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16 June 2020

Chambers and Partners acquires directories 'disrupter' Top 3 Legal

In-house lawyer platform was founded in 2017 by former Freshfields and Addleshaw Goddard partners

By Ben Rigby

Gareth Stephenson

Gareth Stephenson: joining a 'fantastic brand'

Leading UK legal directories publisher Chambers & Partners has bought Top 3 Legal, an online platform which helps in-house legal teams manage relationships with law firms.

Founded in 2017 by former corporate partners Gareth Stephenson and Richard Fleetwood — from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Addleshaw Goddard respectively — Top 3 Legal, together with its associated GC Hub, allows in-house lawyers to use peer-to-peer referrals and feedback to evaluate law firms.

It also assists with managing external relationships, including panel firms, through a web-based interface called Team Sheet, which enables users to add recommendations, private notes and share them with others. 

While the price is undisclosed, market observers said Chambers was likely to have paid from £5-10m. Addleshaw Goddard acted for the purchasers with Stephenson and Fleetwood representing themselves. Both men will join their new firm’s leadership team.

Chambers CEO Tim Noble said the combination would “create the de facto source of research and analysis for corporates in choosing legal advice and representation”.

Stephenson – previously vocal about the disruptive impact Top 3 Legal sought to have in legal publishing – called Chambers “a fantastic brand” and said the deal would accelerate Top 3 Legal’s growth and associated content. 

He added: “Richard and I are excited to be working with the team to carry on with our vision of evolving the legal directories market… for the benefit of all players in the legal sector."

The deal follows on from Chambers’ acquisition by Inflexion Private Equity in 2018 and promises to deepen Chambers’ relationship with in-house lawyers while allowing Top 3’s founders to join forces with an established private equity backed brand at a time of unprecedented market uncertainty.

Legal directories consultant Lloyd Pearson said: “Under the leadership of Michael Chambers, who owned and ran Chambers from launch in the 1980s to 2018, Chambers did everything in-house – in its own idiosyncratic way.

“It was inevitable that the new owners would seek to expand the scope of the business and push Chambers beyond its traditional territory.” 

Marketing consultant Simon Marshall added: “The acquisition of Top 3 is interesting as it was genuinely growing to be a threat to the directories model.

“Legal 500 has diversified over recent years but it’s going to be interesting to see how they react to this acquisition.”

In November last year, Thomson Reuters bought UK legal research company Acritas, in another publishing deal that targeted the in-house market and digital growth.  

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