On May 21, LMA Midwest’s Chicago and Kansas City Local Steering Committees co-hosted “Chambers USA – Tips, Tools, & Trending Topics,” a webinar featuring Chambers’ new head of USA research development, Kushraj Cheema.
A Look Back: Chambers 2020
The conversation started with a brief recap of the Chambers USA 2020 guide, including the fact that 200 new firms and more than 1,000 new attorneys were ranked. Of these, 32 percent were women. Cheema emphasized the importance of diversity and inclusion, indicating that Chambers researchers will be taking a better look at the gender disparity during this year’s research cycle.
In addition to the diversity data, Cheema also shared findings from the 2020 client referee survey: 65 percent of clients who responded to the survey said they hire law firms on an ad hoc or one-off basis, followed by a lesser proportion of clients who value long-standing, consistent relationships with firms. This insight could signal changes for how attorneys and law firms market themselves to potential clients.
When it comes to rankings decisions, there are four categories that researchers look to: the actual submission, mostly the matter summaries; client feedback, including the survey and interviews; market and peer feedback; and interactions with Chambers researchers and editors.
Because the submission itself is so important, Cheema shared specific advice on drafting the matter summaries and selecting attorneys to be included. The researchers prefer concise matter summaries; Cheema recommended two or three sentences of summary and three to five sentences of what makes the case important or significant. In fact, he recommended reviewing the front page of the New York Times to see the “short and to the point” descriptions as exemplars. Despite saying this, he followed that up with the understanding that some cases are very in-depth and require a lot of detail to explain the full scope. While lengthy summaries won’t hurt rankings, including unnecessary information could create noise for researchers.
In addition to a succinct matter summary, Cheema advised firms to include as many client names as possible, rather than keeping them confidential. While understanding some clients do not want their names disclosed, Cheema reminded the audience that Chambers & Partners is well known for their strong confidentiality standards. If your peers have a submission with all client names listed, and your firm keeps client names confidential, it could result in a lower ranking than the peer.
On the topic of confidentiality, Cheema outlined how client names, matter values and other details are kept private. As the original researcher reviews the submission, they will mark the matter as confidential. Then, the researchers who review the potential rankings double-check that all confidential information has been removed, and finally, Toby Eccleshall, the Chambers USA editor, also reviews and confirms all confidential is removed from any public-facing content.
Next, Cheema outlined why it’s important to be selective when nominating attorneys for individual rankings. When selecting attorneys to nominate, Cheema recommends choosing only four or five (or fewer) attorneys per submission. By paring down the list of nominees, the firm focuses on submitting the strongest work matters that are most important to those attorneys. By submitting dozens of names for consideration, firms often dilute the submission with matters that may not most strongly support inclusion.
Updated Research Schedule and Timing
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdown, Chambers USA has adjusted its research schedule by pushing back the initial deadlines to July. The first round of research won’t launch until August 2020. Because of this, Cheema warned that all research scheduled for December could be truncated as the team avoids contacting clients at the holidays. Client referees submitted for categories with later deadlines will need to be extremely responsive to research outreach.
As mentioned above, one of the four biggest considerations for rankings – both for individuals and firmwide – is interacting with the Chambers research and editorial teams. It’s recommended that the firm’s marketing contact reaches out to the individual researchers twice. The first should be as the research cycle starts, and the second outreach should occur halfway through the research cycle to request the reference response rate. Researchers are not allowed to provide a list of the specific individuals who have (or haven’t) responded to research. However, they advise on the number of clients who have participated in research.
Due to the shortened research cycle and the growing number of submissions every year, Cheema asked for a little patience when waiting for researchers to respond. If an individual researcher hasn’t replied within a week, a next step can be to contact a research lead or editorial contact.
As a last note on timing, Cheema mentioned that although Chambers USA typically doesn’t grant any extensions, firms will not be penalized for submitting after the deadline, as long as the submission is received before the research cycle begins, which is typically the following month.
Client feedback is the most impactful part of a Chambers USA submission, and should be treated as so. Cheema requested that firms submit client references who have the time to speak with the researchers. Often people submit C-Suite references – or someone equally busy – and those individuals can only speak for a few moments and seem rushed. The researchers pick up on this and have said it’s “less than helpful.”
It’s important to note that the listed referees do not need to be company leaders, but should be the person who can’t speak to the attorney and the work in depth. This can be the associate or the paralegal who assisted on the matter.
Cheema also mentioned that clients who have matters listed within the submission will be asked about that matter during the interview. The client can decline and can discuss the attorney, the level of client service and the firm as a whole, and it won’t impact rankings.
Diversity & Inclusion
Multiple times throughout the webinar, Cheema emphasized how important diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives are becoming for Chambers USA, including in the submissions themselves. Cheema also requested that, wherever possible, client references should also be as diverse as possible in terms of gender.
In addition, because diversity is a focus, Chambers’ editorial team asks that firms not swap requested attorneys for interviews. For example, if they want to speak to Jane Doe, don’t have John Doe to do the interview instead.
Chambers has also launched an internal D&I team and an external advisory board made up of attorneys, although there was no mention of who these attorneys are or how they were selected.
The webinar also featured a lively Q&A session, where the questions ranged from template changes to concerns about moving up in rankings. Below is a quick synopsis of the questions asked, and Cheema’s answers.
- Q: It was recently mentioned in a different LMA webinar (with former USA editor Laura Mills) that some Chambers submissions no longer need references. Which submissions are these and why?
- A: Some nationwide submissions do not need references because Chambers typically receives the same references for the state submission. Cheema offered to provide the full list of submissions that don’t need references by email if requested.
- Q: There were a lot of changes to the template/form this year; why were those changes made (B11, B12)?
- A: Chambers removed information that is easily found online or in bios. Chambers reviews a firm’s website during the research period. Chambers wants the submission to be more concise and less cluttered because they receive more submissions each year but have the same amount of time to review and research.
- Q: What should be included in the new bio section?
- A: Don’t just copy and paste the attorneys’ bios; they already review bios as part of the research process. Bios should only include relevant information. For example, if the submission is for General Commercial Litigation, don’t include any information not directly related to litigation. Don’t include press coverage or other awards/rankings.
- Q: What happened to the “Recognized Practitioner” ranking?
- A: This ranking has been completely phased out.
- Q: Can out-of-state attorneys be included in a state-specific submission?
- A: Unless that state doesn’t have the specific ranking available, no. If the attorney practices in a state that doesn’t have a ranking, please note that reasoning in the bio section.
- Q: Does Chambers care about other awards/rankings (i.e. Legal 500, Benchmark, Super Lawyers, etc.)?
- A: No, these have no bearing on rankings and often clutter up submissions.
- Q: How does a firm and/or an attorney move up in the rankings?
- A: It takes multiple glowing client reviews to move up in the rankings. To reach Band 1 an attorney must continually show that they/their team handles “above and beyond” matters and work with high profile companies.
- Q: Do client references need to be state-specific for that submission?
- A: No, the client references just need to be practice-specific.
- Q: Can an attorney submit the same client references every year?
- A: Yes, as long as the matters are new and the client has new things to discuss with the researcher.
Thank you to Ashley Defay, Business Development Senior Specialist at Latham & Watkins, for organizing the event and for hosting the webinar.