Sunday, 14 April 2013

Catrin Griffiths

Editor of The Lawyer magazine Cat Griffiths says there's no room in publishing for doing things the way they've always been done. I was curious to know the thought process behind the change in how this leading legal magazine's circulation figures are calculated (since January its auditors count "audiences" not "readers") and also the rationale behind its website redesign this February. I had lots of questions to ask about the challenge for editors and publishers to keep up with the digital revolution and its impact on news consumption habits. Knowing some of the radical moves this magazine has made - at the start of last year it took the brave decision to break all news online, saving the weekly print edition for a more in-depth, analytical read - I wanted to know more about how The Lawyer  has approached adapting its model. Cat was kind enough to take time out from a busy press week to fill me in.

This woman is most definitely up for the challenge: "I find all of this so exciting!" She told me. "It gives you so much more scope to be creative than in a hard-copy-only title". Cat has always been a leader when it comes to creativity in legal editing and publishing, so I started to see how this latest revolution is really playing to her strengths. If you've been around as long as I have, you'll remember some of the classics from The Lawyer and also Legal Business, her previous editing role. As a bit of a cinephile, for me it tends to be the film references that most stick in the mind.  Who remembers which firm was represented using imagery from the then recently-released and highly controversial Reservoir Dogs?  Picture lawyers in monochrome suits, white shirts, black ties and shades, making their way manfully through some urban wasteland or other, and a headline echoing the strapline from the film promo posters "Let's Go To Work".  Also who remembers the illustrations for the story of Matrix Chambers launch with members dressed, of course, in those iconic max-length black leather coats. But Cat's smartest characteristic has always been her very cute sense of exactly who her audience is and what they are looking for from the people who deliver their news and analysis. Now it seems she is combining these two strengths to devastating effect. Did you know that whilst she has been pondering how to deliver content most effectively to her audience through The Lawyer's direct-to-mobile service and social media platforms, not only have web revenues risen over 50 per cent year on year - yes, you read that right! - but revenues from the print edition have actually risen by 15% since a redesign.  This is astonishing given virtually every other publication is having difficulties conserving revenues in print, let alone increasing.  Cat is also keen to point out that since its latest web redesign in February The Lawyer has increased its global reach by 17 per cent (this is in just six weeks) and global audience now accounts for 35 per cent of overall online users.  Impressive stuff.

"For us, circulation is not about readers, but audiences. Our weekly web audience is 89,158. Our total net multi-platform audience (ie through print and online) is 117,144. These circulation figures are audited by PwC and we are proudly transparent on our circulation/audience.  It's a subject close to our hearts as you'd expect.  People today engage with us on multiple platforms and so that's why we've changed the way our audited circulation figures are calculated.  For example a typical "reader" might receive breaking news throughout the day from our direct-to-mobile service, pick up certain other stories via our Twitter feed, perhaps check the website from a desktop PC a couple of times a week and also read the print edition on the train home on a Friday.  And what's really exciting is that in this digital age we can track user journeys through the website, see which stories are most read, and how much of a feature people read before moving on (by looking at how far they scroll), track where they go next. How even in some cases a big feature on a law firm collapse might drive a proportion of readers to our jobs pages!" She's joking at this point, but only partly. "The point is it enables us to get even closer to our audience and really understand what they are looking for and how they want to access that content. Of course it isn't always about giving them just what they want. sometimes it's about challenging those habits and saying - but you really must read this, it's important!" Well, would you expect anything less from a magazine that so proudly positions itself as the thorn in the profession's side?

"If I've learned anything on this journey is that it's a mistake to make assumptions. We were gob-smacked for example that our website revenue has risen so dramatically as a result of our new focus. Another myth is that digital content is always faster and cheaper to put together. We invest enormously in our analytical content and yes, a lot of this is best placed in the print magazine for that longer read" (we know one City firm Head of Finance who now likens The Lawyer print edition to The Economist, and Cat tells me this is not the first time she's heard this parallel) "but we've also seen how much of this content is often read in-depth online".

We love how The Lawyer publishes not only a list of its "Top 10 most read" stories, but its "Top 10 most commented on" too.  If you look at how content is organised in both print and online editions, let alone the chit chat between Lawyer writers and their audience on Twitter, you'll see that audience engagement shines through at every turn. And engaging people to this level with its content, and in so many different ways, goes to the heart of how The Lawyer maintains so much influence in the profession. Small wonder Cat is considered one of the most influential people in legal media.


Lawyers got hot, cross and bothered over the Bar Council's  Guide to Representing Yourself In Court, released Easter weekend. The Guide was issued to coincide with the changes to (...ahem, withdrawal of) Legal Aid, which kicked in on 1 April.  It's no joke, I can assure you.  Lawyers abandoned their chocolate eggs and took to Twitter in droves, despite the bank holiday. The outrage was perhaps understandable, given the Bar Council exists to represent barristers' interests.  Why would it deem it appropriate to spend time, energy and precious resources helping members of the public circumvent proper legal representation?

We tweeted news of the Guide first thing on Easter Monday, and in the shake of a lamb's tail a hot debate had kicked off, continuing throughout the day. Take a look at The Bar Council's Guide here and tell us what you think.

It's official! Kysen is now working for the man "with the best profile pic of any QC" according to the legal twitterati.  Hardwicke's PJ Kirby is shown here in full silk regalia, and clearly in a state of high excitement, on his way to the silks' inauguration. 

Hardwicke is known for being a breath of fresh air in the sometimes still stubbornly Dickensian world of the Inns of Court. Judging by the personality evident in this snap - and the fact that PJ is continuing to use it as his defining image in the Twitter-sphere - it seems that reputation is well-founded!

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