Over the last two decades the London-based legal press has grown into a sector which must have the combined revenue of a top 20 UK firm. It is a success that has proven difficult to replicate in continental Europe, particularly on a regional basis.
When I started working for a law firm, now almost ten years ago, my first instruction was quite clear: Get us coverage in the international legal press. The Central European firm that I was working for had seen a direct competitor taking a lot of the lime light in international publications and directories. Speaking to the partners in my first couple of weeks on the job I soon figured that having a deal covered in The Lawyer, Legal Week, or the European Lawyer was considered the Holy Grail. Although I had been headhunted from Chambers & Partners and according to my CV was a “qualified” journalist, if such a thing exists, I was not really sure how to go about making this happen.
The space these magazines had dedicated to covering international transactions was usually limited to a page a week, so competition with the rest of continental Europe to get your news covered was fierce. Thinking back to my days at university, when as an exercise we were made to write short news items on the basis of press releases, I recalled that press releases had to catch the reader’s attention and had to focus on bringing something newsworthy rather than simply be pushing out a marketing message. My press releases would have eye-catching headlines and interesting quotes that would be ready made to be copy-pasted straight into a front page article.
I was quite satisfied with the result – an increase in clippings – until a befriended editor at one of the legal directories in London pointed me to an editorial piece in The Lawyer which somewhat ridiculed the change in style and word play in press releases of a certain CEE firm. I decided it was better to keep quiet about this and tuned down my releases a bit (the coverage of the firm did not decrease after that so I had clearly made my mark with my somewhat eccentric start).
While working at Chambers & Partners I had picked up the odd copy of The Lawyer, but I hadn’t appreciated the full extent of the legal trade press until I began working at a law firm and was confronted with a string of advertising sales people of magazines such as Managing IP, IFLR, Global Arbitration Review, Global Competition Review, Commercial Dispute Resolution, the In-house Lawyer and not to forget the Law Society Gazette, to name but a few.
In addition to these magazines, there were publications with more room for reporting on continental firms, most notably the European Lawyer and TopLegal International, neither of which exist today. One of their main problems, in my view, was that they never became more than extended versions of the single international page and regular country focus articles that the UK-based magazines already had. By focusing on a single market or highlighting a particular practice in each issue they could only please (a small) part of their readership each month. Meanwhile, their UK counterparts had moved beyond the assumption that lawyers pay to read about themselves and started to approach law firms as complete businesses by dedicating more editorial space to strategy and key law firm support functions (in its upcoming Business Leadership Awards The Lawyer has even introduced a category for PAs!).
Legal media in CEE have a lot of catching up to do in that respect. But we are starting to see change happen in some of our local markets. Earlier this year the Czech legal magazine Pravni radce organized a proper conference for lawyers, with foreign experts coming to speak about developments that would affect law firms and in-house counsel alike. Jaap Bosman came to present his book The Death of a Law Firm, which predicts the collapse of many international law firms in the years to come, while consultant Christoph Vaagt came to speak about the remarkable changes that in-house departments have undergone in recent years. Maybe even more remarkable, with their annual GC Summit CEELM is providing a platform where wider issues affecting legal in-house functions and private practitioners are discussed on a regional level in a format that previously was only seen in the UK or (more rarely) in local markets on a single country basis.
As David pointed out in his editorial in the last issue of CEE Legal Matters, he and Radu are doing a lot to make a magazine that will please both private practitioners and in-house counsel and domestic and international law firms in CEE. They are going beyond what previous attempts at creating a truly international legal publication have done and are continuously looking to make further improvements. I believe that they have got what it takes to succeed, ensuring that we will (finally) have a lasting and reliable truly regional legal publication in CEE.
By Erik Werkman, Head of BD and Marketing, CMS Prague
This Article was originally published in Issue 3.4 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.