Partner Linsay Leslie and Client Relationships Director Julia Hepner consider how directories have a wider sphere of influence than you might think, and provide their expert advice for law firms and marketing teams.
Our colleague Anthony Notaras, seasoned legal journalist and former Legal 500 researcher, recently wrote about legal directories, death and taxes in one sentence. All three are a certainty, at least for those of us in the legal sector.
Somewhere in the world there are always submission deadlines coming up. It’s currently the UK’s turn, with Chambers and Partners results out this week and deadlines looming from December. This means that directory consultants are taking to social media and running events to explain how to get the best rankings.
What do firms actually need to know?
After 10 years as an infrastructure lawyer, I led a law firm bids and directories team – so I’ve been on both sides of the inhouse table. Anthony and other members of the team have worked research-side.
Together, we have scoped, written, researched, dissected, edited, loved and hated thousands of submissions. We have spent years of our lives talking to firms about the process, what makes a ‘good’ submission, what to do and not do, the importance of referees. We have coached and even provided a safe space to share and offload for stressed marketing and business development teams (and lawyers). In a survey we ran Q2 2023 with firms globally, 63% of respondents said the directories process caused significant tension between marketing and business development teams and lawyers: “I don’t want to be the directories bad guy, especially when I have to ask our lawyers for input on other projects at the same time.”
Most law firms focused on writing a perfect submission and submitting on time. But, they’re missing the wider point and value. Your rankings correlate directly to the strength of your client relationships. Your position in the market. Your reputation.
The health of your client relationships
You can have brilliantly written submissions, but who your referees are, what your clients say, your reputation and crucially, understanding why your clients value what you do, outranks all the other best practice tips that we consultants talk about.
Sarah Bridgman, Legal Directories Manager at UK firm Shoosmiths, commented:
“Take the time to understand where feedback fits into the whole process because, at their heart, directories are a client-focused guide, and client referees need to support what researchers are seeing in the submissions. We all love reading the positive client testimonials on publication, but there’s deeper work to be done here, what messages are these testimonials reflecting and what themes are they highlighting?”
As our Client Listening Director, Julia Hepner, explains:
I once interviewed a client who lamented that firms always ask him to be a directory referee, but firms (up until the point when I interviewed him) had never asked him what he thought about their service to him. That was a clear indicator to him that the firm cared more about them (and their ranking) than they did about him.
He was right. What firms don’t realise is that they not only risk upsetting their client; the risk goes way beyond that. A firm doesn’t truly know what their client thinks of them, unless they have asked. It would be foolhardy to guess, speculate or assume what someone’s opinion would be, but that approach is surprisingly common.
Doing periodic, independent listening is vital to any client relationship, not least because it tees you up to pick the right people (and swerve the not-so-good) to speak to directories. If done properly and at the right time, you can identify the areas where you need to improve, even if marginally. Take on board the advice, but better still, be honest with your client about making the required tweaks to address any issues or concerns, or getting the personalities right.
That client then immediately feels listened to, nurtured and valued. Think of what that will do to the content of that reference.
The results and protecting everyone’s sanity in the process is, of course, critical. But the legal directories team at MD Communications wants to widen the conversation and understanding of what ‘value from your rankings’ really means.
We are running a series of roundtable discussions and events kicking off with ‘How to maximise your submissions and clients for directories success’, taking place in Paris on 31 October.