Chambers & Partners is to launch its own social network for lawyers.
First, the negatives – this will be tough.
The social network for lawyers space is littered with corpses.
In fact, no legal media company or publisher has ever successfully developed a social media site.
Even Martindale Hubbell, which had deep pockets back in the day, didn’t get far with its “Connected” product.
A ton of other lawyer networking sites and newer start-ups have fallen by the wayside as well.
There is also the argument that people (lawyers especially) have limited time, so focus on the online spaces where people already are – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook – rather than fracture the community among more places.
Now, the positives.
This is a bold move for Chambers, and they have plowed a lot of people and money into this.
Unlike other companies that have tried a social network venture, Chambers has a tremendous brand and has spent nearly 30 years building connections between in-house and out-house lawyers.
One thing I’ve learnt in the years I’ve been working with Chambers – don’t write them off.
If anyone can pull this off, Chambers can.
Chambers pioneered the use of client research in the 1990s as an integral part of legal directory research.
People were skeptical, but it went on to define the research directory industry.
When Google came along, people said that would kill the directories.
When law firms developed their own websites in the early 00s, commentators said that legal directories were finished.
Then it was blogs, then social media, then the financial crisis, which would destroy everything that had gone before.
They were all wrong.
Directories like Chambers have not just survived all these threats, they have come out the other end even stronger.
So what’s this new product about?
Well, it’s called “Chambers Connect”.
It’s a closed, subscription-only system, and not publicly available like LinkedIn.
All lawyers officially recognized in Chambers will be invited to join.
Invitations are heading out soon, soft launch style, ahead of a more formal launch next year.
Clients – buyers of legal services – will also be allowed to join.
The idea is to create a space where lawyers in private practice and clients can connect, network, and share ideas.
A central feature of the site is a question-and-answer facility where a client, say, could post a legal question, and private practice lawyers would weigh in with answers to their queries.
It’s similar to what Avvo has done, albeit focused on the consumer end of the market.
Chambers Connect has a bunch of other features such as a LinkedIn-style private messaging system, and some valuable survey data on billing rates in 180 jurisdictions around the world.
Have a look at the brochure for more on the site.
UPDATE: Chambers has provided more information via a question-and-answer with managing editor, Rieta Ghosh. See here for more.
Peter Sullivan says
Interesting – there’s also the networks such as the Dentons-backed alliance thing, and other existing networks, events, and bar associations, and so forth, which encourage lawyers to connect and network. The struggle with these products is getting people to engage over time, and not just fizzle out, but good luck to Chambers!
Julian Swanson says
Another Foxwordy knock-off. They have copied Foxwordy right down to the UI. Chambers should be ashamed. They are too late to the party anyway- Foxwordy is already far ahead.
Ben Reiziget says
I guess Foxwordy is so successful that they ban critical journalism.
Mark Lutin says
A concern is that we ask clients to serve as Chambers referrals and have assured them it is for research purposes only. Now they are being solicited for this. Depending on how relentless Chambers is with their solicitations — endless emails pestering them to join — we might see clients asking not to be used as referrals in the future.
Michael Evans, Baker & McKenzie says
Chambers could have helped themselves somewhat by getting large firms’ PR and marketing teams on board to some extent before the launch in a structured manner. Telling us this was coming, what it was aiming to achieve and what ranked partners were going to be receiving and when would have been nice.
Maybe I just missed something but as things stand my inbox is filled with approaching 100 enquiries from partners and BD or marketing colleagues in dozens of countries asking whether it is worth signing up to Chambers Connect, what it is and whether the firm as a whole supports it. I can’t advise on what I can’t see or sign up for
Understandably both Chambers and Legal 500 are desperate to monetise rankings in different ways to move their financial model away from the outmoded listings model, where everyone plays the game and pretends there is some value inherent in a listing. The reality is that most firms see the two main directories as an overall positive for the market and understand they need to make a profit to do what they do, so see listings as a necessary research subsidy.
We would like an alternative financial model too because any answer other than “it is a research subsidy” to the question “what is the value of a listing” is a lie. That makes internal conversations quite complex. Maybe Chambers Connect could evolve into a platform for commercial engagement, because we don’t really need LinkedIn for lawyers, given that LinkedIn already fulfils that purpose well enough. Forward thinking lawyers are also much less concerned with just talking to other lawyers, whether in house or private practice given the increasing importance of industry and sector knowledge in building a practice. That makes the success of any industry specific social network unlikely, because it is the interface with other areas of business that generate valuable connections.
Anyway, I digress from my point about why Chambers should engage with marketing teams well in advance of any new product launch. Don’t worry about the big secret getting out. Let’s get some perspective. This is not price sensitive information. There aren’t dozens of competitors out there waiting to pounce on an idea. The reality is simply that firms’ marketing and comms teams manage budgets for commercial engagement with directories.
Legal 500 currently seem to understand that better than Chambers. Chambers may call itself “the clients’ guide” but periodically has an institutional tendency to come across as if they forget a little bit that those clients are not their clients. They are the clients of the law firms they rank. At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, we law firms are Chambers’ clients. Within firms the marketing and comms teams manage the budgets. It is somewhat old fashioned to think those teams are simply the people directly actioning the wishes of partners. Partners generally ask their marketing and comms teams what to do with and how to engage with directories. They are too busy fee earning, managing teams and running client relationships to stay on top of everything that isn’t core business.
