Chambers & Partners is one of the legal industry’s most prestigious rankings — and also the most notoriously difficult to crack. On the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast, Berbay Managing Principal Sharon Berman interviews Principal Megan Braverman as she shares tips from her years of experience getting clients ranked by Chambers. Read the transcript below.
Sharon: Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Lists and rankings of law firms have become ubiquitous, and some are more credible and prestigious than others. Chambers and Partners is among those at the top. My colleague, Berbay principal Megan Braverman, shares what we’ve learned from years of submitting nominations. I want to emphasize that we do not have an “in” with Chambers or know anything that they have not shared with others; however, we’ve been doing this a long time and we’ve listened to what they say to do, and we’ve also gleaned a lot from our experience. I’d like to welcome Megan Braverman. Hi, Megan.
Megan: Hi, Sharon.
Sharon: Megan, most people listening have probably at least heard of Chambers, but can you tell us a little bit about what Chambers and Partners is?
Megan: Chambers and Partners is a legal ranking. They use in-depth editorial and research teams to assess lawyers and law firms throughout the world. They began in 1990, and today they cover just over 185 jurisdictions. Many consider Chambers and Partners to be the leading directory in the legal profession, which is why it’s so coveted. One reason it’s coveted is that Chambers is probably one of the toughest lists to get on. They’ve built a reputation for their high degree of selectivity. Also, you cannot pay your way to get into Chambers. That’s an add to their credibility: there’s no firm or lawyer who can buy their way in.
Sharon: So, it’s a challenge to be included, which is also why it’s so fabulous when you do get ranked. You mentioned they have many jurisdictions, which can be overwhelming. Can you tell us about what the jurisdictions are and a little bit about deciding what to submit for?
Megan: Sure. Chambers has grown quite a bit over the years. Right now, the lawyer ranking guides are by geographical area. So, for example, they have guides for the USA, Canada, Latin America and so on. Chambers has also expanded to recommend professional advisors, which includes syntax firms, litigation support firms and others. They’ve really grown since they first started.
Sharon: So, in terms of geography and practice area, you can go on the website and look at all the different areas. We’re happy to talk to you if you want some guidance. I know it can be overwhelming.
Megan: Exactly. For example, if you’re a USA-based firm, you want to start there. Now, Chambers has well over a hundred different practice areas you can submit for, and keep in mind that a lot of these practice areas have subcategories. For example, if you’re a law firm in California and you want to submit for litigation, litigation itself has five different options: appellate, litigation general commercial, securities and so on. So, you really want to figure out where your emphasis is and where your successes lie.
They do expand their practice areas every year. For their 2019 rankings, they added a nationwide cannabis practice area, whereas before firms who wanted to submit in the cannabis area usually submitted through the health care practice area. It’s not always an exact find.
Sharon: That’s interesting, and I do know they are open to adding practice areas when they see that it’s an area of growth. They’ll listen to suggestions, at least that’s been my experience with them.
Sharon: We work with a lot of small firms and they may say that Chambers is just for big firms. Do they consider small firms? Is there a size limit?
Megan: Chambers does not rank law firms by size. They don’t even consider the size of the law firm in their rankings. You can be one lawyer, or you can be a thousand. The larger law firms over the years have certainly dominated the Chambers list, but they absolutely consider and rank smaller firms. In fact, they have a page on their website explaining their commitment to smaller firms. I believe, based on our experience submitting these nominations for small law firms, that in the last five to eight years or so, Chambers has made a much stronger push to accommodate small firms.
Sharon: I think they do keep an eye on small firms, especially those that are in niche areas. I know that we’ve brought Chambers to the attention of some of our clients who have later been ranked, and I do think that they’re inclusive.
That then gets to the question: “How do I get listed in Chambers?” Sometimes, we have lawyers who will come to us and say they’ve tried for several years, but they just don’t seem to get anywhere, and they even ask if they can pay for a listing. So how do they get listed in Chambers?
Megan: That’s a great question and we get asked that often. There are a few basics to think about. You want to make sure you’re submitting for the right practice area. For example, we had one firm who, year after year, was trying to submit for the nationwide litigation practice because they have a national practice. Their litigation is all over the U.S. However, if that law firm has never been ranked regionally, meaning in California, in New York or wherever their offices are, securing that national consideration is very challenging. You want to focus on getting regional rankings first before you go after the nationwide one. It’s not impossible to get ranked nationally first, but based on what we’ve seen, you really want to focus regionally.
