Linda HazeltonJust as we were getting ready to head out to the LMA Annual Conference, news broke that Chambers and Partners had been acquired by private equity house Inflexion. Today’s guest blogger, Linda Hazelton, Hazelton Marketing & Management, picked up the phone and spoke to Mark Wyatt, Chambers’ CEO.

Amongst the many services of Hazelton Marketing & Management is the writing of Chambers and other directory submissions on behalf of lawyers and law firms, so Linda’s insights to our community are very much welcomed, and I want to thank her for writing such a detailed post.

News recently broke regarding Inflexion’s acquisition of Chambers. Inflexion is a mid-market private equity firm “investing in high growth, entrepreneurial businesses.” In Inflexion’s news release, Simon Turner, Managing Partner, said:

The legal services market is a large and growing market which we have tracked for a number of years. Chambers benefits from a leading, global position and a reputation for providing the best rankings and research in the industry. There are multiple opportunities for the business to develop its market leading position internationally and through an enhanced digital offering. We look forward to working with the management team as Chambers embarks on this exciting growth strategy.”

Emphasis added

Mark Wyatt will re-join Chambers as CEO. Mark was previously the Managing Director of Chambers from October 2014 to September 2015. Mark’s quote in the news release referenced Chambers’ expansion plans and driving “[O]ur online presence forward.”

I spoke with Mark on April 9, 2018. He confirmed my supposition that Chambers’ methodology and the rigor with which they conduct research will not change. He is very enthusiastic about working with Inflexion, noting that they are terrific with technology. Since they are not publicly traded, there’s no need to focus on quarterly profits and they take the long view. Mark expects that the improvements in technology will allow them to manage the vast amount of information they have gathered in even more useful ways. Overall, the goal is to strengthen relationships with their clients and to improve at retaining their talented researchers and editors. I think we can anticipate an expanded on-line presence as well as new products such as forums, roundtables, client panels, and the like.

I also spoke with a Deputy Editor who led me to believe that the staff is equally enthusiastic about the future and they do not expect that Chambers methodology will change in the foreseeable future. That makes sense to me not only because of my conversations but also because of Mark’s prior tenure at Chambers. Ten months ago, Mark joined Minisoft as Chairman, and here’s what Minisoft wrote about him:

We are pleased to say Mark Wyatt, who you may already know, has joined the company as Chairman. Mark has been part of the legal profession for many years having been MD of Chambers and Partners, The Lawyer, Lawtel, European Lawyer and founding Legal Week and cofounding the PWC law firm survey. Mark is a regular speaker, has a keen interest in legal technology and launched the Legal IT forum and Legal IT magazine as well as a large number of legal technology products.

Emphasis added

Will Chambers go the way of Martindale or Super Lawyers?

When the news originally was posted, some of my legal industry colleagues wondered whether Chambers would go the way of Martindale. I don’t think it will. (Editor: click here to see recent LWC posts about Martindale.)

When we first learned of Chambers acquisition, I said I thought Super Lawyers had become increasingly rigorous in its evaluation of candidates after its acquisition by Thomson Reuters. As it turns out, that was a post hoc ergo prompter hoc fallacy.

Super Lawyers was acquired in February 2010 and by that time had been using their patented process for seven years. Super Lawyers first filed for a provisional patent in April 2007 and changed that filing to a non-provisional application in April 2008. That patent was granted in 2013. (The patent covers their methodology. They have filed a continuation to add a claim regarding data management. That claim is currently under appeal.)

I exchanged emails with Cindy Larson, Super Lawyer’s publisher and one of the three patent applicants recently. She informed me that the increased rigor I speculated on had begun in 2003 when Super Lawyers began its national expansion. The patented process was developed at that time or even before. (I had forgotten that Super Lawyers originated in Minnesota even though I knew Bill White, the founder, from my coed softball days in Minneapolis.) Cindy pointed out that the increased competition for a Super Lawyers designation stemmed from the larger population of competitors. Super Lawyers’ patent, 8412564, is worth reading for an in-depth discussion of their step-by-step process.

Where should Chambers go? 

It seems to me that whether we anticipate that Chambers’ methodology will change or remain the same, the smartest strategy would be to diligently pursue the highest possible rankings for our firms’ and clients’ attorneys and areas of practice.

I’m a fan of Chambers and have been for quite some time.

Image result for where do we go from hereSeveral years ago Martindale (I think) commissioned a study of directory use by in-house counsel (I’m remembering all of this from a poster handed out at an LMA international conference). As I recall, the study showed that Martindale was the directory most frequently used but Chambers was rated the most credible. (Again, this is from a number of years ago, and from my memory.)

My other supporting evidence is anecdotal. For example, a former GC of a Pan-Pacific bank told me that he had regularly used Chambers. And, just recently a colleague cited clients as saying (during client service interviews) they used Chambers when they didn’t know someone in a jurisdiction. Last, a couple of years ago I was unsuccessful in persuading a leading attorney at a client firm to submit information to be included in the Chambers research submission. The next year, he was a willing participant because a key client had asked him why he wasn’t in Band 1 with some of his competitors. Clients, even after they’ve chosen a firm or attorney, want to have that decision ratified.

If, as anticipated, Chambers’ digital reach expands and their product offering grows, they may become more influential than ever, so long as they don’t dilute their brand. I’m doubling down on efforts to achieve or improve rankings for my clients in the meantime.

From the Editor: The Great Catch-22

At the recent GC panel at the LMA Annual Conference, Chambers was sited several times when referencing directories, especially when it came to vetting attorneys. However, the GCs on the panel admitted that they do not return Chambers’ referee calls. Thus creating a Catch-22:

  • A Chambers ranking is important for GCs when vetting potential legal counsel, but they don’t return the phone calls/emails to be interviewed, which weigh so heavily on whether or not an attorney is ranked, and what tier within the rankings.

So why don’t GCs return the phone calls if the information gathered is so important? I have heard everything from “What is Chambers” to “The emails got caught up in my spam filters” to the “Chambers representatives only take calls during business hours, London time zone, and I’m on the west coast.”

Whatever the excuses, educating the GCs as to why they should participate in the surveys is needed.

With the changes taking place at Chambers, they are in a great position to tackle this conundrum head on. And if they’d like some feedback, I know a certain Facebook group with more than 1300 legal marketing professionals that would be willing to help them out.

Once again, thank you Linda for such a great post!

Heather Morse

Editor, The Legal Watercooler

Moderator, Legal Marketers Extraordinaire on Facebook