It would not generate a conflict between the editorial objectivity of the research team and the commercial imperatives of the business for Chambers to engage in advance of a new product launch with the people in law firms who sign off on listings and other products, and make recommendations to the partnership about commercial engagement. Particularly when the timing is, from a UK perspective at least, two weeks before the first wave of Chambers UK submissions is due. People are already spending more time than they would ideally wish on directories submissions without being put in the awkward position of being asked questions they can’t answer.
Lloyd Pearson says
Thanks for weighing in, Mike
Quite a few legal marketing friends and colleagues have said a similar thing – that a little bit of advance notice would have been nice, and perhaps a training webinar/conference call, ahead of the lawyer outreach, so they are one step ahead in terms of being able to advise internally.
Seeing this from Chambers point of view, though, if you canvass people too far ahead of time, you’ll only get a negative response.
If Chambers had asked 100 legal marketers (a risk averse bunch in the main) a year ago if they thought developing a social network was a good idea, 95% would have said no.
The key to business success is sometimes not listening to your clients too closely, but taking a risk, getting something to market quickly, keeping the momentum up, and developing quickly in response to initial feedback. (the whole Henry Ford: “if I’d asked my clients what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse” argument)
I’ve noticed a number of the directories, and legal media/publishers more widely, being more “guerilla” in their marketing lately, largely I think because they’re up against law firms fatigued and wary of too much new product development.
Michael Evans says
Fair enough. I was a bit harsh and appreciate it’s not every day you launch a major new product, so it’s hard to have an approach that pleases everyone. I don’t think you have to ask people whether they think something is a good idea when letting them know about it though. Legal marketers are not as conservative as they used to be, reflecting how the legal industry is slowly changing. Most would dearly love a clearer commercial proposition associated with directories than a listing. The key is that it should be instead of a listing not as well as. Bolting more commercial products onto a directory when the commercial foundation of listings is not really fit for purpose will generate an at best conservative response.
Lloyd Pearson says
An interesting and thoughtful blog on ChambersConnect by Jayne Navarre, a US marketing consultant:
Jayne Navarre says
Thanks for the shout out, Lloyd. While it is hard to contain my lack of enthusiasm for this new product, I do hope that, somehow, someway, they will be able to lead a conversation, rather than simply another marketing platform. I am also encouraged that Martindale is expected to “integrate” their social networking platform with the directory. I think that is helpful, from a user perspective. Though, I also remain pessimistic that a very large group can be transparent in discussing the real issues in a semi-public space.
Lloyd Pearson says
Lloyd Pearson says
More on ChambersConnect from Bob Ambrogi:
Alexandra Quilici says
I wish Chambers great success! I agree with Lloyd’s point that if anybody can pull this off, Chambers can. Do not write them off. I also had to deal with a few queries on ChambersConnect but the publishing house was smart to go direct to partners. Marketing contacts also received an email in advance of the emails going out to the ranked partners. Let’s also face it, in the global legal directories market, a Chambers deadline will always be happening in some part of the world, and for legal marketing professionals, launching a new directories product is never an ideal time. I do also take Michael’s point though on more respect for the legal marketing professionals who sign off on budgets and give advice to partners. You do need to market new products to us as well. An advanced webinar in the style of the Law360 Award Q&A’s would have been appreciated.
Lloyd Pearson says
What’s the feedback been like among the Dentons partners?
Lloyd Pearson says
UPDATE: Chambers has provided more information via a question-and-answer with managing editor, Rieta Ghosh. See here for more:
Richard Pettet says
As one of the corpses on the “legal social network battlefield”, so to speak, I’m extremely interested to see how this works out for Chambers. Having read the follow up piece (http://393communications.com/chambers-new-social-network-more-information/ – looks like Michael Chambers’ writing not Rieta’s) I’m not sure they’ve thought this through properly.
Disclaimer: I once worked at Chambers, then started my own legal social network, and now work for a software company that develops “social collaboration tools” for the legal industry.
Chambers Connect has been in development since about 2010. It was that development hell process and seeming willingness to spend endless pots of cash building a social network that prompted me to start my own. That didn’t work out as I’d hoped, although it had short-term success and some traction initially, mainly because there simply isn’t the demand for this type of product in the legal market. It’s a numbers game: how many users? how many active users? how many REALLY ENGAGED users? The last metric will be a low single digit percentage, which is fine if you have 100s of millions of users like LinkedIn but of limited worth when you have several thousand users, which is what Chambers will have. You need excellent community managers and moderators. Do Chambers have this?
That percentage of really engaged users could be even less than it might otherwise be on Chambers Connect because of their rankings. Why would GCs want to engage with a non-ranked lawyer on CC when there are supposedly plenty that have a ranking? So the numbers become even more squeezed: how many ranked lawyers will be active and engaged?
Then there is the very real issue that Michael Evans talks about above. He would know better than I about the internal machinations of a) getting lawyers involved and b) managing that process from a strategic and logistical point of view. It was certainly an issue with my social network, which is why the main body of users were smaller firms or solo practitioners – there was little or no internal governance dictating how lawyers used my platform. That doesn’t translate to big law firms.
So, a few months in, does anyone know how Chambers Connect is doing?