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Podcast: The Ins and Outs of Chambers & Partners: How to Get Your Firm Ranked with Megan Braverman, Principal at Berbay Marketing and Public Relations

Author: Berbay Marketing & PR | September 6, 2021

Episode 93

What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • What types of firms benefit the most from being included in Chambers, and how to determine if the submission process is worth your time
  • Why it’s important to keep submitting to Chambers annually, even in quiet years
  • Why the referee list is the most important part of your Chambers nomination, and how to choose the best referees
  • How to use the B10 section to your advantage
  • Which lawyers firms should put forth for nomination, and how to effectively nominate up-and-coming associates

About Megan Braverman:

Megan Braverman, Principal at Berbay Marketing and Public Relations, has earned an exceptional reputation as a strategic asset for law firms and other professional service firms and is known for her ability to execute marketing programs that surpass business goals. Immersing herself in clients’ operations enables Megan to identify what sets firms apart from their competition, and leverage this to create countless PR opportunities, generate awareness and reinforce credibility.

As Principal, Megan plays an integral role with all of Berbay’s clients, working closely with the Account Managers to ensure the successful execution of marketing plans. She makes it a priority to regularly revisit client objectives and assess if the current strategy is supporting those goals. This proactive approach results in a consistent marketing momentum for clients.

Megan is a member of Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles and ProVisors. She previously served as a cabinet member and executive committee member of the Jewish Federation. Megan has been a volunteer with School on Wheels, which provides tutoring services and other educational assistance to homeless children in Southern California, and CoachArt, which uses art and athletics to help kids impacted by chronic illness.

Additional resources:

About Podcast:

Chambers & Partners is one of the most coveted legal rankings—and one of the most enigmatic. With an extensive nomination process and months-long research period, many lawyers and law firms are mystified when it comes to getting listed or moving up in the rankings. Megan Braverman, Principal of Berbay Marketing and Public Relations, has spent hundreds of hours completing successful nominations and gotten numerous clients ranked by Chambers. She joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast to talk about which firms should devote time to Chambers nominations, how to create a winning submission, and how to evaluate past nominations for future success. Read the episode transcript here.

Episode Transcript:

Sharon: Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Today, my guest is my colleague, Megan Braverman, Principal of Berbay Marketing and Public Relations. Megan has significant experience getting our lawyer clients ranked in Chambers as well as working with those already ranked to help them move up the rankings. Today’s she’ll share some of the ins and outs gleaned from her experience working with Chambers and partners. Megan, welcome to the program.

Megan: Thank you, Sharon. Glad to be here.

Sharon: Glad to be talking to you, especially in this remote world. Tell us a little about your background and how you came to work at Berbay.

Megan: Coming to work at Berbay was very haphazard. I applied to a Craigslist application and got the job and really grew from there. The trajectory at Berbay was not what I imagined. I started about 12 years ago and am now the principal of Berbay, running the day-to-day of the agency and being a strategic asset for law firms, real estate companies and financial service firms.

Sharon: I know how much our clients rely on you. A lot of listeners have heard about Chambers, but they’re not sure what it is. Can you describe it and give us a little background?

Megan: Sure. Chambers is a legal ranking. It uses an in-depth editorial and research team to assess lawyers and law firms globally. Many consider Chambers to be the leading directory in the legal profession, which is why it’s so coveted. It began in the early 90s, and today it covers over 200 jurisdictions and over 100 practice areas, and it continues to expand. It’s one of the toughest lists to get on. That’s what they’ve built a reputation for a high degree of selectivity. In fact, 2% of U.S. firms are ranked and you cannot buy your way in.

Sharon: Wow! You’ll have to tell us more about why it’s so difficult. I looked at the application and it seems daunting and time-consuming. Why should lawyers or law firms bother with it? What does it get them to get their firm or themselves ranked?