The other basic is giving yourself enough time on the nomination. Chambers is one of the most extensive nominations we’ve seen. If you’re rushing through it or even starting a couple of weeks before the deadline, the results may be below par. We recommend our clients start two months ahead of time at a minimum. Make sure that you’re giving yourself enough time to craft the perfect nomination.
Sharon: That’s so important, because one thing that makes Chambers so good is they ask for such detail. They give you the opportunity to provide a lot of detail, but you have to stop and really provide that information. It’s not just listing your name and your practice area and that’s it.
Megan: Exactly, and you’re coordinating with multiple people. When you’re submitting to Chambers, you’re dealing with 10 or 20 attorneys plus the marketing team and anybody else that has information. Any time you have that many cooks in the kitchen, you really want to allow them enough time.
Sharon: What else should you consider in terms of getting ranked, whether it’s your first time or whether you’ve had challenges getting ranked?
Megan: Another important aspect, which I believe is the most important based on my experience, is submitting the right referees. Referees are basically clients or co-counsel who can talk about the caliber of your work. That’s the term that Chambers uses.
Sharon: I guess it’s what we call references, but they’re referees.
Megan: Correct. In addition to your written submission, you can submit up to 20 referees — again, clients, co-counsel or anybody that knows your work or who worked on a matter with you. The most important thing is that your referees are responsive, because based on what we’ve heard from Chambers researchers, they typically get a less than 30% response rate, and a huge part of their research is talking to other people. It’s great if you have this amazing list of general counsel or Fortune 500 companies, but if they’re not going to respond, you shouldn’t list them. Consider going to the second or third in command. Really think before you put that referee on your list; you have to know if they’re willing or able to respond. That’s one aspect of the referee.
The other aspect is that you want to make sure the referees are aware that the Chambers research team will be reaching out to them. Oftentimes, the Chambers emails look like spam, so referees ignore them. Even if they see the email, they might not know what their part is. Make sure to email or call them, depending on the type of referee, and step them through the process. Let them know that you’re submitting their name. Let them know what the process is. Explain what questions the researcher might ask. Researchers usually just want a 10- or 15-minute conversation. Explain that it’s going to take very little of the referee’s time, and even offer to hone in on some of their communication points. This is obviously dependent on the type of client. Some clients feel very comfortable talking on the phone and giving interviews; others might not. You want to look at each referee and figure out how you can best prepare them and step them through the process. Based on what we know, we think that referees are heavily weighted over the actual submission itself.
Sharon: Chambers will approach a referee via email, but they also may set up a call. I know they do that a lot less frequently, but it could be either through email or a phone call, is that what you’re saying?
Megan: Yes, that’s correct. Typically, they like to have a phone call because they can ask more questions and, for them, it’s a little bit of an easier process. But the referee can respond via email with written responses.
Sharon: It’s really important to make sure that whoever you’re listing as a referee knows that Chambers may get in touch with them via email, they should keep their eyes open, and that you will give them the scoop about what may be asked. That’s probably the most important aspect of the whole process.
Sharon: We also have to talk about the B10 section of the nomination. What is that?
Megan: The B10 section is in the written nomination. Every section in the written form is lettered and numbered so you can easily access them. The B10 section is unique because this is the section where you have the opportunity to basically describe why you should make the list. Most people gloss over this section or just pull some generic descriptions from their website or bio, but it’s really the only part of the nomination that gives you the ability to sell yourself.
What’s important is that you don’t duplicate anything else in your form. The form itself consists mostly of confidential and publishable matters. You really want to use the B10 section to describe what else you do, because the rest of the form is limited to the deals and cases you’re working on. In the B10 section, lots of people just describe that they’re the best or they have unmatched litigation skills. You want to avoid those words. Chambers does not want to see marketing fluff. What you write really needs to be substantive. Find ways you can quantify the amount of work you’ve done over the years; for example, that you’ve worked on $4 billion in deal transactions in the last 12 months or you’ve secured $10 million in verdicts and settlements for your clients. Make sure to quantify that and highlight the attorneys you want to get ranked. That’s an important aspect.
