Legal directories guide, part two: preparing a standout submission

In compiling this guide, we have canvassed the views of editors at Chambers and Partners and The Legal 500. Over the course of a research period, their researchers will review hundreds of submissions containing large quantities of data, so ensuring that a firm’s submission is focused and on message, with specific supporting evidence is the most effective way of making your arguments stand out.

Rieta Ghosh, Chambers’ managing editor, said: “Keep submissions short and to the point. Researchers read hundreds of submissions over the course of their research and having a clear and concise submission is very helpful.”  Alexander Boyes, The Legal500’s UK editor, added: “Some of the best submissions can be as short as two pages long.”

Providing your submissions in a timely fashion enables the researcher to have all the relevant information at their fingertips and devote their time to properly conduct their research to verify facts, talk to clients or seek out supporting evidence. Conversely, a late submission reduces the amount of time the researcher will have to properly assess a firm’s practice.

A legal director’s perspective:

The submission really is the backbone of the whole process. It’s an opportunity to signpost the researcher to practice areas, to your teams’ strengths and, importantly, their distinguishing features. If you want to make it stand out from the rest, you must focus on what are your differentiators.

A strong communications team, a global process for the preparation, collection and submission stages, and ‘champions’ in each practice area to take the lead, are essential elements. Centralisation is important, in terms of communications, a bank of previous submissions and so on, but it can’t be so centralised that you lose the distinguishing features and deep knowledge that reside in each practice area. You need a balance between the two.

The senior lawyer taking the lead in each area needs to know the sector well, the market, and the team – its specialisms and strengths from partner to associate level, its capacity and capability. That all needs to be borne in mind when preparing the submission. The submission must not be too ‘wordy’; an intro and bullet points, with the latter serving as the signposts for the researchers when they begin their work and speak to referees.

Being mindful of how each directory approaches the definition of practice areas is crucial.

VICTORIA ARNOTT Legal Director, Clyde & Co

Victoria is accredited by the Law Society of Scotland as a specialist in professional negligence law. Her focus is on defending claims and complaints against legal professionals.

 

Practice areas

“We need to ensure that our categories can evolve alongside the wider legal market,” said Boyes, “and as such, we don’t impose rigid definitions as to what constitutes a particular practice area. If a firm is considering applying for a practice area for the first time, looking at the current editorial for that practice area will be a good starting point for figuring out what types of work fall under that category.”

Once that’s clear, it’s a case of determining whether there is sufficient information to answer the following criteria for assessment:

Primary factors:

  • Recent work (past 12 months)
  • Historical track record (typically the past 3-5 years)

Secondary factors:

  • Breadth of practice area coverage
  • Breadth of industry sector coverage
  • Depth and experience of team / changes to team —
  • Client and other referee feedback
  • Significant market/economic developments
  • Ancillary services
  • Your law firm benchmarked against the competition

How to tell a good submission story

Once a firm has a solid understanding of the parameters of the practice area in question and how the firm fits into the wider market, then it is more likely to effectively communicate the elements that differentiate its practice from that of its competitors and thus strengthen the argument it is making for its position within our rankings.

Focus on key information:

A brief introduction of the practice and important changes over the past twelve months. This can include relevant changes to the market or regulatory developments; significant new client wins; new partner promotions, hires or departures. This can be presented in bullet-point fashion, and doesn’t need to be covered in too much depth.

“Many of our researchers cover the market every year,” said Boyes, “so will really only need a brief heads up on what’s new and significant since last we spoke. Firms will often just reiterate the information contained on the firm’s website, which can be too generic for our purposes. We can always use go directly to the website for that information, so its usefulness here is limited.”

Feedback on previous rankings and comments on competitors is also constructive, particularly if it’s backed up with supporting arguments for any proposed changes to The Legal500 rankings – substantive evidence of the volume, size and significance of the work you are doing and who you are seeing on the other side of the table will all be considered.

Identifying key lawyers within the practice will gives a good starting point when it comes to determining who the respected figures in the market are. Often, firms will simply list everyone in the team – that can be counter-intuitive, and serve to muddy the waters when it comes to identifying the key individuals in the practice. A more effective approach is to focus on team leaders or those who you genuinely feel should be ranked because they are clearly widely respected by clients. If your client references focus on clients with relationships with those individuals, the stronger the case will be for their consideration.

“We discourage including extensive biographies on each partner,” added Boyes. “We can access that information from [the] website, or ask for them if we do need more information.” Recent work highlights are crucial in enabling the team to benchmark your firm’s practice against your competitors. List five to 10 examples of work with details of who the client was and why the work was significant; that latter point is a particularly key one.

Generic or non-specific examples of work are particularly unhelpful in drawing adequate comparisons between the work being done by your practice and your competitors; getting to the meat of a firm’s role in a piece of work and highlighting any novel or complex factors is indispensably helpful in that regard. Ideally the work will be publishable so that when it comes to setting out the practice’s abilities in The Legal500’s editorial, readers have quantifiable evidence to enable them to make an informed decision.

“We do acknowledge that often this information is highly confidential,” said Boyes. “So, if you wish to provide information to us on a confidential basis, we will honour that and use it solely for background research purposes.” Similarly, Chambers advises that confidential material should be clearly marked: “We will use it in our research, but we will not publish it.”

Ensuring the work is as contemporary as possible is also important; providing examples of older, seminal pieces of work can illustrate the firm’s historical track record, but researchers do need evidence that the practice is continuing to attract a large calibre of work. Listing which partner was involved and their role in the work is another key point to consider, particularly if you tie it into the key lawyers being put forward as leading individuals. In addition to new client wins, listing existing clients and highlighting key client relationships is a great shorthand way of flagging up the scope and calibre of a practice.

Chambers’ Rieta Ghosh highlighted the ‘What the team is known for’ section in its submission form: “[It] should be used to highlight key areas of focus within the practice and deals/aspects that make the department stand out from competitors in the market. Highlight interesting work in your submissions. Chambers wants to see a year-on-year track record of quality advice and representation.”

The importance of referees

Choose referees based on the level of interaction with the firm’s lawyers, advised Ghosh, for example the head of legal rather than chief executive. The referee feedback process is a key part of the research process. “In 2016, we contacted more than 300,000 referees,” said Boyes, “meaning we have access to a significant volume of data on the service levels of firms. However, it’s important to stress that referee feedback is a secondary factor in our assessment process – we are primarily focused on the quality of the firm’s work and the track record it can demonstrate in the given area.”

Underlining this point, Ghosh said that among the common misconceptions was that: “It’s all about the statistics. [Chambers] is a guide for clients and the most important thing is what clients think of you. Deal size and growth is important, but the most important thing is to do good work for your clients.”