Getting listed in the Chambers & Partners legal directories is hard.
Chambers has built its reputation on a high degree of selectivity.
Only around 2% of all US attorneys are recommended in Chambers’ US edition.
And it’s a low percentage in other markets as well.
Chambers is deliberately cautious about admitting new entrants each year.
And it’s that elitism which gives the publication its desirability and cachet.
To make things even tougher for lawyers seeking a place among this rarefied group, it’s become even harder to get ranked in recent years.
Chambers has grown in the last decade by expanding its range of directories, and the number of practices.
But Chambers’ own growth has been eclipsed by the interest and demand from law firms, all of whom are eager to promote themselves to the directories.
In other words, the bar has always been high – now it’s even higher.
There is no magic formula to secure a Chambers ranking.
Law firms use a variety of techniques to promote themselves to the directories, and while it’s important to adopt a pro-active marketing approach, Chambers prides itself on its editorial independence, so lawyers shouldn’t believe any law firm marketer or consultant that says they can guarantee to get you listed.
So, how do you break in to these hallowed lists?
Results come from doing lots of smaller things consistently over a period of time.
You have to take a medium-long term view.
Even then, success is not guaranteed – but a legal marketer’s job is to give a law firm and its lawyers the best chance of entering the ranking tables, and remove the reasons Chambers may have for not including your firm.
Some of the factors that influence directory rankings:
Chambers’ purpose is to highlight the leading lawyers in private practice across a range of practices and sectors.
As a lawyer, if you’re doing great work and providing wonderful client service, Chambers should – ideally – pick you up, irrespective of any marketing tactics.
That doesn’t mean Chambers necessarily will, of course.
They may not know about a particular lawyer, however good he or she is.
So, the marketer’s job is to take that substance and bring it to the attention of the directories.
A submission is a short, written document that describes a law firm practice.
Law firms send them to the directories to help them do their research and gain a better understanding of the firm.
Submissions are not as important in the overall mix as some think – Chambers conducts its own independent market research, and some lawyers are recommended by Chambers without providing a submission at all.
However, a submission is a recommended starting point.
They bring law firms to the attention of the directories, send a message that your firm wants to be considered for inclusion, and act as a foundation on which you can further promote your practice.
All things equal, the directories would rather have a submission from your firm than not.
Make sure that the individual lawyers you are trying to push are highlighted in the submission, and that you provide examples of work they have handled.
Feedback from clients and other buyers of legal services is perhaps the most important factor that influences whether Chambers lists your lawyer.
Law firms help to steer Chambers in the direction of clients that are prepared to speak warmly about them by sending in their contact details along with the written submissions.
As a lawyer, if you are already established in the Chambers lists, you don’t need a huge amount of client feedback to maintain your rankings.
But a new lawyer looking to feature in the lists for the first time must receive a significant amount of positive client feedback.
The exact number of recommendations varies, but Chambers needs reassurance that the lawyer in question has a strong client following.
Remember that the definition of a client is a broad one.
Most references will be people within companies that your firm advises – either in the legal department or on the business side.
Equally, they can be others that have worked with your lawyers in a professional capacity and can speak to their abilities: accountants, financial advisors, insurance brokers, mediators, academics, government workers, and lawyers in other firms that act as referral sources or co-counsel.
Speak to The Directories
Check the Chambers research schedule to see when the research gets underway for your section.
At that point, legal marketers should contact the researcher responsible and give him/her a short introduction to the practice.
This is particularly important if your firm hasn’t engaged with Chambers before, and it’s likely that Chambers doesn’t know much about your firm.
Also, ask the researcher when they plan to contact the client references.
Most Chambers researchers and editors are helpful and will be interested to know about a new law firm or lawyer that hasn’t previously engaged with Chambers and may potentially have a strong practice.
However, don’t overdo the outreach.
Chambers receives a large number of emails and phone calls from law firms, all of whom are trying to push their own lawyers, and you can irritate them if you’re too pushy, too often.
Arrange an Interview
Chambers does not guarantee every law firm or attorney an interview, and an interview doesn’t have a direct bearing on whether lawyers get listed or not.
