Put the kettle on, this is going to be a long one.
In the almost 20 years I’ve worked in legal marketing, I can’t remember a year in which so much happened.
Are Directories Worth It?
Every year we revisit a 20-year debate as to whether legal directories remain relevant – with peak angst usually around October when the two big London publishers, Chambers and Legal 500, release their annual guides.
The articles above could have easily been written in 1998 or 2008 – not much has changed, and overall directories are no more or less popular than they were 10 or 20 years ago.
At one end, there is a core of fierce directory critics, many of whom make their views known on social media (the hashtag “deathtodirectories” has popped up recently), at the other end a group of directory enthusiasts, and in the middle a pragmatic bunch who may have gripes about the process, but who recognize that the concept has some merit.
You could argue that directories are more popular now than ever – there’s more of them, more law firms engage with them, they have reached further into new markets, and gone deeper into existing markets.
Plus, why would private equity – see below – be all over the industry like a rash if they don’t like what they see?
On the other hand, some believe the industry is starting to decline as a connected world offers more ways for lawyers to raise their profile than when the directories had a free run in the pre/early internet years.
There is now much more information available about lawyers (blogs, websites, social media, podcasts, online content), allowing prospective buyers of legal services to make more informed choices than in the 1990s when the directories were one of few public sources of information about law firm activity.
While I don’t see directories disappearing anytime soon, there is an opportunity for more bold thinking when it comes to product development.
In recent years we have seen directories evolve to cover things like law firm networks and alternative legal providers, but submission preparation remains painstaking for most firms, and there is scope to offer more value off the back of the entries.
Better search functionality, and more nuanced, enhanced commentary, are obvious starting points.
Any lack of imagination is not entirely the fault of the directories themselves, however.
Law firms are uncomfortable with change and have built up ways to manage the directories around a predictable annual process, so a kind of resigned inertia has characterised the relationship between the firms and publishers for many years.
Let’s see what 2019 brings.
Private Equity is Here
2018 was the year that private equity made its mark on the directory industry.
There has always been private sector investment in legal media but things went up a notch this year.
The question of if and when Michael Chambers would ever sell has been discussed for years, but it happened in Spring 2018 with private equity firm Inflexion coming in with a new management team.
Although the terms were not disclosed the largest deal in financial terms is likely to have been the acquisition of Avvo by Internet Brands, the latter itself owned by PE giant KKR.
Los Angeles-based Levine Leichtman was the hungriest animal, starting the year by gobbling up Law Business Research, eating up Best Lawyers a few months later, then for pudding bringing in Globe as part of a combination with Law Business Research.
As a result of those three deals, Levine Leichtman now owns a raft of successful legal directories, publications, and media properties.
Joining up the dots, everyone is wondering about the potential impact of these investments.
What was the attraction for the business brainboxes at the private equity firms, and what influence will they have in shaping the industry?
Will prices go up?
Round the Houses…
Chambers & Partners
Chambers was sold in March 2018 to the private equity firm, Inflexion.
The deal ended a 30+ year period in which the company was owned solely by founder Michael Chambers.
New management has said that investment in technology will be a priority.
Since the Spring, we have seen Chambers move office, and revamp its website and brand, with hints of more substantive changes to come next year.
Chambers Connect, the social networking site launched with fanfare in 2016, was quietly shelved.
Despite new owners, most of the key Chambers editors remain in the same roles.
Among the senior staff, a notable departure was Brad Sirott, the former business development director and a familiar face to many in the industry.
Sirott left Chambers in 2018 after 20 years at the company to join Leaders League, a legal publishing company which started out in France but has expanded in recent years.
Part of a broader move at Legal 500 towards a wholly digital platform, the publisher has also phased out all hard copies of its directories.
As you might expect with such a big change, there were some teething problems with the site, but most firms have nonetheless adapted to the new system.
During the Summer Legal 500 launched a new online magazine aimed at the global legal market called “fivehundred”.
The first edition, which was edited by John van der Luit-Drummond, was published in October 2018.
As to staff changes, the most notable was the hire of Georgina Stanley, formerly editor-in-chief of Legal Week, who became the new editor of the Legal 500 UK edition.
She replaced Alexander Boyes, who left the company.
IFLR1000 has traditionally covered the US nationally, but this marks the first time it has analysed financial and corporate law markets within 25 individual states.
The company also released a new guide to project development, in association with IJ Global, replacing the former energy and infrastructure guide that was around a few years ago.
Law Business Research
A jampacked year for this London-based legal publisher.
2018 started with the sale of Law Business Research to the US private equity firm Levine Leichtman Capital Partners.
Then, in July, Levine Leichtman backed a deal that saw Law Business Research combine with Globe Business Media Group – a union of two established legal media groups that produce a host of legal titles and directories.
