Our Thinking

12 Jan 2018

By Mike Nash

mike nash

The Legal 500’s new online submissions process

After pondering The Legal 500’s messages in its presentation yesterday about its plan to introduce online submissions and for the publication to move to a wholly digital platform (i.e. no more heavy books – get your editor-signed collector’s copy now!), here are key points of note and some views on the subject:

  • There will be no more print editions of The Legal 500, beginning with the online-only launch of the upcoming EMEA edition (to be published in April 2018).
    • The publisher has been moving in this direction for some time, with the launch of online-only Canada and Caribbean editions, plus last year’s launch of enhanced online content for the expanded UK edition. It saves trees, recognises that online is the main modern form of the guide’s usage, and allows very substantial print and distribution costs to be reinvested in better technology and more researchers.
  • The Legal 500 will use volunteer law firms to help beta test its online submission process during the UK research (submissions in February and March 2018). Law firms wishing to be involved in the beta test can participate with some or all of their submissions and should volunteer by email to submissions@legal500.com.
    • UK law firms not wishing to participate in the beta test may continue to submit in the usual way for this year’s UK edition.
    • Encouragingly, the beta test genuinely will be used to identify usage issues and modify either process or format to fit the way in which firms need or want to use the documents.
    • A dedicated submission form is being developed for the UK Bar, to take account of the variations of the types of information needed there.
  • After the UK beta test, the online submission process will be refined and finalised, then rolled out as a compulsory process across all The Legal 500 directories.
  • Client reference process will be essentially unchanged, except law firms will have the chance to update their lists online.
  • Law firms will be given a log-in to an online upload screen which, though the layout is different, has similar functions to the one offered by Chambers (on first view, The Legal 500 version seems to be cleaner and less fiddly).
    • All archived submissions from the firm will be available – a useful facility for firms in the event that the key point person leaves the firm and incoming staff need access to older records.
    • Staff from a law firm will be able to work on multiple documents at once under one log-in platform (probably with one password / log-in per firm), although only one person working on each document at any given time.
  • Crucially – and contrary to some rumours beginning to circulate – law firms will have the option to fill in an online submission template, or to download and complete a Word version of the online submission form, so that it can be circulated internally as with previous submissions (or Chambers submissions) and then that document uploaded. The downloadable submission form can be viewed and accessed here: https://submissions.legal500.com/wp-login.php
  • I and other invitees were given the opportunity to see and comment on the draft online submission form yesterday. The Legal 500 was receptive to suggestions and the submission form will include clear instructions on what is sought in each particular section, with some suggested modifications accepted during yesterday’s Q&A, and so further clarifications may be made following beta testing. Click-button options will allow for the clear labelling of confidential content.
  • The form has been designed – and will be modified – to minimise the hassle of translating submissions between those required by the various major directories, so should have relatively easy facility to continue to modify Chambers submissions to The Legal 500 or vice versa, for example.
  • The new form necessarily steps back from the old free-form style previously invited by The Legal 500, but will still be recognisable to law firms in terms of the information sought. The Legal 500 still wants the same information in a similar style as it previously suggested, but the format is simply regimented to fit within what are readily understandable set fields.
  • The online submission format also will do away with the danger of submissions going astray by email and law firms will be able to go to their summary page online platform after logging in and see exactly what has been submitted or not.
    • Importantly, it will be possible to update and replace submitted materials until a certain cut-off point (likely when research begins), at which point documents will be locked in to avoid researchers inadvertently working with outdated materials.
    • Later updates, such as to reflect partner moves or deal completions late in the research process, will continue to be accepted by email.
  • The new online format will make the data immediately searchable by the researchers and editors, allowing – for example – a deal spanning four countries to be pulled up and any submissions with related material brought up and searchable.
  • The Legal 500 also envisages that the planned redevelopment of The Legal 500 website on a new platform – still in concept stage at this point – will also leverage the searchability of the online submission form to make available to website visitors some of the publishable content, such as lists of clients, experience in jurisdictions or certain industries, through a much-enhanced search function. This point has been developed and planned after extensive discussion with the GC community that forms the bulk of the product’s readership. Thus, a GC in the pharmaceuticals industry, for example, may in future be able to run a search in order to map out and identify candidate law firms with experience in pharma in CEE or Southeast Asia.

In summary, the new process inevitably will cause concerns or teething problems for some firms (depending on their internal processes) but the good news is that there is the beta test to iron out those issues, rather than a sweeping introduction of a model that had no prior road testing. The issues that might occur do not appear to be insurmountable and there are many good reasons to support the introduction of this form. The new online submission and its downloadable cousin are very similar in spirit to the material previously requested by The Legal 500 and simply apply a set layout to that. Though some conversion will be required between submissions of one directory and another, the pain of it looks to be limited.

The potential value of the envisaged future redevelopment of the website and the use of advanced search functions for GCs to get to information that could never have been made available in the past under the physical constraints of a print format is exciting and really should help to draw out the attributes and experiences of law firms. Let’s hope that comes along in the near future.