Yes, it’s that time again.
Even the slickest teams will hit a bump in the road during directories season, but advance planning will prevent the majority of problems.
Study the Schedule
The Chambers USA 2021 schedule – this covers submission preparation in 2020 – was released on April 16 2020.
The new schedule tells you which sections are being researched, when the submission is due, and which researcher is assigned to each section.
On the Chambers schedule you will also see a column showing “month of research”.
This refers to the point when the research begins, which is often a few weeks, or a month, after the actual submission deadline.
Note: All Dates Have Changed This Year
Because of coronavirus, Chambers announced that it would push back all the US submission deadlines by over a month each.
Those who have got used to the annual US submission cycle will know that the first set of deadlines is always in early June.
But this year the first round of submissions is due July 23 2020.
As a result, submissions normally due in July are now due in August, those in August are now in September, and so on.
At the back end of the season, there will be a bit of a crunch as the last set of submission deadlines spills into December.
The six US monthly deadline dates in full are:
- July 23 2020
- August 20 2020
- September 17 2020
- October 22 2020
- November 19 2020
- December 8 2020
Check for Other Schedule Changes
On top of the overall calendar shift above, check the running order for the specific sections on your list.
To make life easier for law firms, Chambers for the most part sticks to the equivalent deadline last year.
But there are always exceptions, so it’s important to cross-check the schedule against your internal list from last year.
You don’t want to get caught out and find out too late that one of your deadlines is sooner than you think.
Watch for brand new sections; every year Chambers adds a few new ones.
If you are on the Chambers database, you may receive an e-mail notification highlighting any new sections at the time they announce the new schedule.
But not everyone gets this, so proactively check the online schedule from April 2020.
Start in Good Time
One benefit of the delay to the start of the 2020-21 submission round is that firms have more time to organize themselves before things get too crazy.
Usually I advise firms to start in mid-late April to hit the first set of deadlines in June.
But with the first set of submissions due not until late July, you now have extra time in April, May, and early June.
Start submission preparation in earnest in early-mid-June to hit the first deadline in late July.
If you fall behind with the first batch of submissions, it’s like a domino effect, and you’ll be playing catch up for the rest of the year.
Prepare a Master Table
Develop a directories organization chart before jumping in to submission preparation.
Draw up a list of all the sections in every state (and nationally) where your firm has an office.
At a minimum, your table should include:
- The name of the state (or national)
- The practice/industry section (what the directories call it, not your firm)
- The submission deadline
- Whether you submitted for that section last year – yes/no
- Whether your firm was ranked in that section – yes/no
- The lead partner(s) for the section
- The responsible member of the marketing team
- A space to include progress notes and other comments
Identify Areas for Submission
Before you dive in, firm up a definitive list of sections for which you will submit.
In most cases, you will re-submit in those areas where your firm is ranked, and those areas where you submitted previously.
But you may wish to submit in new sections as well.
Firstly, take a look at any new sections added by Chambers.
If any of these areas are active at your firm, consider submitting.
Plus it’s easier to make an impression when the directories launch a new section.
Secondly, did you make key lateral hires, open a new office, or expand a particular practice?
Are some practices earmarked for expansion?
For any “possibles” – sections where you think you may want to submit, but aren’t sure – discuss internally and make a firm yes/no decision ahead of time.
You don’t want a partner calling in November – at the end of the season – asking why we didn’t do a submission for his practice back in July.
Assign Directories Responsibility
Most law firm marketing staff have “day jobs”, and it’s difficult for them to juggle the competing demands on their time in the middle of directory season.
So it’s vital that responsibility for each submission is assigned to a team member – an “owner” – who has to ensure that the submission gets finalized.
It’s best to have a single marketing person as the owner of each submission, even if that submission cuts across internal practice groups.
Assign Partners to Approve Submissions
One of the reasons submissions take longer than they should, and deadlines get missed, is because marketers expand the circle of partners involved.
A culture of consensus in law firms encourages an approach designed to “cover” yourself.
I get that, but you must keep the circle of communications tight, or the submission will drag on.
Assign a single partner to each submission – at most, two – with final sign-off responsibility.
Avoid Death by Committee
Law firms love committees but they derail submissions and lead to delays.
It may not be inclusive, but it’s more effective if a marketer works with one partner (or the smallest possible group of partners) in a given practice to drive the submission forward and secure approval.
Use Latest Template
Remember to download the latest version of the submission template from the Chambers website.
Chambers introduced a new version of its standard submission template in late 2019.
The new form has already been rolled out in the UK, Europe, and Asia, but this will be its first USA outing.
When you prepare your drafts, first transfer across any baseline text from the old form (the ones from Summer 2019) to the new-style template.
New Chambers USA Edition
The latest edition of Chambers USA will be released on April 23 2020.
As well as preparing an internal analysis of the results, the new edition will help you plan ahead for the next season.
Your firm may have secured new lawyer and firm rankings, and that will influence your approach to the next round of submissions.
Ensure Chambers Has The Right Contacts
If you have submissions responsibility, make sure you are listed on Chambers’ system as the external contact for your firm.
Legal marketers switch firms regularly, so inform the Chambers staff, and tell them that you are the firm point person.
Then you will receive notifications about schedule changes, launch dates, deadlines, and other updates.
You may also want to contact relevant researchers and editors at the start of the research process, and tell them that you are the firm’s directory liaison.
Picture: Baltimore, taken by Lloyd Pearson in March 2019