Megan: You asked why it’s so coveted, how it got to the place it is today, and if you look at the history when legal rankings or directories were first introduced, it was sort of like the Yellow Pages for lawyers. Most lawyers listening remember Martindale Hubbell, which is still relevant, but it was one of the first. It was practice-area-specific; you could easily find the kind of lawyer you needed, and many of these directories were comprehensive. They included every kind of lawyer, regardless of the caliber of work. Then you start to see an introduction of exclusive rankings, things like Chambers. They were much more exclusive, because they began to rank by quality and by caliber of work. Chambers, for example, they’re looking for things like technical ability, client service. They’re really drilling down into why this lawyer or law firm is so great. 

The million-dollar question, the billion-dollar question, is who’s using these directories? Should I do it? Do I bother with it? You’re right; it’s daunting; it’s time-consuming. At every marketing conference I’ve ever been to, there’s almost always a question directed to a panel of corporate or in-house counsel on whether they use Chambers. Frankly, the verdict is still out. It’s very 50/50. I know most marketing professionals across the world would love if the Chambers of the world would go away, because it’s so time-consuming and it can be very competitive and very difficult to get folks on the list even if they’ve tried year after year. 

One of the commonly heard answers is that it helps you get on the short list if corporate counsel or in-house counsel are looking for lawyers in unfamiliar jurisdictions or practices. It’s also a badge of credibility. A lot of people look at it as if you’re not ranked on Chambers, then something’s missing. It’s different for different firms. Whether you answer the question “Should I be doing it?” as a lawyer or as a law firm, that really needs to fit into your larger marketing objectives. For example, if you are a consumer-facing firm like a plaintiff firm, you might not consider Chambers because it’s not plaintiff-friendly. If you’re a local firm—let’s say you’re only looking in the greater New York area or the greater southern California area. Chambers is a national ranking, so consider other rankings before you pursue Chambers. It’s something you have to look at. 

Keep in mind that Chambers is an every-year endeavor. If you’re going to commit to it, you need to do it every year. I’ll add this and close here, but we did an analysis several years ago on how much time Berbay spends on each submission. We found on average that we spend 40 to 60 hours per submission. You’re looking at up to 180 hours if you work on three submissions. If it’s your first time ever, then usually you’re on the higher end, either 60 or sometimes 80. So, it is incredibly time-consuming.

Sharon: And that doesn’t include the time the lawyer has to put in to send us information and review the information, and the time the marketing person at the firm has to run around and chase someone, a lawyer or someone else, to get the answers.

Megan: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a lot these hours don’t capture, so beyond the time investment, you have to make sure that it fits in your larger marketing and business development goals. That’s the push that we make for a lot of firms; does it fit what you’re trying to achieve?

Sharon: I think that’s an interesting point you raise, about how in-house counsel use it to market, if you want to attract the attention of in-house counsel. I know some lawyers are dismissive, like they don’t use it. Some in-house counsel say, “Oh, I never use it,” but I’ve sat next to in-house counsel who say they at least, as you say, develop the short list starting with Chambers. It’s almost as if there’s an embarrassment factor, like, “Yeah, I’ve used Chambers,” like they don’t want to admit it in a sense. 

Megan: Yeah, absolutely. I think Chambers has done a really good job of developing the profiles they have on each lawyer and law firm. It gives a lot of insight into the kind of work the lawyer does beyond the bio. It’s quoting clients and how integral they were to their legal services and what they really excel at. It’s a good sales pitch for a lawyer.

Sharon: That’s a good point, too. I know Chambers dislikes a puff piece, like if you just copied over what’s on the website.

Megan: Right.

Sharon: When you look at Chambers, it looks like it’s only for big firms, but I know we’ve been successful with smaller firms. Can you give a couple of examples of when it might make sense for a smaller firm, or when we’ve been successful in getting a firm in?

Megan: Sure. Chambers does not consider the size of the law firm in their rankings. They’re very clear about this. It’s obvious that larger law firms dominate Chambers lists, but they absolutely consider and rank smaller firms, and we’ve been very successful in getting several smaller firms and midsize firms in their rankings. They actually have an entire page on the Chambers website explaining their commitment to smaller firms. I think over the last eight to 10 years, Chambers has made a stronger commitment to accommodate small firms. 

