How to stand among the best; the first of a three-part guide on legal directories

In association with Clyde & Co.

Legal directories are a staple of life in a law firm. With a history stretching back to the 1800s, today they are the culmination of an exhaustive year-long process involving in-depth research, detailed analysis of submissions, thousands of interviews and long debate between editors. Barely have the directories been published, and the cycle begins again. Firms that understand the process make life easier for the directories’ compilers, but those insights can also help position lawyers and practices to their best advantage.

We have canvassed the views of the editors of two directories, Chambers and The Legal 500, and the central directory team at Clyde & Co, for a three-part series looking at the interview stage, submissions and how best to learn from the outcomes. First, the interview: why does it matter? “The interview stage is a good opportunity for our research team to fill in any gaps in information that may be missing from a firm’s submission,” said Mike Nash, chief editor of The Legal 500.

Nash, who is also senior editor of The Legal 500 Europe, Middle East & Africa, added: “It also serves as an opportunity for researchers to gain an insight into the key developments affecting the market. In addition to those, it enables firms and stables to emphasise any points about the firm’s and barrister’s practice that they feel are noteworthy or that act as a point of differentiation with other peers and competitors.”

What are the key points in preparing for the interview? “The best interviewee is invested in the subject and is happy to be interviewed by one of our researchers,” said Nash. “It may seem like an obvious point, but if a lawyer or barrister has no interest in taking part in an interview then firms and stables should not feel obliged to put them forward as an interview candidate. The interviewee does not have to be the most senior figure at the firm, or the head of the relevant practice – rather focus on a team member who can comfortably speak about the practice in question and is happy to take part in an interview.”

How proactive should firms be with the directories and their researchers? Hayley Eustance, Legal 500 UK Bar editor and Asia Pacific editor, said: “We do encourage firms and stables to keep us updated throughout the year – not just during the research period but before the research period starts as well as after publication. For example, we are always keen to hear from firms following publication if they have any queries regarding the latest edition of our guides. This enables us to provide constructive feedback on the reasons for any ranking and provide suggestions on ways to make a better case for themselves next year.

“In addition, keeping us up to date on key developments within firms and stables enables us to ensure our coverage of the market is as current and accurate as possible. Getting in touch with researchers as soon as their research kicks off is also crucial – our researchers have a finite amount of time in which to conduct their interviews, so getting in touch with them as early into the process as possible is crucial in guaranteeing firms receive an interview. It’s also useful to keep researchers informed as to the status of pieces of work/changes within the team or new client wins, which will all feed back into their research and ensure the information they are using is the most current.”

Alexander Boyes, senior editor, UK Solicitors, at Legal 500, added: “A researcher will utilise the information – or lack of, in some cases – in a submission as the basis of determining the interview schedule. If a firm or stable has succeeded in properly conveying the message it wishes to get across in the submission, then the researcher will be able to tailor his interviews with that and other firms to specifically address that point. We pay close attention to the team information and work highlights a firm puts down here. It’s worth stressing again the importance of being concise here – all of that information can be conveyed in four to five pages of a submission. If we feel we want more detail, we can come back to you for it, and that’s very much what the interview process is for – filling in any gaps.”

Graeme Watson

A partner’s perspective: The research interview is our opportunity to add some character to the written submission – to emphasise the key strengths of our practice and tell the story of the year gone by. Often it is also the chance to provide an update. Key cases may be ongoing when we make the written response but by the interview we can provide the outcome. What we don’t do is criticise competitor firms. There are great lawyers elsewhere with whom we work regularly. We leave them to make their own submissions and we concentrate on what we have to offer.”

Graeme Watson, Partner, Clyde & Co.

Chambers ranks lawyers and law firms based on several factors, all of which are investigated by its team of more than 170 researchers. Individual lawyers are ranked in their practice-areas based on their legal knowledge and experience, their ability, their effectiveness, and their client-service. A law firm ranking relates to a department of the firm, not to the firm as a whole. Where a firm has several departments specialising in different areas of law, it may rank some departments and not others.

Law-firm departments are ranked on the qualities of their lawyers. In addition, Chambers considers the effectiveness and capability of the department as a whole – its strength and depth. These factors and considerations are judged by interviews with those active in the market; mainly clients and other lawyers with whom they work and by assessing recent work done. Internal meetings are held by researchers, deputy editors and editors to go through the research conducted and to compile and approve the ranking tables.

“Clients choose Chambers because we have dedicated the last 25 years to legal market research and recommend the best lawyers worldwide,” said Rieta Ghosh, editor-in-chief of Chambers and Partners. “In that time, we have earned a reputation for thoroughness and independence across the globe. Each book is the culmination of thousands of in-depth interviews with clients and other legal experts. We measure in two ways. Qualitative feedback – interviews with clients, legal experts and independent market observers. And factual research – submissions provided by law firms and wider market research, including deal and case references.”

In terms of preparing for the interview, Chambers wants to see a year-on-year track record of quality advice and representation. It will want to discuss examples of work carried out by you and your department and how it was representative of your and your department’s expertise. Team members who made a meaningful contribution and support provided by other departments or offices should be highlighted. Specifically, if you can show how the firm was exclusively placed to serve a client this will also count. But, on the flipside, if you are not selected for interview that is not a negative: “Whether a firm has an interview does not affect that firm’s ranking,” said Ghosh. “If there is anything that you would particularly want to mention in an interview, make sure that it is also in the submission.”

Next in the series on legal directories: The submission stage.