Of course, the majority of the nomination is describing your deals and cases. You must remember that the research team is reading thousands and thousands of submissions. It’s important that you don’t try to tailor the form to fit your needs. You should follow their form and come up with a way to describe the importance of each matter and deal. Why was that deal or matter important? What was the outcome? What was the impact it had? Don’t just describe the facts. Maybe there were nuanced areas of law. Maybe it was the first case of its kind. Underscore the important pieces and don’t just leave it at a basic description. Think of it as telling a story.
If you’re already doing all these things to beef up your nomination and you have great, responsive referees, one other item you might want to consider is called Chambers Confidential]. It’s a report you can purchase from Chambers, which explains some of the referee feedback they’ve had in prior years. If you feel like you aren’t making any progress, we recommend requesting it. It’s a one-time fee. It gives you great feedback and it can be very insightful as to why your firm or a specific lawyer hasn’t been ranked in the past.
Sharon: It will give you the scoop in terms of what you need to do differently, or whether it even makes sense to submit next year. It’s been very valuable, and it’s something they just started doing a few years ago, isn’t that correct?
Megan: Yes, and their reports have gotten better over the years as well. They give you a lot of feedback on what other referees are saying about you. For example, one of the questions the research group asks each referee is about other law firms, not just the law firm they’re listed for. If you’re mentioned by another law firm’s referee, that’s a point in your score box. Maybe you’re not getting mentioned enough, and they’ll say that in the report. They’ll give you insight about what they’re hearing and seeing, and that will help you adjust your nomination going forward.
Sharon: One thing you did touch on, and it’s a stumbling block that a lot of lawyers tell us about, is that they’re afraid a lot of their matters are confidential and they don’t want to put them down. How does Chambers handle that? Is it O.K. to put confidential information down?
Megan: In short, it is. Based on our experience with Chambers — and we’ve been doing this a long time — everything that we’ve submitted in confidence has been packaged that way. They’re really professional. They understand that there are many matters and deals that are sensitive and can’t be public. We have submitted numerous nominations with confidential information and have had to explain to our lawyers that Chambers will not breach confidentiality. It’s a leap of faith in one sense, but as I mentioned, we’ve never seen them ever publish anything confidential in the past.
Sharon: I know it’s a fear for a lot of our clients, and you’re right: we’ve been doing this a long time and we’ve never had an issue, so hopefully that will continue. You mentioned the researchers. Tell us a little about who they are and how many there are.
Megan: Chambers has about 170 full-time editors and researchers. That’s what they say on their website. Those researchers talk to lawyers year-round. They’re the ones conducting the in-depth phone or email interviews with your referees. They’re the ones researching, looking at your website, looking at your nominations and getting a sense of the landscape you’re submitting for. Every researcher is assigned to a different practice area, so they’re not always the same year after year. Chambers does a good job of posting all this information and their research schedules on their website, so you can find out exactly who is researching your practice area and when their research period begins. You are welcome to reach out to them to introduce yourself and say that you’re there to help them through the process. They really appreciate that.
Sharon: And what’s the schedule?
Megan: The schedule is different for every jurisdiction in every practice area. The research process itself starts based on the practice area you are submitting for and, again, this is all on their research schedule. It takes place at different times throughout the year. For example, California’s research process starts a little later in the year, around June and July, and goes through about November.
Sharon: Can I nominate myself?
Megan: Anyone can submit a nomination.
Sharon: So, I don’t lose any credit because I’ve submitted myself? It doesn’t count against me?
Megan: Correct. It can be you or someone in your marketing department. It could be an agency you work with. It doesn’t matter who submits and Chambers has that information on their web page.
Sharon: Sometimes every lawyer in a practice group wants to be submitted, from people who have been practicing a few years to the seasoned partners. I know that some firms have a hard time saying no. They don’t want to step on anybody’s toes or discourage anybody. How do you decide who should be nominated?
