Journalists’ Journal – Christine Simmons (New York Law Journal)

by Tom Mariam on January 16, 2013

Christine Simmons covers the legal industry, particularly law firms, for the New York Law Journal. Christine worked with a team of journalists at ALM affiliated publications to report on the downfall of Dewey & LeBoeuf last year. Christine discussed the Dewey story and other issues relevant to her law firm beat with our Tom Mariam.

What are the key issues facing New York law firms today?

Some of the key issues I’ve observed are firms seeking to offer alternative billing arrangements, especially flat fees, while staying profitable; cutting costs and doing more with fewer associates; and keeping top talent amid a strong lateral market. My beat includes how small and mid-sized law offices are operating and evolving with the market. What I see frequently: partners from large firms leaving to start their own firms, midsized firms dominating the middle-market, small firms and boutiques relying on technology to stay competitive.

What do you feel the impact of Dewey’s collapse has been on the New York legal industry?

Law firm managers are more cautious about extending guarantees to laterals, while partners are more careful to study their own firm’s mechanics.

What was it like competing for the NYLJ with the mainstream press, such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, when reporting on the Dewey story since it’s rare that they give daily coverage to a particular story about the legal industry.

While helping to cover Dewey & LeBoeuf’s collapse, I worked with reporters from our affiliated publications The American Lawyer and The Am Law Daily. Both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal published outstanding coverage. I believe that my colleagues and I held our own, mostly thanks to our deep connections in the legal community.

How well do law firms understand the role of the press?

I believe law firms understand very well NYLJ’s longstanding, objective focus on the bench and bar.

How much of a difference is there from firm to firm as to how they respond to your queries?

Most firms, whether I leave a message for a firm partner or a marketing specialist, are responsive. Smaller firms are also very responsive. It’s great to hear back from law firms soon after I contact them, especially when I have a short deadline.

How can law firms work most effectively with you, both reactively and proactively?

For any story or research inquiry, it’s always helpful to speak with someone in the law firm, even if it’s off-the-record due to a sensitive topic. Perhaps a firm can point me to a public document, an upcoming court event or try to put a situation in context.

While it’s also helpful to speak with marketing and public relations officials for background information, whenever possible we like to speak with a law firm partner or manager who could provide more detail.

On the proactive side, if a law firm has an idea for potential coverage, I’m all ears. Just contact me. If a law firm would like more coverage in the NYLJ, there are several opportunities available that you typically wouldn’t find in other news outlets. For instance, NYLJ regularly features photos on legal community events; Q&As with lawyers who have unique backgrounds, hobbies or jobs; an announcement section for lawyers who have been hired, promoted or appointed to new positions in their communities; and opportunities for guest columns on practice area trends and court decisions, among other features. We always welcome suggestions for these features, along with tips or ideas for articles appearing in our front section. Lawyers and firms are also welcome to send us court decisions.

Do you get a lot of feedback from lawyers and/or law firms after your stories are published?  What percentage of the feedback is critical?  What percent is praise?

On some stories, yes, there’s plenty of feedback. Sometimes, it’s critical, sometimes it’s positive, and sometimes lawyers and firms have been very helpful by pointing me to more information, public documents and related developments so I can continue to follow the topic. All and any type of feedback is always welcome.

What trends or changes do you see ahead in the New York legal market?

As The American Lawyer recently observed, although there is much talk on law firms and clients being cost conscious, data sets show spending on lawyers in Am Law 200 firms is up in recent years. This will continue as long as it can. I also expect to see outside law firms continue to seek a presence in New York, and clients relying less on traditional relationships with law firms while placing greater emphasis on fee arrangements.

What is your background?  What would you like us to know about you aside from being a journalist?

Before joining NYLJ, I covered business of law news and law firms in St. Louis, Kansas City and nearby cities for another legal news organization. Prior to this, I reported on mostly consumer regulatory news and politics in Washington, D.C., for The Associated Press.

I’m always open to phone calls and meeting folks in person, whether it is in their office or for coffee. I enjoy talking with a variety of voices and hearing interesting stories. Call me.

Tom Mariam is the President of Mariam Communications LLC. You can reach Tom at tom@mariam.biz.

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