Inside Chambers USA: An Interview with the Editor, Toby Eccleshall
On the eve of the launch of Chambers USA 2019, editor Toby Eccleshall tells Tom Wicker about what’s new in the guide, Chambers and Partners’ commitment to diversity in its rankings and its exciting expansion plans.
As some people may know, Chambers and Partners is now under new management. What can we expect from this?
Mark Wyatt our CEO, supported by Inflexion Private Equity, came on board just over a year ago attracted by the strength of the Chambers brand and the prestige of our research and rankings. In that time the company has undergone a rapid transformation. They have demonstrated full commitment to maintaining the independence and high quality of our research while modernising the company and developing exciting new products.
Over the past 12 months, we have enhanced our digital platform with a re-designed website and digital content, and this will continue as we move forward. We are running more events across the world through our Chambers forum program, which includes dates in Chicago, Houston, Washington, D.C. and New York in June this year.
There are many other plans in the pipeline that will be revealed over time. However, the most exciting development is the launch of the Chambers New York office, which will take place later this year and will enable us to meet more regularly with the firms and lawyers we are evaluating.
What are some of the more significant new additions to the upcoming edition of Chambers USA?
We have several new practice area rankings opening in the guide this year including our first ever Cannabis Law rankings. It is one of the fastest-growing industries in the US, so we are delighted we have been able to recognise so many excellent law firms and lawyers dedicated to assisting clients on their most pressing legal needs in this space.
We have also expanded and restructured several of our existing nationwide categories to include more nuanced coverage of capital markets, government relations and investment funds, among others. Chambers USA 2019 also sees many new additions at state level and we have introduced a number of regional or city-wide rankings.
This year will see over 1,500 newly ranked attorneys. In total we have ranked over 18,000 lawyers and 6,000 law firms across the US.
Gender equality is a big issue in the legal profession right now. Have you attempted to address this from a research perspective?
Chambers and Partners is committed to building a diverse and inclusive legal profession worldwide and diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a very important business focus for Chambers and Partners, both internally at the organization and externally through our ongoing work with firms and clients. We understand that D&I is good for business – it leads to greater innovation and increases profitability.
We have recently launched the Chambers Diversity & Inclusion program which is a global program that includes research, training, workshops, events and awards in all of the jurisdictions we operate in. These programs are managed by our Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Dee Sekar.
At Chambers USA, we are currently reviewing our methodology and submissions process to ensure that diverse lawyers are not overlooked in any way. We are very aware of the importance of speaking to a diverse range of lawyers from all backgrounds and experiences including but not limited to gender, race and ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, disability, mental health, faith, religion, educational background and socio-economic status, to ensure all diverse groups are fairly represented in our guides.
During our recent research cycle for Chambers USA 2019, we actively increased the number of female lawyers we spoke to as part of our interviews with firms in order to make sure we are capturing a range of opinions from the market. We also ask firms to consider the diversity of the client referees provided to us so we can capture market views from different lawyers.
Are they any changes that law firms should know about when it comes to the launch of this year’s guide? I’ve heard that it might be online only.
The upcoming 2019 Chambers USA guide will indeed be online only; you will be able to access our entire guide for free on our website from 25 April. The online guide includes all the editorial content previously available in the hard copy of the guide as well as links to firm profiles and related practice areas. There will also be the opportunity to register for a free digital download, available in the weeks following the online release.
Do you have plans for any events associated with this year’s guide?
As I mentioned earlier, we are thrilled to be hosting a series of forums across the country. It will provide an excellent networking opportunity for general counsel and lawyers in private practice. More information about our upcoming events can be found here.
If a firm is unhappy with their rankings, what should they do?
The USA research team is keen to maintain an ongoing dialogue with firms about our research process. Each year we allow firms to send up to seven queries on our ranking decisions. A member of my team will be able to provide some insight into our reasoning, as well as guidance on the best course of action moving forward.
However, in order to get the full picture, the best option for many firms is to purchase a Chambers Unpublished Report. They offer the best insight into how a firm or individual lawyer is perceived by the market. You can find out more about Chambers Unpublished here.
Looking ahead to this year’s research schedule, what has changed? Will you be covering any new practice areas?
Our aim is to further expand our coverage of the US legal market. As such, we are pleased to announce the opening of a number of new areas for submissions this year. The full list of updates can be found on our website.
A few submission deadlines have changed from last year. I always try to make as few changes as possible to minimise disruption, however some are unavoidable. Please pay close attention to the dates on the research schedule.
As part of our research next year, our research analysts will be using Calendly, a digital interview booking platform, to streamline the research process. This new software will enable us to contact more clients in a more efficient manner by cutting out unneeded admin for all parties.
What are some of the more common misconceptions about the Chambers USA research process?
While researchers often rotate the practice areas they are covering for different editions of the guide, the editorial team on the US Guide provides consistent oversight of every practice area year on year. As such, if there are any significant updates firms wish to share at any point during the year, please feel free to share this information with me or a member of my team. You can find out more about the US editorial team and their practice area expertise here.
When thinking about which referees to list as part of your submission, we are not always looking for the highest-ranking member of a company. While our research analysts certainly appreciate speaking to CEOs and General Counsel, sometimes they are not the best contacts to include as referees. We often find that more junior team members on the client side may be less busy and more able to engage with the research process, while still able to provide informed feedback.
Small firms have just as much chance of appearing in the higher bands as large firms. Our researchers concentrate on the qualitative feedback and the holistic picture of a firm. It isn’t bench strength alone that secures a top tier ranking.
While not every firm will be selected for a research interview every year, not being selected will have no impact on the ranking of a practice. We appreciate the time and energy partners give over to research interviews, however often due to the large number of submitting firms, our researchers are unable to speak to everyone. A compelling submission and client feedback will tell us everything we need to know about a practice.
What makes a truly compelling submission?
We would always encourage firms to make use of the Chambers submission template and to succinctly highlight the best work done by the practice in the previous calendar year. Compelling submissions offer accurate descriptions of the strengths and focus of the practice and its individual attorneys. We look for factual, clearly explained recent work and for each submission to be tailored to the appropriate section or subsection.
We appreciate the challenges that come with writing work highlights and providing the right level of information. On the whole, there are four things to bear in mind: what happened in the matter; why the matter was important for the client; the implications for the wider market/practice area; and the current status of the matter.
Please use the submission template provided when describing work highlights, and do not exceed one page. You can submit 20 work highlights and the template may be amended to allow for any combination of publishable and confidential highlights up the limit of 20. Please make sure you do mark any confidential matters clearly.
It is also important to provide a list of 20, willing and informed referees to support each written submission. We put great emphasis on speaking to referees, as it enables us to corroborate the information provided on the submission with external feedback from the firm’s clients. These referees should be drawn primarily from the clients the firm has worked with in the past year, who would be able to speak to their experience of working with particular attorneys and the firm as a whole.
You can find more information, the submission template and the referee form here.
In an increasingly crowded field of legal directories and other publications, what still distinguishes Chambers USA?
Chambers and Partners continues to offer the best coverage of global legal markets, including the USA. Our research team, consisting of 200+ research analysts speaking 23 languages, is unmatched in its size. Furthermore, as we speak to clients over the phone, we are able to dig deeper in our interviews to learn what they really want from their outside counsel.
Chambers is known for its independence, reliability and comprehensive coverage. No other organisation offers the breadth of research into the legal market that we provide, and no one can buy their way in to our rankings. A Chambers ranking is a clear indication of excellence for lawyers and law firms, and is a deciding factor for many of the worlds most significant companies and banks when choosing their external counsel.
Chambers USA 2019 was published online on 25 April.