This piece was first published in Bar & Bench.
In the first entry of this three-part article, Lawfinity discusses what should be the long-term strategy of law firms leading up to Chambers and Partners rankings.
The gold standard in law practice guides has news! A grand total of ‘three’ new entrants have made it in its embellished cadre of 100+ Indian firms this year. But what does that mean and why does that matter?
Picture this: A list of 113 firms. Of which 110 are exactly the same as last year. And 106 are exactly the same as the last two years [Disclaimer: There were 12 firms, between the age of 7-15 years and some much older than even that, who had no public data on their previous Chambers rankings]. Released end-of-year, gatekeeping market dominance when it comes to client endorsement. Sending stress levels shooting amid the at least 300 other firms that failed despite success. Firms that made it almost everywhere else but the Chambers and Partners (“Chambers”) annual rankings.
But why is that such a big deal?
Well, in the 34 years since the birth of Chambers there have been many ultra-transformations in the matter of law practice visibility. But one area has grown in a consistent manner, and that is the exceedingly large share of the global legal sector that cares to be a “Chambers-ranked” law practice.
It is not only at this hour that we, at Lawfinity, are fielding queries in this matter. Of course, right now fresh wounds are being nursed. Within the ‘Legal 500’ 2023 rankings itself sit 170 firms that did not hoist onto Chambers. Convert that into many, many cries for help on how to break a Chambers ranking.
Other than that, in general, through the year, we find ourselves sat across the query: “What should be our long-term strategy leading up to Chambers and Partners?” We discuss in this 3-part series.
Long Term Strategies
At least half of the 113 Indian firms that sit on this year’s list have been there for over 10 years, many even over 15-20 years. Quite surprisingly, Chambers did not rank firms for the “Corporate/M&A” category until 3 years ago, if we go by the rankings website data. But since this relatively new category was started, the same 25 firms have made it to the list year after year, with marginal additions. Not to mention, these firms haven’t left their seats for even the categories in which they have been winning. The same firms dominate the same bands in the same practice areas.
That’s a rather tightly guarded global, indomitable leaderboard.
Chambers says on its website: “Clients often tell us, Chambers is the ranking that matters the most. This is a reflection of our research methodology which is unrivalled in accuracy, depth and quality.”
The proclamation is well supported in the gushing announcements of ranked law firms the world over. A simple Google search with the words “Chambers and Partners gold standard” would reveal a lot in this matter!
According to the last reported data, over 200 Chambers editors sit in London conducting research on over 80,000 lawyers across more than 185 jurisdictions. Firms are to self-nominate for inclusion. This they do by filing submissions focused on their best mandates, their most elite achievements and up to 20 client referees. Although, examples we first-hand know to have never filed a Chambers submission have made it into the list in the past, even in Band 1. These, as far as our knowledge goes, would include certain old legacy Bombay Solicitor firms and senior advocate chambers in various regions.
So Chambers does independent research, regardless of the submissions. And that begs the question – why would quality firms ranked in the likes of acclaimed directories such as Legal500, IFLR, Benchmark Litigation, Asia Law and topping league tables when it comes to deals not make it past Chambers even with a submission?
“A significant majority of your referees didn’t speak to us at all – we reach out 3 times,” Chambers is seen explaining several disappointed firms over email.
“This isn’t hugely unusual, but I’d recommend reaching out to your referees when we’re carrying out our research, so that we can raise your response rate, and also ensure you’re putting down referees who will be most receptive to speaking with us. Perhaps a mixture of larger and smaller clients,” it recommends.
We have three theories. Firms rank even without a submission if they’re very large, very old, or both. Firms who send in detailed submissions with market-leading mandates and clients may not rank in Chambers. This may happen if their clients weren’t accessible for direct feedback to Chambers researchers. And lastly, the rankings almost mirror past years rankings and a firm who is made it once doesn’t fall off, even for one category or one band.
Conclusion: Newer firms that outperform themselves and beat all growth records and client acquisition trends may find it next to impossible to break into Chambers. This is because they are competing against the large volume of established client relationships of firms that have been around for years before them, even decades.
It is a bit of an old boys club.
But what are the anomalies to this rule? Read on in part II of this 3-part series.
If you’d like to speak to us about the full data of the last 3 years Chambers rankings and how it correlates to the other 5 top rankings in the sector, reach out at: email@example.com