Law Business Research is the group behind WWL (formerly Who’s Who Legal), and titles such as Global Competition Review, Global Arbitration Review, Getting the Deal Through, and Latin Lawyer.
Add to that Globe products such as Intellectual Asset Management, International Law Office, and Lexology.
The Thought Leaders section, a series of interviews with experts in a range of practice areas, added six new editions in 2018, and the Future Leaders series, covering experts aged 45 and under, has gathered momentum, including two conferences in London and Hong Kong.
A new website with enhanced functionality is planned for 2019.
In May 2018, Best Lawyers was acquired by Los Angeles-based investor Levine Leichtman Capital Partners, the same private equity firm that had earlier in the year snapped up Law Business Research.
In a similar vein to the Chambers situation, the deal also marked the end of more than 30 years of founder ownership – this time, Steven Naifeh, who pioneered the peer review style of lawyer directory in the 1980s.
Best Lawyers president Phillip Greer continues to lead the Best Lawyers management team post buyout.
Shortly after the acquisition Best Lawyers announced the launch of its new lawyer directory that aims to list 1.3 million lawyers in the USA.
Online lawyer directory giant Avvo was acquired by Internet Brands in January 2018
Only entering the legal market in 2010, Internet Brands has in less than a decade hoovered up Nolo (2011), Martindale Hubbell (2013), and now Avvo, among others – making it the largest legal directory publisher in the world.
Later in the year, Internet Brands renamed its legal division “Martindale-Avvo”, a name that references the integration of its two biggest directory properties.
Avvo founder Mark Britton, a tireless advocate for consumer choice and the power of legal directories, stepped aside shortly after the acquisition, and has hinted at another “big job” but who knows what that will be.
In October ALM launched its first Global 200 survey of the world’s 200 largest firms by revenue – up from 100 firms previously.
As to awards, ALM has revamped its program by adding awards for evolving areas such as the best use of technology alongside stalwarts like “litigation department of the year”.
With the UK’s Legal Week now under the ALM banner there is now a stronger transatlantic and global awards program.
Taking law firm financial rankings to the next level, on the basis that “higher revenue does not necessarily equate to superior overall financial performance”, ALM has done some great work this year in digging into the numbers.
Among the highest profile of the new legal surveys this year was a new list from the Times of London.
The Times Best Law Firms 2019, released in October 2018 (ironically on the same day as the newspaper published its own hit piece on legal directories), recommends 200 UK law firms in 30 legal practices.
In April The Lawyer relaunched on a new digital platform that features among other things a database with 4,000 law firms and 50,000 matters, enabling readers to see which firms have been instructed on what cases.
Among the new surveys to come out of The Lawyer stable was the City 50, the first ever snapshot of the London-only revenues of US and UK firms.
Editor Catrin Griffiths summarized the year:
“The prizes will go to the legal brand that creates a digital habit.
The Lawyer has had a fantastic year on this score – our analytics show audience engagement up by a stunning 26 per cent across both partners and associates, particularly in the major global firms.
That was undoubtedly helped by our site relaunch earlier this year, through which subscribers can access news, data and intel in one click.
Being first with the news and having a distinctive voice is key, and the most pleasing development was how many data-led long reads feature in our top stories.
Next year we take our Litigation Tracker digital. It’ll be a mix of judgment data and real-time reporting and will be a game-changer in litigation coverage.
We’re really looking forward to engaging even more readers in litigation teams, the bar and funders.”
Later in the year press reports hinted that Centaur, the owner of The Lawyer, is looking to sell the title.
During 2018 Legal Week launched a new list of the world’s top private client legal advisers – called the Private Client Global Elite.
The directory features 250 private client legal advisers and 124 up-and-comers.
This year Acritas launched two new indexes – one covering law firms in mainland Europe, and another for alternative legal brands.
According to Sarah Symington from Acritas:
“These pre-Brexit indexes, based on the strongest brands according to general counsel, revealed that global firms win out over Eurocentric firms, as client demands adjust to new economic and unpredictable challenges.
In collaboration with Thomson Reuters, Acritas released a series of reports into the state of corporate law departments across key jurisdictions including; USA, Canada, Hong Kong and Singapore.
As of January 2019, the Acritas Stars database will reach its fourth year with more than 10,000 stand-out lawyers around the world, all nominated independently by clients.”
Benchmark Litigation published a special edition focused on the labor and employment litigation market.
In keeping with Benchmark’s focus on the contentious side of legal practice, the survey covered those firms with expertise in employment litigation and disputes.
The deep dive covered most of the US states with particular emphasis on California, District of Columbia, New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, Texas, Florida, and Washington.
Print and online editions were released in October 2018.
