Today is arguably the busiest day in the U.S legal directories calendar.
Legal marketers, fresh from the recent Chambers USA launch, face a double-barreled challenge: digesting and communicating the results of the new edition of the Legal 500 USA while scrambling to complete the first batch of Chambers USA submissions.
Legal 500 USA 2013 – Launch Day
The latest Legal 500 USA rankings and editorial commentary go live at 11am UK time (6am Eastern) today – Monday, June 3 2013.
I remember the early days of the Legal 500 USA, back in 2006.
I worked for a law firm in New York at the time, and met with the Legal 500 editors and managers as they toured to promote the new product.
It was a tough sell for them.
Chambers had first-mover advantage after launching in the U.S a few years earlier, and American firms were still coming to terms with the impact of a new, unfamiliar and invasive style of legal directory research.
Unsurprisingly the chatter among the legal marketing community was “here we go again”.
To differentiate itself, the Legal 500 departed from the conventional annual format used since the late 1990s in its UK and EMEA directories, and went with a four-volume format (each volume contained a different group of practices).
The idea was to reduce sales lead time, get the product to market quickly and generate some momentum.
The first editions of the Legal 500 were surprisingly good.
New directories take a while to bed in, so there was the odd head-scratching ranking as you might expect.
But the commentary was elegantly written, helped by some talented reporters from the directory’s magazine companion, Legal Business.
The multi-volume format was soon ditched and Legal 500 reverted to its tried-and-tested annual edition.
Seven years on, the Legal 500 USA is well established, increasingly well known, and has given Chambers USA a run for its money.
Although, unlike Chambers, which covers the U.S states in more detail, Legal 500 remains focused on the top commercial firms operating nationally, with little room for regional firms with a local practice.
But most law firms – at least those active on the national stage – like the country-wide format: it plays to the way they market themselves and avoids awkward internal discussions with lawyers who are keen to promote their national credentials and reluctant to be boxed into a state category.
The elitist strategy adopted for the US market is something of a reversal of the way in which Legal 500 was historically perceived in Europe: as a more open-minded, relaxed assessor of law firms compared to the more discerning Chambers & Partners.
For instance, there are 311 law firms recommended across the entirety of this year’s Legal 500 USA – an increase of just four firms from last year.
124 of those firms picked up at least one top-tier ranking.
But only 22 firms received five or more top-tier recommendations.
Chambers USA 2014: Deadline Day #1
Submission deadlines are always a headache for law firm marketers, but the first Chambers USA deadline is notably tough since it comes hot on the heels of the launch of the latest edition of the directory.
When preparing directory submissions, it’s advisable to work on a 4-6 week lead time.
In other words, work back 4-6 weeks from the submission due date to give yourself enough time to speak to the lead attorney, work up the draft, plug in any outstanding details, and finalize.
Four weeks is sufficient for most sections, but stretch that to six if it’s a new section, if you know the attorneys travel a lot, or if you have a bunch of sections to handle simultaneously.
The difficulty with the June 3 deadline is that what you write in a submission is influenced by the latest directory results.
How the firm fared will shape the approach you take, who you include, and how you position the practice.
So while you can make a start in late April/early May, the final pieces of the jigsaw have to be slotted in from May 24 2013 once Chambers USA has been published – just one working week from the June 3 deadline.
A challenge even for the best-oiled marketing department, especially if you have multiple submissions due on that day.
Do hit the deadlines though – it will help your firm, and the directories will thank you.
The first deadline is particularly important as it sets a marker for the rest of the directory season.
If you fall behind at the beginning, it’s often difficult to catch up.
Large numbers of law firms routinely miss deadlines, which is unhelpful for the directories, and does your firm no favors.
To help legal marketers, and law firm marketing departments, I’ve developed a number of best practice documents about how to manage submission deadlines.
I’ll cover some of it in this blog, but contact me if you want more detailed guidance on how to avoid the dreaded extension request.
(Pictured – Lafayette, Louisiana – taken by Lloyd Pearson in May 2008)
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