The legal directory industry shows no sign of decline. With the advent of the internet it would have been reasonable to expect the directories business to fade away as more people took to search engines to find their preferred counsel. However, the directories have embraced the internet by providing online versions with relevant information and as a result they are doing better than ever.
As you might imagine there are a number of directories to choose from. However, it’s worth noting that they are run in very different ways. For example, both Chambers and Partners and Legal 500 spend a great deal of time and resources researching the legal market, both in the UK and overseas. Their results are both unbiased and unambiguous, ranking the top-rated counsel (as found by their research) in each practice area in each jurisdiction. Martindale-Hubbell and Who’s Who Legal appear to be more listings services rather than publications that have been methodically researched and ranked (I’ve received emails from Who’s Who inviting me to buy a profile in their directory and suggested that I would fit into the litigation category …. Scary thought for a marketing agency!). Practical Law Company’s directory ceased to be operational in 2013. It is worth mentioning that all of the directories have a cost associated with them. However, both Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners will still include the firm/chambers and lawyers in the directory rankings even if they choose not to purchase a profile. It’s not clear from the Who’s Who website how they deal with this.
The two impartial directories
For the purposes of this article, we will concentrate on the two impartial directories that 73 per cent of instructing people (recently surveyed) regularly use to find their preferred solicitors and barristers.
Whilst October heralds the publication of the annual legal guides, work on the publications is a continuous process. Indeed we share a striking resemblance to the painters of the Forth Bridge with regard to our never-ending workload!
What can we do to make life easier with regard to the submissions and how do we make our barristers stand out from the rest? First we need to understand how the directories are used and by whom.
The directories are used, as you might expect, to reinforce the marketing activities that sets are already doing. Once a client has a specific matter (and assuming they don’t already have an existing relationship with a set for that work type), they will look to the directories for guidance. Client service comments and barrister specific references are key in these situations. Where existing work relationships are in place, the directories are used in a ‘post purchase dissonance’ manner (to support their positive beliefs about a set / barrister thus justifying their choice).
What is it that the directories measure and how do they measure it?
For sets, they typically measure the collective strength of the set in the practice area, the general reputation in the market, the number of barristers practising in those areas, the numbers ranked in the leading silks/juniors tables and the seniority profile of ranked barristers.
For the barristers themselves, they measure the amount and quality of work done in specific practice areas, the complexity/profile of cases handled in the past 12 months, the proportion of time spent on work in that practice area, relevant past experience (outside of the bar), credible work highlights, precedent setting work (this has priority over volume of work in that practice area) and market feedback from solicitors, general counsel and peers.
Research takes the form of an email sent to suggested references and interviews (telephone predominantly) conducted with a selection of solicitors, general counsel and barristers.
Deadlines are important
Hundreds of barristers submit entries each year. The result is thousands of references that need to be checked, contacted and responses collated. All that takes time – a lot of time!
It is very important that you meet the deadlines if all the work is to be completed in a timely fashion. At the very least, you need to have the referee spreadsheets in on time so they can begin the process of contacting the referees. The earlier you send the spreadsheet, the sooner they will begin contacting – the advantage here is that any issues in low response rate can be flagged up sooner and dealt with – meaning the response rate from your clients will be more successful and the chances of receiving rankings improves.
Often there is a huge overlap in the referees submitted by sets. In this instance, the directories will send one email to the contact asking for feedback on multiple barristers and sets. They do not re-email that contact, therefore if you’re late with your spreadsheet and that contact has already been emailed, you’ve effectively lost your chance at a reference.
Separate submissions should be sent for each practice area.
Submissions should be succinct with no more than 2 x A4 pages per barrister. Cases need to be explained in layman’s terms – whilst knowledgeable, the researchers are not experts. They need to understand simply and quickly why a case is important and why that barrister is the best.
