US law firm marketers gearing up for the coming legal directory season should be aware that Chambers & Partners introduced a new version of its standard template in the Fall of 2014.
Chambers is asking law firms to use the form for the forthcoming round of research – the first time that many US firms will have used the new-style template.
For those that haven’t yet seen it, the document, which is available for free on the Chambers website, and replaces previous versions of the Chambers submission template, features a number of new sections and requirements.
The key change is that Chambers has extended the number of matters law firms can include in each submission from 10 to 15 – a helpful addition for larger practices that struggled to find space to accommodate all their matters previously.
On the other hand, Chambers now insists that each matter description stay within one page of standard paper – the emphasis now very much on concise matter descriptions and an attempt to steer firms away from the lengthy narratives often seen in such submissions.
The new-style submission, which is more prescriptive than earlier versions, reflects Chambers’ investment in technology that electronically scans the submissions to make it easier for their research staff to process large volumes of law firm information.
Rather than a human individually receiving and processing each document, aspects of the process will be automated.
The change might seem trivial on the surface, but what is happening more broadly here is a move away from the idea of the directory submission as a stand-alone piece of marketing material to a conduit of information – a means of transferring information directly into the Chambers system.
Eventually, I imagine – rather than preparing a document – we will input information directly into the Chambers system via some sort of extranet.
Although we’re not there yet, this latest version of the template feels like a transitional step along that journey, and, I suspect, is designed to get law firm into a new rhythm, so that when the eventual changes take place, firms are better equipped to handle the move.
Whenever Chambers makes changes like this, it causes marketers – those on the front line of legal directory management – to rethink how they do things, and wonder if they should change their approach.
The question of what template to use is one I hear constantly.
Some brief history here.
Up until around five years ago, Chambers did not have a formal submission template.
It had guidelines, which were posted on its website, and in the pre-internet years, sent out to law firms by post and fax.
The guidelines were short and flexible – less than a page – and asked firms to provide the following information to Chambers: name of firm, name of practice, number of lawyers, names of key lawyers, practice overview, descriptions of up to 10 matters, and feedback on current rankings.
Some smaller firms used to fill in the guidelines sheet itself in the style of a survey form, but most firms took the guidelines and went off and developed their own firm templates.
There was a simplicity to the system and it gave firms freedom to say however much or little they wanted, within the broad framework of the guidelines, while retaining a proprietary consistency over their materials.
A change occurred in 2010 when Chambers went from issuing guidelines to producing its own template.
It was their way of stating clearly to law firms: this is the information we require.
You can understand why they did this.
Chambers is inundated with requests from legal marketers and lawyers seeking guidance on how to prepare a submission.
You might think most law firms have heard of Chambers, but there are constantly new firms seeking to engage with Chambers for the first time and they need a written explanation of what is required in a submission.
Even those firms that currently work with Chambers still fire off a barrage of queries to the Chambers staff in the hope that they can get an edge which might make the difference in the rankings.
Chambers now simply points them all to the standard template – a “one-size-fits-all” document, applying equally to a sole practitioner in Iowa to the largest Wall Street M&A practice, and everything in between.
The downside of this move to a standard template is that some firms have been forced to abandon proprietary templates that they have developed over 10-15 years.
When Chambers first brought out its own template a few years ago, some firms immediately started using the Chambers form while other kept to their own designs.
In the last few years, an increasing number of firms have made the switch to the Chambers form, believing that it’s better to stick to the Chambers script rigidly than go “off menu”.
With this latest iteration of the form, Chambers has used stronger language than in the past to encourage firms to use its generic form, and I think you will see the majority of US firm use Chambers’ own template this coming directory season.
I don’t know if this is typical, but roughly speaking, I would say that of all the submissions I have seen across my desk in recent years, around half of firms use the standard Chambers form and half use a version of their own based broadly on the Chambers requirement, but with some modifications.
A couple of firms have said to me privately that they do not want to use the Chambers form and will continue to use their own materials until they are categorically told not to.
Although that wouldn’t be my advice, I can understand their position.
The main reason firms use their own materials is not to be awkward or make life difficult for Chambers, but to make it easier to manage the many submissions they have to produce for a variety of different directories and other awards, surveys, and rankings organizations.
Therefore they have designed interchangeable templates that can be adapted easily and quickly for the various different publications that require them throughout the year.
Particularly in larger firms, that routinely do hundreds of submissions a year, this represents a considerable time saving.
Once you develop unique documents for each publisher, such as using the Chambers standard form, it takes longer to convert them back into, say, a suitable form for Legal 500 or IFLR or whoever else.
That adds a lot of time and cost to your annual directories effort, hence why some firms have resisted using the publisher’s own forms.
As ever, the Chambers official position is hazy, and varies depending on which editor or researcher you talk to – some being more relaxed than others.
The party line appears to stop short of saying that you will be formally penalized through the research process for not using the Chambers template – although I have heard some Chambers people say that not conforming to their form will lead to processing delays and will mean that your submission is not treated with priority.
For that reason alone, if you haven’t already started, it would be wise to use the Chambers forms.
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