INTERVIEW IN OUR BLOG WITH THE LEGAL 500
Gericó Associates had an opportunity to speak with Mike Nash, Chief Editor at The Legal 500, the guide to the world’s leading law firms. In this interview we have addressed several fundamental issues, such as the importance of the international directories rankins, what is the current situtation in the Spanish legal sector and what are the greatest strengths and the biggest flaws of Spanish law firms.
1. First of all, and for those who might have not have heard about you, could you please explain what Legal 500 is?
The Legal 500 is a global series of books and online content that analyses the capabilities of law firms across the world. Our team of researchers annually conduct an in-depth assessment into law firms’ strengths, across over 100 jurisdictions, to produce rankings and editorial analysis, which are free to view on The Legal 500 website (www.legal500.com). We have been in the market for almost 30 years, first launching in the UK and producing the first edition of The Legal 500 EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa) in 1991.
Our coverage highlights the teams which are providing the most cutting edge and innovative advice to corporate counsel in each legal discipline (practice area). Law firms are invited to submit information as part of the research process and participation is completely free. Our research is based on those submissions provided by law firms, with many interviews with leading private practice lawyers, as well as valuable client feedback from corporate counsel – each year, we contact over 300,000 clients globally for their opinions on the best law firms and lawyers.
The Legal 500 research guides are the flagship products but, we also produce a range of resources for in-house lawyers, including Client Insight reports and roundtables, and recognise and reward outstanding in-house lawyers via the GC Powerlist and The Legal 500 Awards.
2. What are the main differences between Legal 500 and competitors such as Chambers & Partners, The IFLR1000 or Best Lawyers?
The Legal 500 is the largest legal referral website in the world and the size of our readership sets us apart from competitors. We received 4.5m unique visits to the website in 2015 and over 16m page views.
The Legal 500 has considerable engagement with corporate counsel – the three largest corporate users of our website are renowned financial institutions, in addition to which our site is used by companies and organisations from many different industries – from the very largest organisations to some very small ones. This engagement with corporate counsel extends to the in-house publications produced, such as the GC Powerlist series.
Team approach – The Legal 500 assesses the strength of the practice as a whole, with recognition of individuals being an important but secondary factor.
Elite listing – Only the best firms in each jurisdiction are ranked in the guides.
In-person researcher visits – The Legal 500 will conduct as many visits as possible. Over the past two years, 35 research trips have been undertaken to the EMEA region, dozens more around the UK, as well as research trips in Latin America, North America and Asia.
Unlike other directories, The Legal 500 does not cap the number of referees that firms are able to provide and we commit to contact all referees submitted on deadline.
Our submission process allows for law firms to send us free-form documents, giving them the freedom to tell us what they want and in a format which is easiest for them. We do not require law firms to fill out lengthy pro forma documents which require information that will be filed but rarely used.
3. What do you analyse and value when ranking firms?
Ranking decisions are determined on the merit of the available evidence. We are seeking to identify law firms with a track record of cutting edge work and specialist teams in the practice area in question. We achieve that through utilising submissions from law firms (where supplied), in conjunction with data from third-party sources, interviews with the law firms’ lawyers and feedback from their clients.
A submission from a law firm usually is the best starting point for the research because it allows us to identify what message the law firm wishes to bring to our attention. We are looking to understand what work the firm has undertaken in the past 12 months, as well as its historical track record (typically a period of three to five years).
As part of our analysis, we will also look at the breadth of the practice area coverage (does it have a comprehensive practice or a certain specialism?); breadth of industry sector coverage; depth and experience of the team and any recent changes to the team which may impact that; client feedback; each law firm benchmarked against the competition.
4. What are the most common mistakes in submissions made by Spanish firms? How can they improve submissions?
Failing to provide a submission! Law firms always can provide information which is not in the public domain, thus helping us to argue a stronger case. It becomes more difficult to accurately assess the strength of the practice without this contribution.
Re-sending submissions meant for other directories is not advisable because the coverage and time periods may differ, so law firms always should try to update material before sending to us. Law firms should adhere to the guidelines which we provide.
Avoid providing too many work highlights – while this provides more information, it can obscure the most important examples.
Firms should send work that is relevant to the area – it is quite common to receive examples which are completely irrelevant. These add to the length of the document but simply distract the researcher from the relevant and important detail.
Law firms should try to identify their key strengths – tell us what you think you are best at, so that we can go away to corroborate that with further evidence.
Law firms often include extraneous information – such as awards and details of ranking in other publications. We cannot know the ranking criteria of these, so it cannot be part of our assessment process.
There is a tendency for law firms to over-emphasise lawyers’ academic credentials, which is understandable as several some lawyers are also lecturers in Spain, but it is often not directly relevant to the lawyer’s ability to support a client in commercial private practice and thus not helpful to the research purposes.
Law firms often state the examples of work but fail to explain which lawyers handled the work or why the matter was significant or difficult. For example, it is useful to tell us if the matter set a precedent or was a bet-the-company case.
Law firms should seek to support nominations for recommendations, Leading individual or Next generation lawyer status by giving examples of that lawyer’s recent work.
All lawyers who worked significantly on a case or deal should be given credit for it because it allows us to track the person’s career progress and to see the depth of the team.
Don’t assume that the work speaks for itself. Always explain why it was significant or why you think it is significant.
ABOUT THE SPANISH LEGAL MARKET
5. What is your view on the Spanish legal sector?
The market is extremely mature with well-recognised international, Iberian and national full-service law firms present, as well as specialist boutique firms; as such, the market is highly competitive. The best of the Spanish law firms clearly are a match for the international law firms. Lawyers are well acquainted with current international developments in their fields. Many Spanish lawyers benefit from having practised in other jurisdictions at some time in their career.
One notable and important recent trend has been the expansion of the largest Spanish firms with their networks in Latin America, which has become a good source of growth and provides excellent long-term potential.
6. How does it compare with the rest of Europe and anglo-saxon markets?
The Spanish market is a very professional market. Some practice areas have not yet developed the same level of specialisation as in the UK, Germany or the USA but the market is always open to new concepts and its lawyers are able to handle the most sophisticated work. The country’s stable politics are a positive for potential investors and there are good investment opportunities for corporations and private equity firms.
The largest Spanish law firms have invested substantially in growing their presence in Latin America, which provides strong future growth potential. Spanish firms have a linguistic advantage in doing so in this region, compared with US or UK firms.
7. What do you consider to be the greatest strengths and the biggest flaws of Spanish law firms?
Strengths: The ability to service international clients with lawyers that have an excellent grasp of written and spoken English. Firms are very client-centric and are quick to adapt to the demands of global clients. Many lawyers benefit from experience gained practising in other jurisdictions or on client secondments.
Weaknesses: Many law firms adopt a very formal or rigid structure towards internal hierarchies. The partnership model isn’t always the best fit for firms yet few have recognised this or implemented any viable alternative.
It has long been argued that this model is responsible for a short-term and individualistic approach but, crucially, it has remained a workable model.
Firms are increasingly finding that the younger generation are challenging this approach with a reluctance to be steered towards the partner-track and the additional responsibilities it entails, yet having the capability and desire to handle the workload on the fee-earning side.
Many firms will need to revise their structural approach to accommodate talent they have invested heavily in. Despite expansion activities in Latin America, Spanish firms have a very limited international profile across the rest of the globe compared with US or UK law firms.
8. Finally, regarding Legal Marketing and Communications, how are they seen from UK?
Very professional and working to international standards. On the whole, marketing and communications team engage well with The Legal 500 research process.