The first of a series of interviews with movers and shakers in the legal media world, conducted at the Legal Marketing Association annual conference in Las Vegas in March 2017.
LP: Please introduce yourself?
DB: I’m David Burgess, The Legal 500 publishing director. I’ve been doing the job for 10 years, and in the legal industry for 21 years. Before The Legal 500, I worked for Euromoney, for a publication called International Tax Review. I did that for five years, then set up on my own as a consultant to the Big Four tax firms. After a couple of years of that, I moved to The Legal 500, which is owned by Legalease.
LP: You’re now in charge of all the directories at The Legal 500?
DB: The Legal 500 is much more than directories. We have our engagement with GCs that comes though the GC PowerList, GC Magazine, Client Intelligence Report, Who Represents Who, our events business – they all come under the same banner. My main focus is the development of The Legal 500 as a brand, how we can help in-house counsel around the world, how they work with law firms, and how they further their careers, so it’s a broad remit.
LP: You have this tagline “more than a directory” so it seems your organization has been trying to diversify away from the staple directory products. Can you explain the thinking behind why you felt you needed to do that?
DB: While the tagline is “more than a directory”, a lot of what we’re actually doing is to reinforce the rankings, so we are diversifying, but the rankings remain core to what we do. It’s easy to knock directories – “no-one uses them, they’re just vanity products” – but the smarter conversation is around the legitimate directories, meaning the ones that have the readership. An incredibly large number of people use The Legal 500 directories. Online figures are over 4 million a year, of which 2.6 million are focused on the in-house/buying side – not just GCs, but everyone who buys legal services. So the idea is to have a good directory that is used well and is published once a year, but how do you get more people to use it throughout the year?
Our idea was to develop more “entry points” for in-house counsel. While a large number of people know who we are and what we do, there are many that may not know us or understand us fully, especially as legal services become more sophisticated globally. But through these other initiatives and products, they will discover more about us, and realize the value of what we do.
The other strand of expansion was to strengthen our in-house coverage. Three or four years ago when we looked at this closely, we saw that most other directories around the world were focused primarily on law firms, not clients. They aim to make law firms feel better about themselves, to give them more accolades, to make the partners feel special. Whilst that’s a part of things, it ignores a fundamental part of the market – the in-house community that buys legal services. The people that keep law firms afloat. They don’t get much recognition. They don’t have the same platform that private practice lawyers do, especially as the power and balance is shifting in their favor. They should be recognized. But also they need some help.
I was talking to the general counsel of a FTSE100 company and his view was that the GC should have the same place in the company as the finance director. It took the finance directors a long time to get there, and it will take the GCs a long time to get there as well. At The Legal 500, we see it as our responsibility and duty to help the GCs get to that position. For that reason, they are central to a wide variety of our products.
LP: You’ve launched lots of new products in the last couple of years. Can you tell us a bit more about some of the newer developments?
DB: The Client Intelligence Report came about because we saw other surveys that said: “here’s what GCs think”. But they weren’t transparent about who was responding, and the number of responses was low. So we felt we could do something a bit better, and launched Client Intelligence Report about 18 months ago. We’re now in the second year.
It’s a survey of in-house counsel and buyers of legal services, asking them what’s important in their role, such as the areas of work they will push out to law firms and those they will internalize, issues they’re facing in their industry etc. But we also ask about the law firms they use, which they score on a range of key performance indicators. What’s most important though is that the final report is online and it’s fully interactive. In-house counsel get the full report for free, and law firms can purchase the report to tap into that information. But it’s fully interactive, and you can break down the data by country, industry, size of business, job title – and get a focused view of what clients are looking for and what they want.
For those firms interested in doing competitive intelligence, you can see what clients are doing and how they have scored different firms on different criteria. It’s the largest survey of its kind as far as we know. We interviewed 9,100 buyers of legal services over the last year, separately from the research that we do for The Legal 500. I haven’t seen anything else that goes into that much depth and offers that level of data.
Allied to that, the other new launch is Who Represents Who. One of the biggest questions both clients and law firms ask is: who is representing who? It’s very simple. But it’s hard to find that information without trawling though lots of individual websites, every press release. No-one has got time to do that, so we created this product called Who Represents Who that has over 920,000 relationships around the world between law firms and clients over a four-year period. We’re are constantly adding data, so within a few weeks, we will have over one million relationships. The idea is that you can quickly type in the name of a law firm, client, country, industry, practice, and see the scope of who is working with whom. Firms may be concerned about confidentiality, and we take this incredibly seriously. We check every single submission sent to us and if a relationship is marked confidential, we remove it from Who Represents Who. Clients get this product for free. They can see which law firms are working with who, do conflict searches. It’s an easily accessible database – on desktop and app.
The third new thing is the Hall of Fame – more on the law firm side of things. It’s just launched. The focus of The Legal 500 is to rank teams, but great teams are made of great individuals, and we want to highlight the best people. Those that make it into the Hall of Fame are partners who have been ranked consistently in The Legal 500 United States for the last six years. As people know, we’re elite in our approach. We don’t rank that many firms or individuals, so getting in to the Hall of Fame is hard. Around 450 people have made it so far across all areas in the US. There’s nothing that firms have to do, there’s no extra submissions, it’s purely based on continued excellence. Hall of Famers will get highlighted in the editorial commentary.
What you will see in the US and UK this year, and we’ve already published in Asia, is the “next generation” lawyers. That’s looking at senior associates and new partners, often people that clients ask for first. Clients want to know about these individuals. A concern for firms is that if we highlight those rising stars, then that makes them attractive to recruiters and rival firms. My view is that good people at that level should be recognized. It’s about succession planning, which is what clients want. If they leave, it won’t be because of The Legal 500, it will be to do with firm culture or lack of access to clients, or other issues. As far as we have seen in Asia and EMEA, it has worked wonders with firms, and we’ve had good feedback from clients.
LP: How can people get in touch?
DB: We’re trying to be everywhere! But if you have a query, drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and one of our admin team will make sure you receive the right information. You can also receive our monthly newsletter if you wish (same email). All the directory editors contribute updates to the newsletter. There’s an “about us” section on the website, with lots of information about timetables, when to submit, submission guidelines, and other marketing questions. Plus, we have the Twitter feed, which is @thelegal500. Most of our people are on LinkedIn and you can connect with them. We have The Legal 500 homepage on LinkedIn as well.
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