You really have to focus on highlighting the strengths of your practice and your firm. Again, it comes down how strong your submission is, so it may be that you see a lot of larger law firms on there. It could be a combination of things. It could be they have bigger deals, bigger matters, more to boast, but I think smaller law firms absolutely should consider this as part of their marketing strategy. We’ve worked with a number of folks that had a difficult time getting onto the Chambers list and they thought it was because of their size, but we’ve seen time and time again that Chambers does not consider size.

Sharon: We’ve talked about this a lot. It’s leveling the playing field. How many times do we hear a firm say, “We’re a well-kept secret”? Well, get the word out and get on the same playing field with some of the bigger firms. That’s where I think Chambers and a lot of these directories are so important. What if you don’t see your practice area listed? What should you do?

Megan: Good question. Chambers has well over a hundred different practice areas you can submit for. Keep in mind many of these practice areas have subcategories. For example, for litigation they’ve got five different options, sometimes more depending on the state you’re in: litigation appellate, litigation general commercial, litigation securities and so on. They expand their practice areas every year. I think Chambers is well aware of adding new practices because when they first started, it was pretty limited and every year they add more. I think it was in 2020, don’t quote me, but they added a nationwide cannabis practice area, for example. If you don’t see something, when in doubt, you should ask Chambers. They’re very open about which ranking you should pursue in terms of what you’re looking for, and they can help navigate that for you. If you don’t see something or if there’s not something that stands out, I would ask Chambers.

Sharon: You also mentioned that you have to do this annually. If you’re in it one year, does that mean you’ll automatically be in it the next, or do you have to be selected again?

Megan: Yeah, I wish. You need to go after it year after year, even if you’ve been ranked. It’s not to say that you’ll automatically drop off the list, but Chambers hangs their hat on their research, and that starts with your submission. A lot of the things that are in your submission are not on your website. They do a lot of outside research, of course, but they need to see what you’ve been up to for the last 12 months. If you don’t submit, you’re hurting your chances. It’s really important; you have to go after it year after year.

Sharon: Yes, you can have a sigh of relief when you finish the submission, but it seems like the whole process starts in just a month or two again because it takes so long. You mentioned a really important point, I think. If somebody isn’t familiar with Chambers, the difference between them and other rankings is that they ask for what they call “referees.” Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Megan: Sure. You’re going to start to see this in more nominations than just Chambers. I think we’ve seen it more in the last couple of years than before. Referees is their term for, essentially, client names or co-counsel that can talk about the caliber of your work. Chambers asks you to submit up to 20 names, and you need to take advantage of all those 20 spots. Essentially, Chambers will call these folks—they email them first and ask for either a call or written responses to specific questions about that lawyer or law firm. One of the challenges when it comes to referees is that Chambers researchers get a very low response rate; typically, it’s less than 30%, which is very low. One of the most important qualities in your referees is that they’re responsive. It’s important that you don’t include referees you know won’t respond because they’re busy. For example, it’s amazing to have the general counsel of a Fortune 500 company, but if you know they’re not going to respond, you shouldn’t list them. 

The second piece is that it’s really important to work with your referees to ensure they know a Chambers email is coming. Sometimes if they don’t know, they’ll overlook it, or maybe it goes to spam or they’re not aware of the process. If you’re going to submit someone’s name, you should prepare them for the process. This includes making sure they know who’s going to reach out, what questions are going to be asked of them, what the process is.  You may even want to help the referee hone some communication points about you. Maybe they don’t have it top of mind, or they could be putting it off because they don’t feel prepared, so you just need to step them through the process. Our belief, based on years of experience doing this for so long, is that referees are the most weighted. They’re more weighted than the actual submission itself, I think. So, this is the most important piece of the Chambers process.

Sharon: Yeah, I think it’s important to make the referee’s job as easy as possible. Like you were saying, it’s about developing communication points or letting them know at least that something’s coming so they can keep their eyes open for it. I haven’t seen the actual email, but I hear they’re really easy to overlook. Very often lawyers will come to us and are frustrated because they’ve been fortunate to be ranked, but they feel they should be higher on the list. They want help moving up. Is it possible to move people up?