Megan: That’s a great question and frankly, every firm deals with this challenge because most people want to be submitted for Chambers. The big part of this is managing expectations. Not everyone warrants inclusion and you have to be cautious about submitting a lot of people. If you submit 20 names, that’s a lot for Chambers to consider. The rule of thumb we go by is submitting the people whose matters or deals are being submitted. Those are the people who should be put forth. You must be judicious about the matters, too, because you only get 20 in total. You can’t submit any more than that. So, if you’re submitting a lawyer’s name who doesn’t have any matters or deals listed, that doesn’t make any sense, because the researchers can clearly see that the lawyer hasn’t been involved in anything you’re putting forth. That’s why I usually go by the matters or the deals I’m submitting.
You must also look at the last 12 months. Maybe the last 12 months for one specific lawyer weren’t as great as the year before. It doesn’t mean they have to come off the list, but you want to put forth the people who have had the most activity in the last year.
Sharon: So, Chambers is just asking about the last 12 months. You could have somebody who’s highly experienced and leads the practice area, but if they haven’t had a big success that’s directly tied to them in the last 12 months, you don’t want to dilute what you’re doing by nominating them. Is that the way I’m understanding it?
Megan: That’s correct, and we realize there are office politics and hurt feelings that go into this. If you have to put someone in who isn’t putting forth any matters, then you should address that in the B10 section. That gives you the ability to talk about that lawyer. Just don’t list the lawyer’s name and then nothing else, because researchers won’t see him or her at all throughout the rest of the nomination. Use the B10 section to explain some of the things they’ve done in the last 12 months that could impress the Chambers researchers.
Sharon: That’s something very important to keep in mind because as you say, they’re reading a lot of them. You want to be succinct. You want to make your case right away and not pull things from 20 years ago. You mentioned that you have to give yourself enough time and that we recommend two to three months. How long does the research process take?
Megan: The research process usually takes between one and two months. For example, if the deadline for your nomination is in July, the research will likely begin in July, go through August and then finish towards the end of August.
Sharon: So, if Chambers says it’s August, they’re going to be starting in August. It’s not like they’re starting five or six months later. It’s tied to the calendar.
Sharon: Now, this is one of the big questions: How many referees should somebody list?
Megan: You’re only allowed to submit up to 20 and we recommend taking advantage of all 20. If you go over 20, my understanding is they just cut it off at 20 exactly, because it’s very time-consuming for them and they don’t want people to paper the nomination. So, 20 only, but use them all.
Sharon: And as you mentioned before, it’s really important to let your referees know that they hopefully will be contacted by Chambers. Can the referees contact Chambers directly?
Megan: The referees can and we certainly recommend that anyone listed as a referee should be given notice since, as I mentioned earlier, it highly increases the likelihood that they’ll respond. Let’s say a researcher emailed a referee and it went to spam a few times, and then several weeks later, the referee realized it went to spam. It’s fine to call the researcher directly to schedule a call. Usually what happens is the researcher speaks to the law firm and says they’ve only received two or three comments from referees. That’s when you know you need to start pushing your referees more. Chambers won’t tell you who responded and who didn’t, because they keep everything confidential. Unfortunately, you have to reach out to everybody, but that’s a good time to push the people you listed to get on the phone or write responses, and the researcher will be very thankful for all the help.
Sharon: One thing that we need to address is that there are lawyers who say, “I don’t want to contact people. I don’t want to talk to them and say, ‘Hey, you’re going to be contacted, so tell them how great I am.” How do you deal with that?
Megan: If you feel that the referee is uncomfortable with this process, we would just not include them. Your client is your client and you have to be sensitive to what they want and need, and if they would feel bothered by this whole process, then we would recommend leaving them out of it entirely. If you feel like you can have a conversation with them and say, “This is the process we’re going through. You know the caliber of what we do. We’d love for you to be a referee. Would you consider it?” If you’re able to have that conversation with them, then we would encourage it.
Sharon: It’s also a great opportunity to talk to your client again as another touch point. If somebody’s already on the list, and these are such extensive nominations, do they have to submit every year to be included?
Megan: Based on what we know, yes. It could be that you include fewer matters than in previous submissions or you make room for younger lawyers or those who haven’t been ranked, but yes, it’s important to keep those people already listed on the written form.
Sharon: What if I miss a deadline for the research schedule, but I still want to submit?
