The law of being a top mag

Intelligent, not gimmicky, was the judges’ verdict on Legal Week, winner of the business magazine of the year prize at the PPA awards, earlier this month. The title is one of three big-hitters in a crowded market of five legal weeklies, along with The Law Society Gazette and its arch rival The Lawyer.

It’s a profitable sector with plentiful recruitment ads, though advertising looks set to feel the effects of the credit crunch.

Legal Week was launched in 1999 by a group of journalists who broke away from The Lawyer, then a generalist legal weekly, to set up a news-oriented magazine focused on the commercial side of the legal profession both in the UK and within major international jurisdictions. Nearly a decade on, John Malpass, the last member of that breakaway group still at the magazine, is editor-in-chief. In 2005, the magazine was bought by Incisive Media, which last year went on to buy the American Lawyer Media group, publisher of the US’s leading legal titles.

Legal Week, with an ABC of 30,500 a week, was redesigned in 2006, and updated last year when its website was overhauled.

It has kept its newspaper look and moved away from being a ruthless news machine in favour of content that is broadsheet in tone, with more analysis and commentary.

The front-page lead in this week’s (15 May) issue is a multi-stranded news analysis on how law firms are managing their staffing levels in a slowing market.

The magazine competes fiercely with The Lawyer, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. Started by two journalists, it was quickly snapped up by Centaur and has become its flagship title. It has a weekly ABC of 31,500.

Editor Catrin Griffiths joined The Lawyer in 2000, using her background in City legal journalism to oversee the magazine’s decision to focus on the commercial sector, targeting the top firms and in-house counsel.

It opened a New York bureau last September, staffed by two journalists, and caused a stir this month when it identified a clutch of firms – dubbed the ‘sweet 16’as the ‘transatlantic elite”. Redesigned three years ago, it combines news with analysis and commentary, strong profiles and, particularly on its website, a sometimes irreverent tone. The ‘Lawyer in New York’feature in its latest issue looks at US firms moving into Russia and the Ukraine, US firms’ plans to ride out the credit crunch, and a blog.

Broad restyling

The elder statesman of the three titles is the 105-year-old Law Society Gazette which goes out to 115,500 solicitors as one of the benefits of having their practising certificate, making it the biggest legal journal in Europe. It is about to have its first comprehensive restyling in eight years. The Gazette’s website is also under development as part of the redesign.

Editor Paul Rogerson, former City editor of The Herald in Glasgow, took over last year after the departure of long-standing editor Jonathan Ames. A significant reshuffle of senior staff followed. Despite being owned by the Law Society, the Gazette retains its credibility by maintaining its stance as an ‘objective’observer of the society and the legal profession.

While it keeps a close eye on Legal Week and The Lawyer, it does not compete directly because its selling point is the breadth of its coverage of the practice areas and issues concerning law firms from sole practitioners to City giants . However, it has recently recruited a City reporter – James Dean from Insurance Times – to boost coverage of the big firms.

Page 5 of the latest edition (15 May) has stories on stress pushing lawyers into depression and alcoholism; a warning that big business has ‘patchy’knowledge of corruption laws, legal aid fee havoc; the use of Crown Prosecution Service-designated caseworkers in trials. Its ‘Lawyer in the news’column features the family solicitor who represented a father whose child was put up for adoption against his wishes.

Grania Langdon-Down is a freelance legal journalist and a contributor to the Law Society Gazette

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