I caught up with Best Lawyers for the latest on their new law firm rankings survey with US News & World Report. Answers from Carl Dawson, Communications Director, and Steve Naifeh, President.
Q1: The tie-up with US News has really got the market talking? What has the initial response been like?
A1: The response has been very impressive. The general counsel, lawyers, marketing directors, and recruiting officers we spoke with following the announcement of this project in July were very helpful as we devised survey instruments that would make these rankings significant and different. The response rates on our surveys of clients, lawyers, marketers, and recruiters have greatly exceeded our expectations and we’ll be able to base the rankings on a wealth of information. For example, we had more than half a million lawyer evaluations of law firm practice areas.
Q2: Is it fair to say that larger firms who might previously have had less contact with Best Lawyers are now taking more interest?
A2: We’ve been in regular contact with the leading lawyers in this country for nearly three decades, from firms of all sizes. Firms already know us. Any increased interest is due to the scale of our new research for the U.S. News –Best Lawyers law firm rankings and the size of the platform. Firms of all sizes have made this project a priority.
Q3: Can you provide a little background about the joint venture with US News. How did it come about?
A3: Conversations between U.S. News and Best Lawyers began in 2007. U.S. News & World Report has become the leading rankings publication in the country, with about 10 million print readers and more than 7 million unique visitors each month to its website. By combining Best Lawyers’ longstanding emphasis on massive peer evaluation with U.S. News’s focus on quantitative data, we believe that we can combine our expertise in order to create the most accurate, transparent, and useful law firm rankings reaching the largest possible audience of legal consumers.
Q4: The US News law school rankings have always been divisive. On the one hand, many people recognize the value they offer consumers. On the other, there are some vocal critics in the academic world and legal sector. Does the potential polarization of opinion and controversy worry you?
A4: No. We have assembled an enormous amount of significant data which, combined with peer evaluations from tens of thousands of leading lawyers and clients, will create law firm rankings that will not only have the largest platform of any law firm rankings but will also be significantly different from any others that are currently available.
Q5: On the marketing and recruitment surveys, many firms found some of the sections difficult to complete. This was usually because the information requested wasn’t readily available, or firms didn’t have a way of capturing the information. Based on feedback, are you planning to change any of the sections next year?
A5: We’re continuing to work with leaders in business and law to ensure that we’re asking the right questions and providing the information they find most useful in hiring legal counsel.
Q6: There is some nervousness among law firms who are worried that if they are unable to complete particular sections, they will be penalized in the final survey. Should they try and offer a best estimate, or leave blank?
A6: It’s preferable for a firm to provide its best estimate, but we do not disqualify a firm for leaving part of a survey blank. We understand that some information is not available at some firms, and that in some cases firm policy may prevent its release. We have assembled enough data to complete the initiative and are ranking firms regardless of the level of their participation, but the more information a firm can provide, the more accurate a depiction we can provide of its strengths.
Q7: Once the law firm surveys are finalized, what happens over the next few months before the results are published? What weight are you planning to attach to the different components of the survey?
A7: We are collaborating closely with Bob Morse (U.S. News’ director of data research) in order to ensure the statistical validity of our data and assign weights that make sense based on continuing discussions with large numbers of general counsel, lawyers, and law firm representatives.
Q8: Can you give us an idea of what we can expect when the surveys are published? How will it look, and how will the results be distributed? Do you have a launch date?
A8: Firms will be featured in as many as 125 practice areas in 210 metropolitan areas. Rankings will be presented nationally, but also by legal specialty, by state, and by metropolitan area. The top-ranked firms nationally in the largest practice areas will appear in the October 2010 edition of U.S. News & World Report, which has a circulation of over 1 million and a readership almost ten times that large. Additional rankings will appear in a stand-alone publication that will be mailed at the same time to 30,000 general counsel across the country. The full rankings, by practice area and by metropolitan area, state, and nation, along with all of the data points, will appear on the U.S. News website, which receives more than 7 million unique visitors each month.
Q9: Law firm marketing departments spend a significant amount of time completing surveys these days. There are a lot of them out there, and, as a consequence, there is a certain amount of “survey fatigue”. Are you confident that the BL-US News rankings will provide something different?
A9: There is nothing that matches the size of this platform, and no other ranking is based on such a broad combination of quantitative data and qualitative data that incorporates both client feedback and peer review by lawyers. These rankings will have significantly wider reach than existing rankings, both to legal professionals familiar with the Best Lawyers rankings and to the larger audience served by U.S. News.
Q10: The US News project appears to have overshadowed other Best Lawyers initiatives. What else is the company working on at the moment? I understand you’ve expanded overseas in the last two years?
A10: Our international expansion began in 2006 with The Best Lawyers in Canada. Since then we’ve released peer-review lists of lawyers in 65 countries with major legal professions and are updating the lists annually. We’re continuing to partner with major international publications such as Handelsblatt in Germany, Expansion in Spain, and the Australian Financial Review. The number of lawyer searches conducted through bestlawyers.com and the websites of our partner publications continues to increase dramatically. In March alone more than a million searches were conducted by more than 600,000 visitors, resulting in more than 3.5 million page views. We continue to be recognized around the world as a leading source of information about the world’s most skilled lawyers, and a valuable resource when seeking counsel in unfamiliar jurisdictions and practice areas.