Megan: Yeah, but there’s no formula. You have to have realistic expectations. We see folks get ranked and they immediately want to move up a ranking the next year, and I don’t think that’s realistic. It’s not that it’s impossible, but it’s the exception. You have to really demonstrate why you are moving up in the rankings and why you warrant that ranking bump. There are six ranking levels, one being the best. Sometimes firms get a little disappointed when they’re ranked in band five, let’s say, and they’re like, “Well, that doesn’t reflect well. We should be band one or band two.” 

I think in addition to the referees, how important it is to get your referees to respond like I just talked about, I think the other piece of the nomination is your deals, your cases. You need to focus on the worthy cases over the last 12 months. The other thing is you have to remember that these—I feel bad for the researchers a little bit. They’re reading thousands and thousands of submissions. I think it’s important that you highlight what’s so important about your matter, what was significant about it, what was the outcome, what was the impact it had. Maybe there were nuanced areas of law; maybe it’s the first of its kind, precedent-setting. You want to try to underscore the important aspects of the matter and not just leave it as a basic description.

But I want to go back to having realistic expectations. Think about it this way: stack your Chambers nominations next to each other. Let’s say you were ranked in 2020 in band 4, but in 2021 you were still ranked in band 4 and you’re wondering why. Well, do you think you really had a step-up in terms of the kinds and size and importance of your matters? If not, then that’s probably why you didn’t go up a band. If you had, let’s say, the same referee response rate; it was 30% the year before and it was 30% again—and they will tell you how many people have responded. They won’t tell you who; that’s the struggle, but they will tell you five of your 20 responded or three of your 20 responded. If those haven’t changed, then you have unrealistic expectations. If you can point out that your matters were much more significant and you’ve got that increase in referee rate, sometimes it takes a couple of years of that. It’s a couple of years of a slow, steady rise. 

There really isn’t a formula, but that’s the one thing I look at when we have law firms calling us and saying, “We really need some help moving up the bands.” I like to look at all their former submissions and compare them to each other and think about it logically. Do they warrant an increase in bands, and if they do, what’s happening? What’s going wrong with their submission or their referee response rate? If they don’t move up, it’s unfortunately having those conversations with law firms and setting better expectations and making sure you keep on keeping on. There are ways to highlight things, but I think realistic expectations is so important.

Sharon: Let’s say it’s been a good year, but we haven’t gone to the Supreme Court or whatever. We don’t have anything more to say. Should we submit anyway? Should we do our best and submit anyway, or should we skip a year?

Megan: You shouldn’t skip. I think you’re right. Not every year is your most amazing year, so again, it’s about setting realistic expectations. If you didn’t have a stellar year compared to other years, then don’t expect to move up bands. I think there are other ways to sell yourself. There’s a section in the Chambers nomination called the B10 section, and it’s an opportunity to sell yourself. This is the only essay portion of Chambers. The rest is focused on basic information about the firm, bios of the attorneys and the matters and deals I mentioned. If you haven’t had a stellar year and some of your matters or deal submissions are average or not as great as years prior, the B10 section is where you can really focus on other things. I do feel like many gloss over this section or use it as a generic description of your practice, but again, this is where you sell yourself. 

What’s important is that you should not duplicate anything in the form, meaning in the B10 section, you don’t repeat the matters you already have listed. It should be other pieces of information that Chambers should know about, and you want to avoid marketing fluff. It should be substantive information. For example, don’t call yourself an unparalleled attorney. Say that you’ve done more than $4 billion in deal transactions in the last couple of years. Maybe it’s more impressive to take a look at the last few years together and quantify what you’ve done. Maybe you can talk about a new practice area that you’ve really started to gain traction in or that you’ve done something internally that was very unique. These are ways that you can highlight other parts of your practice and your skillset. That this section is great to showcase all of that, so I would focus on this. Your matters are still important, of course, but this is the section you want to focus on.

Sharon: And it’s the one that takes a lot of digging deep and having to stop and think about it. What haven’t I asked you, Megan? What else should people know?