Megan: The first thing I recommend is contacting the researcher ahead of time and letting them know that the nomination form will be late. It’s really important not to do this 24 hours in advance. If you think you might be late, let the researcher know at least a week or two ahead of time. Also, we’ve heard from researchers that if you can submit the referee form by the deadline, so they can at least get started on their research process, that’s very helpful to them. You can continue working on the written form and give yourself a little more time, as long as up to 20 referees are submitted on time.
Sharon: If you can get that done, that’s a lot of the work already. Even though there’s a lot of detail in the second half, if you get the referees submitted, you’re way ahead of the game in terms of meeting the deadline, or at least being on their target while they’re doing the research.
Sharon: Like you said, we recommend that you get ranked regionally first. What if a firm has already been ranked regionally? If they want to be ranked nationally, can they try that next year? Do they have to wait a few years? How does that work?
Megan: I would encourage law firms that have been ranked regionally, who truly have a national practice, to go after that nationwide ranking right away. Chambers does a good job of explaining their methodology and their rankings. There are also ranking levels. For example, there are bands one through six, with band one being the best. The qualities on which these rankings are assessed are based on a lot of the things in your nomination form: client service, commercial astuteness, diligence, commitment to the client, etc. These are all the things that are analyzed and researched by Chambers researchers.
Sharon: How can people stay in front of a researcher during the year, as opposed to just submitting once a year? Instead of absence making the heart grow fonder, how do you stay in front of them and keep warm?
Megan: The issue there is that researchers often change year to year. It could be new researchers to Chambers. It could be researchers who are looking into different practice areas. However, one of the ways you keep in front of them is through the editorial staff. Chambers has a list of all their editorial staff online. If you have a big success that you want to let them know about, we would recommend emailing or calling one of the folks on the editorial staff to let them know.
Sharon: It’s a good idea then to keep them apprised of what’s going on if it’s noteworthy, so you’re not coming in cold during the research process.
Megan: Absolutely, and it’s helpful to them. They start to get to know your law firm and your lawyers even better.
Sharon: This is the $64,000 question: Do corporate counsel consult Chambers? The process is extensive. It takes a lot of time. Why submit?
Megan: That’s a great question. We’ve heard both sides from general and in-house counsel. We’ve heard that a lot of in-house counsel are using Chambers to find the right lawyer if they don’t already know one. For example, if a company in the U.K. is looking for local counsel in Tennessee, they might use Chambers to find local counsel. We’ve certainly heard the opposite of that, too. We’ve heard that in-house counsel don’t look at Chambers at all and don’t even consider it. It’s across the board in terms of the comments we’ve heard.
I think it’s important to note that Chambers and Partners is one way to level the playing field. If you’re a small firm and you get that ranking against larger firms, it’s a great win, and you can use it for marketing purposes, like putting the Chambers badge on your website and being listed in the Chambers directory. There’s a lot of mileage you can get out of the ranking. We think it’s extremely important, and we’ve seen that clients use Chambers, but you can certainly make a case for both sides.
Sharon: It’s easy to say, “Well, nobody looks at it.” Some in-house counsel say they do, some say they don’t. We think, especially for smaller firms, that the important part is being able to even the playing field. You can say you’re the same caliber as lawyers at a larger firm, but when you are both Chambers-ranked, it’s hard to argue with that. Also, as you had mentioned, Megan, once you’re ranked, what can you do to augment your presence in Chambers?
Megan: Chambers and Partners offers an expanded profile on their website. If you go to their website, you can easily search their guide for a specific lawyer name or a law firm, but it’s just a listing with a quote or two from an anonymous client about the caliber of that firm or that attorney’s work. With an expanded profile, you can pay Chambers annually to describe the firm and the practice a little bit more than just a listing. That’s one way to leverage the shelf life and to get more visibility. There are certainly other ways. Of course, Chambers also has plaques, ranking brochures and all sorts of products you can purchase or subscribe to in order to extend the visibility of your ranking.
Sharon: The important thing is that you get ranked, and then you have the opportunity to augment that. Megan, thank you so much. Everybody, thank you for listening. This can be quite a complicated process. As you’ve heard, we have been doing this a long time, and we’d be happy to talk with you about it. Megan’s contact information will be in the show notes. Megan, thank you so much for being here. Thanks, everybody, for listening to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Please keep your eyes and ears open for the next episode, when we’ll have another thought-provoking guest who can propel your firm forward.
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