basis, and the research team never discloses names. Especially not to the firms in question.
Law firms can submit for any and all practice areas researched in its jurisdiction. Chambers publishes the research schedule online but it's ultimately up to the firms to check this and of course, submit on time. A submission covers a team's key mandates in the last 12 months as well as any significant changes to the composition of the team e.g. new arrivals, promotions.
What's the most important factor in the ranking decision?
Client feedback is by far the most important factor in the ranking decision. I cannot state that enough.
Clients offer an objective perspective and can comment in-depth on their lawyer/team's performance, especially in regards client service, commercial awareness and industry understanding. Indeed, these are the attributes that clients told Chambers they prize the most, along with excellent technical knowledge – obviously!
The second key factor in a ranking decision is the information in a submission, which is why it's important for firms to include mandates that showcase the full range of a team's capabilities and work highlights.
The submission is the firm's opportunity to explain its strengths, and successful firms don't just list high-value deals but also illustrate their work across the board. For example, this could be mandates that are particularly cross-border/innovative/for a new client/precedent-setting.
Can I buy my way in?
Nice try, but no, absolutely not! The research process is completely independent, and there are no fees involved whatsoever; submitting, taking part in the research and achieving a ranking have no costs at all.
Firms and individual lawyers are ranked on their own merits, nothing more.
Ranked firms and individuals have the option to purchase a one-page profile in the hard-copy/online editions, however this is organised by a completely separate sales team and has no bearing on the research process. Unlike the chicken and the egg scenario, having a ranking always comes first.
What firms do wrong?
Let's start at the beginning; not submitting on time. A very obvious no-no but it happens a lot. The research team try to be as flexible as possible but they have very tight research and production deadlines so can't afford to wait four, five, six+ weeks for a firm to submit. And of course, without a submission it's very hard for a researcher to actually research a firm properly.
Along the same theme, a lot of law firms do not use the Chambers submission template. I never understood this as Chambers designed the submission template in order to focus on the information it needs. Chambers knows what it wants, you know what it wants; give it what it wants! While there's no law against using the template – at least not yet – it is important to provide the relevant information. You wouldn't apply for a travel visa without using the appropriate application form so likewise, use the tools on hand.
The information firms include in a submission differ wildly, but the biggest complaint amongst researchers is that there is not enough information on a particular work highlight. It is no use simply writing 'advising client x on an acquisition', rather include the context of the deal i.e. what makes it special and important to the client and crucially, what it makes it special and important to the firm itself. During the research period a lot of firms are in danger of being too hands-on. Some lawyers try to dictate the process for the researcher – organising interviews with the clients (this should always come from the researcher independently) or worse, writing their own “feedback” for clients to forward on. This is why Chambers prefers and insists on telephone interviews – much more straightforward and enables a frank dialogue between researcher and client. Lastly, being too aggressive with the research team is definitely not good practice. Chambers prides itself on its independence, and the rankings are a result of its hard-fought investigations. It doesn't “owe” a firm anything. This is not a paid-for service. Shouting, threatening, or making disparaging remarks is definitely not the way to engage with Chambers. Like most things in life, you attract more bees with honey than vinegar.
What do firms do right?
The best way to work with Chambers is simply to adhere to the process; use the correct templates, submit on time, and engage with the researcher and editor in a positive manner. This was my experience 95% of the time and I'm happy to say I really enjoyed my time as editor and made many excellent working relationships. Although the research team travels on occasion, the bulk of the research is conducted from London, thus I would encourage law firms when they are in town to set up a coffee meeting to allow for a face-to-face meeting. A lot of law firms were wary of doing this, and while it can't happen every day, many now try to organise annual in-person meetings to check in and report first-hand on recent developments.
Certain law firms are also very good at providing additional information throughout the year, i.e. beyond the fixed research period. By this I mean by providing press releases or updates. Not every day – don't overload the researcher – but at regular intervals, and definitely when there has been a significant development (e.g. deal closing/lateral hire).
How do I improve my rankings?
I'm at danger of repeating myself too often but as said above, the best way to achieve/improve a ranking is to follow the research process as close as possible. It also goes without saying that the firm/lawyer should be doing good work for happy clients. Always bear in mind that Chambers doesn't list all firms or lawyers everywhere; it's a ranking table of the best of the best. Firms and lawyers thus need not only to explain why they're among the best of the best, but prove it.
I have an individual ranking but the firm doesn't – why?
It sometimes happens that an individual lawyer attracts more praise than a team as a whole. If this coincides with a submission where the same lawyer is listed as the lead lawyer, or only lawyer, on all work highlights then it is very likely that that lawyer will be ranked but not necessarily the team.
If a firm is trying to push forward a whole team then it is important to showcase not only the breadth of the practice in a submission but also the range of individuals - partners, counsels and associates - involved.
I am dual-qualified in a European country and the US; is it possible to be ranked in both countries?
It is very rare for a lawyer to be ranked in two locations in the regional guides (Europe, USA, Asia-Pacific) as it is very rare for a lawyer to split their time neatly 50/50. To get around this, Chambers has put a lot of effort into developing the 'Foreign Expert' rankings in the Global guide. This feature – unique to the Global guide – highlights those exact individuals who are based in one country with particular expertise in another. What's the incentive to submit to directories? Submitting to a directory, and more importantly being ranked in a directory, is a mark of quality and recognition. Firms ranked in Chambers have been independently researched and have achieved excellent client feedback. Being ranked in a legal directory enables firm to chart progress and market development. On top of this it also allows for an amazing mass of free – yes, free! – marketing material. Firms can publicise their rankings and editorial online and in print, for no cost. At a more strategic level then being ranked in a directory assures clients of firm's high level of service. It also allows for clients outside of that jurisdiction to know who are the key lawyers and firms active in their practice area. In some cases a ranking in Chambers supports a recommendation a client may have had. In other cases, however, a client may be completely new to and unaware of a jurisdiction, and so the ranking tables help them choose their legal counsel. Ultimately, as I often used to say, the guides are practically written by clients for clients. Nowhere else can you find such depth of research and independent evaluation. Well, perhaps the Michelin guide, but that's a rather more appetising subject matter...