But always ask if Chambers can speak to your lawyer.
The interview provides an opportunity for lawyers to describe their practice to Chambers in more detail.
It is also a chance to discuss the broader market, and other firms and lawyers – a key part of the research process.
If another partner from your firm is speaking to the directories as the representative of a large practice, make sure they talk inclusively about all the key lawyers in the group.
That’s because Chambers looks for evidence of strong individuals and strong teams working together.
Chambers gravitates to more experienced, established lawyers, and the majority of lawyers featured in the Chambers directories are in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.
There are separate categories for “up-and-coming” lawyers, usually junior partners, and “associates to watch” – typically senior associates on track for partnership.
Young, ambitious lawyers do make it in to the rankings, so they shouldn’t be discouraged from engaging with Chambers.
That said, realistically, lawyers only have a chance of making it in to Chambers if they have a loyal client following, and this tends to be lawyers who have practiced for a number of years rather than those fresh out of law school.
Chambers rankings are relative – that is, lawyers and law firms are only compared against the other firms around them in the same states, practices, and countries.
There is not a fixed standard one has to reach in order to be ranked.
So a tier one-ranked attorney in Idaho wouldn’t necessarily rank tier one in New York – with all respect to Idaho.
In a smaller city, with fewer firms and a more close-knit legal community, you might be better known to other lawyers, and therefore easier to make yourself known to Chambers.
If you’re in a larger state, don’t be discouraged – but be aware that it is competitive if you’re in New York or London.
Peer feedback is a component of the Chambers research methodology – that is recommendations from other lawyers in private practice.
Rightly or wrongly, it’s easier to bring lawyers to Chambers’ attention if they’re a known quantity.
Someone who speaks at bar events, appears on the conference circuit, gives media interviews, and writes articles.
We know that there are many lawyers who show up the office each day and do a great job for their clients.
They are strong technically, but are low key and don’t go in for the same profile-raising or marketing activities.
Chambers is about substance and client service, and will seek to find these lawyers, even if they are not splashed all over the papers.
But these lawyers may have to rely more heavily on client feedback if they are less well known among peers, so it might take longer for Chambers to find them.
Chambers is broken down into a series of practice and industry categories and it helps to get noticed by Chambers if a lawyer has a specific practice or industry speciality that matches one of them neatly.
Or expertise in a particular country or foreign region.
Something to help the lawyer stand out from the pack, and enable to Chambers to peg them accurately.
In smaller jurisdictions and states, it’s possible for an old-fashioned generalist lawyer who works across a broad range of practices to be identified by Chambers, but it’s less common in more mature legal markets.
Some lawyers have practices that, while successful, don’t mirror the Chambers categories, and they struggle to enter the lists.
Lawyers in large, crowded practice areas like M&A, real estate, and employment, sometimes find it harder to break in because they’re up against more competition than someone in a well-defined niche.
Timing (and a bit of luck…)
A dash of luck helps.
Sometimes things just go your way.
One lawyer may be ranked at the first attempt, while another – who is no better or worse – struggles for years to crack the lists.
Sometimes Chambers researchers and editors have more inclination to shake the list up, and dig deeper into the market to uncover new unlisted law firms.
Other times the directories “play safe” and list the same firms as in previous years without any or much change.
Sometimes the timing works well for your references, and they all respond promptly to Chambers.
Or perhaps the directories catch them on a good day when they say particularly nice things.
Finally, lawyers should only engage with Chambers if they want to.
Not because they feel they should, or they were told to by another partner or marketing manager, or are otherwise a reluctant participant.
The Chambers process can be frustrating, and it’s not for everyone.
There are many ways to market a legal practice, and directories like Chambers are just one of a number of methods.
Lawyers get demoralized when they don’t see an end product to the time they spend on the submissions and client references.
But, in my experience, if you have a substantively strong practice, a healthy client following, are known in your market, are positive in your approach, willing to engage with Chambers, and prepared to stick at it if you don’t succeed immediately, there is a good chance that Chambers will recognize your skills.