Whist Legal 500 do not provide templates (they provide a list of topics to be covered by a submission and the order in which they want them), Chambers and Partners do. They require very similar information:
- Feedback on the rankings in the current edition
- Practice area overview, including:
- Key achievements of the set within that practice area in the last 12 months
- The number of barristers in that practice area
- The name of the individual who leads that practice area
- The name of the clerk most closely associated with its management
- List of barristers already ranked by the publication you are working on (by order of year of call)
- List of barristers seeking rankings by that publication (again, ordered by year of call)
- Information on each barrister (in order as above)
- Year of call/year of silk
- Introduction to their practice
- USPs of that barrister – what makes them different? Niche expertise, relevant past experience outside the bar, landmark cases in the last 12 months they have participated in – what role did they play? Why was the case important?
- Work highlights. Include up to five noteworthy cases handled in the last 12 months – What was the barrister’s role (two sentences)? Dates (and case reference if applicable). Who was the barrister leading/led by? Who were they against? Who was the instructing law firm (and lawyers)? Why/how is the case significant? Was it high profile, complex, unique, commercially important? (brief notes only). Include press links. Is it confidential or publishable?
Referees can be anyone your barristers have worked closely with who will be able to provide a fair evaluation of their skills. They can be direct clients, solicitors, opponents, lay clients, leaders (for juniors) or juniors (for leaders).
The directories request that all referees are sent to them early on in the process (uploaded to their website or emailed, depending on the directory). They supply a spreadsheet template – this can be downloaded from the directory research pages. You must not change the format of this sheet – it feeds into software that will automatically email the referees with the correct barrister/set names etc. It also automatically collates responses.
The auto-generated email asks the referees a small number of questions and gives a 2-week window for them to respond. The referees will only be emailed once, it is therefore critically important that you do not miss the referee deadline.
To increase response rates and improve your chances of success. Put forward referees you know will/or are more likely to respond and who have worked with the barrister within the last 12 months – greater weight is placed on recent referees/cases.
Send referee sheets in on time and in the right format. Include a variety of referees (greater weight is placed on direct clients and solicitors). Inform the referees of your intention to use them. Email them with the name of the researcher who will email them (usually they will be contacted within a few weeks of the deadline). Ensure referees understand it only takes 2 minutes to respond to the 5 questions asked.
Interviews can be telephone or face-to-face format. Researchers will interview clerks and barristers for their feedback on their own set and also on their peers and general practice ideas.
If the set is sizable/has a high profile in a given area, the researcher will speak to the clerk responsible for an overview of the set, market and barristers. Identify who the most active barristers are as well as up-and-coming ones and who was involved with leading cases. The clerks will also be expected to give feedback regarding the current rankings.
Ensure that the interviewee has the submission and current rankings in front of them during the interview.
Researchers aim to interview each ranked set, however if a researcher is very familiar with the set and barristers, this may not be necessary.
Top 10 mistakes
- Missing the reference deadline
- Missing the practice area deadlines
- Sending in submissions containing rankings of rival publications
- Pasting barrister profiles and information from websites
- Citing cases without any details of the barristers’ involvement
- Sending in improperly named submissions (the directories have their own naming conventions – you must follow these)
- Including too many unranked barristers (although this can be a nightmare for clerks to manage, you need to be realistic. Focus on barristers that stand the best chance of success – the fewer unranked barristers you submit, the more time will be spent on them and the more likely you are of success)
- Do not list rankings and awards given by other publications
- Legal 500 – do not include referees in the Legal 500 barrister submissions – just send in the spreadsheet at the beginning of the process
- Legal 500 – do not put forward barristers for ranking if they have less than 10 years’ call (other than in exceptional circumstances) – it is perceived that they are less able to give comprehensive feedback on their peers
If you stick to the above and hit your deadlines, the directory process should go a lot smoother than in previous years. Good luck!
Catherine Bailey is Managing Director of Bar Marketing Limited with over 25 years’ experience in strategic and operational marketing, including more than a dozen in the UK legal sector. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @barmktg.