Megan: Good question. A couple of things come to mind. One is that once you submit your submission, you should introduce yourself to the researcher. Let them know that you’re available for questions. I think that this is important. They make this information known and available. Check in with them about referees. They will tell you when their research period is; it’s a dedicated month. Check in with them, whether it’s every week or every week-and-a-half or so, and see how your referees are responding. If they’re not responding, then you need to do another push. That’s important, and it’s something we see a lot of firms don’t do. 

I think the other thing is there’s something called Chambers Confidential. Those that know Chambers, this will be familiar to them. It’s essentially a report that Chambers will issue which explains some of the feedback they’ve received in prior years. This is a paid piece. You have to pay Chambers to give you this report. If you’re not making any progress in a certain practice area or with certain groups, you should request this. It gives you great feedback, and it can be insightful as to why you’re not ranked and help ensure that your submissions are focusing on these issues. 

If you’re still not making any progress, this is really a sales pitch for ourselves, but hire an agency. There are a lot of pros to hiring an agency. First of all, it’s time-consuming, but you’ve got a team of specialists at your disposal. In hiring an outside agency, it provides you with that bench strength not only to draft a compelling nomination, but to juggle all the moving parts, and you get the plus of years and years of Chambers experience. I will say there is some benefit for someone in-house to do it because that person has company familiarity, but there is a benefit to having fresh eyes from an outside agency that can help determine the points that will be the most impactful or elements that you wouldn’t have thought through without outside input. If you haven’t made inroads with Chambers for a few years in a row, I think you should consider hiring an agency.

Sharon: Of course, we support hiring an agency, but you say there’s also a case to be made for in-house lawyers to do it. What do you mean exactly? I’m not sure.

Megan: I mean in-house marketing. It depends on the firm’s structure. For most in-house marketing departments, this falls under their purview. They’ve got company familiarity, so they have the benefit of pulling different numbers they have access to and things that an outside agency wouldn’t think of because it’s not at their fingertips. There are a lot of firms whose lawyers do it themselves. I’m always shocked when I find out that a lawyer is doing it themselves. It’s time-consuming, so most lawyers don’t have the time to carve out 40 or 60+ hours to do a Chambers submission. But again, company familiarity. I think that’s the one benefit of an in-house person doing it.

Sharon: One question law firms face (and we face working with law firms) is how many lawyers in a firm should be submitted. We know everybody wants to be submitted.

Megan: This is my favorite question because that’s one thing we see people doing wrong. Firms are submitting everyone and, frankly, not everyone warrants inclusion. I think this is where managing expectations and letting people down comes in. Your nomination should focus on the best and the brightest and those that have the most worthy cases or the most activity in the last 12 months, and that doesn’t necessarily coincide with who you want to put forth. Law firm politics; we get it. We’ve seen a lot of it and we know it exists. It exists in every firm, not just law firms. There are some folks that you have to put forward and that’s that, but I think it’s important to focus in on the people you think warrant inclusion and narrow this list down as much as you can. 

I will say, too, recently Chambers has added an “up-and-coming” or “associates to watch” list. There are basically three additional bands for younger attorneys. A lot of times we’ll see younger folks on this list because they’re trying to push those younger folks. These up-and-coming lists are for those who haven’t had an established reputation but are driving the firm’s growth. This is something Chambers has recently added. I think that’s Chambers seeing the trends. For senior associates or associates, they’re starting to recognize them for their work and their role in these major deals and matters, so there is a place for younger folks as well. 

Sharon: It makes a lot of sense. I didn’t know about the associate list, so that’s great to hear. I hear so often, “We have to submit Harry because we have to show him we support him and we appreciate all he’s doing for the firm,” but Harry may not warrant inclusion on a regular list yet.

Megan: Exactly. I think Chambers has been good about seeing this issue and the trends and creating new lists, new practice areas. That’s opened up the likelihood of other folks and other levels of folks getting in the door.

Sharon: Megan, this is fabulous information. Thank you very much. Unfortunately, we don’t have a magic wand. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of talking to Chambers and talking to lawyers, but this is great information. Thank you so much for being here today and talking with us.

Megan: Thank you so much for having me.

END OF AUDIO

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