The Financial Times Innovative Lawyers series is a respected fixture on the international legal awards scene, and appears to go from strength to strength.
RSG Consulting, the research group behind Financial Times Innovative Lawyers, also worked on the FT Intelligent Business initiative – consisting of a conference/awards event in San Francisco in November 2018, and a written report highlighting the disruption transforming legal and professional services.
The initiative led to the company’s inaugural report asking clients to rank law firms on their use of technology and innovation prowess.
The first report of its kind, the BTI Legal Innovation and Technology Review identified 27 specific needs clients are actively looking for from their law firms.
On more familiar ground, BTI’s Client Service A-Team survey is now in its 18th edition.
According to Rynowecer, the survey shone a light on client service expectations:
“Clients expect their law firms to deal with complexity in an expedient and confident manner – something clients say only 25% of law firms deliver.”
Lawdragon again produced a list of the world’s top 100 legal consultants and strategists.
The Thomson Reuters-owned directory topped a study of the major US legal directories with the best search visibility.
Avvo, Super Lawyers, Lawyers.com, Justia, Yelp, Thumbtack, UpCounsel, and HG.org also figured in the survey.
Justia is one of those directories which is under the radar for many, but is surprisingly large and consistently rates as one of the most heavily trafficked lawyer sites.
This year it added ratings and reviews to its online legal directory, with a proprietary rating for each lawyer on the site.
This year the Hong Kong-based legal publisher launched a sister portal called Conventus Leadership covering law firm business development, marketing, communications, and legal technology.
The site focused on artificial intelligence and legal automation in the legal industry launched a new directory, the AL 100, highlighting the most pioneering legal technology companies in this space.
Every year a bunch of new legal directories come on to the market, and this was one of the more notable ones.
Top3 Legal was founded by a group of UK-based lawyers, including partners from Freshfields and Addleshaw Goddard, and consists of a database of 150,000 lawyers in 400 law firms in 140 countries worldwide.
Each of the listed lawyers has the option to claim a profile, which they can edit, and clients/users can recommend lawyers.
One of the bolder and more imaginative new products to come to market, Meisterline is a new lawyer rating service that uses cognitive science to measure lawyers’ expertise.
After extensive development work, the site officially launched in late 2018 via a new digital platform.
The centerpiece of the product is the Meisterline Index, a 1-10 score that aims to objectively measure the specialist expertise of lawyers.
The bad boys of the legal directory world this year added the Brazilian courts to their litigation database, which they say is the world’s largest.
Premonition also teamed up with Clerksroom to build an end-to-end case management system for barristers.
A joint Bloomberg and Legal Marketing Association study on legal marketing identified the top 10 areas where legal marketers spend most time working with their attorneys.
The list seems reasonably accurate to me, with rankings and award submission featuring in the top ten.
The group behind the Association of International Law Firm Networks (AILFN), started a new website, LawyersAccountants.com, with the aim of bringing law and accounting networks together.
300,000 professionals are listed.
The same team published a directory over the Summer of 70 law and accounting networks.
Author Stephen McGarry:
“Cumulatively the members of the legal and accounting networks annually provide $180 billion of professional services. This is around 5% of the $1.1 trillion market for legal and accounting services. By way of comparison, this is 5 times greater than any of the individual Big Four networks.
Legal and accounting networks have a lot in common. The directory recognizes their collective contributions made to clients and the professions. The size and scope of networks (including the Big Four and the legal vereins which are also networks) demonstrates their importance as the model for global business.”
AILFN also published a book written by 33 leaders in legal business about their companies’ and organizations’ contributions to the legal profession.
I contributed the chapter on legal directories.
John Bowie, publisher of the New Zealand-based legal site:
“LawFuel experienced strong subscriber growth and readership during the year with an enhanced focus upon law firm technology, marketing, content marketing and related law firm business issues”
“The growth of the law jobs site and related content around legal careers and jobs has been a further highlight.
Our New Zealand base has provided us with a large local readership, but our global readership continues to grow strongly in Australia and the US in particular.
We expect 2019 to continue that trend with new features and services that are designed to assist law firms to create strong, online branding and content.”
Turning to Australia, LegalVision announced that it had outgrown its headquarters in Surry Hills, Sydney, hired its 100th team member and clocked over 2 million website visitors.
LexBlog, the blogging platform for lawyers, launched a “first-of-its-kind, global news and commentary network” in September 2018.
Legal writer and commentator Bob Ambrogi joined LexBlog in early 2018 to help lead the new service.
The New Jersey-based directory, which features two million+ lawyer listings, bagged Mean Girls star Lindsay Lohan as the face of its advertising campaign.
Is This Directory Worthwhile?
Law firms are still battling with all manner of speculative approaches.
Here’s a handy guide for law firm marketers.