Writing, editing and legal directories advice

Monthly Archives: July 2013

5 mistakes law firms make when choosing client referees

Choosing the right referees is an essential part of the directories process. Here are some errors I’ve often seen law firms make – and why you should avoid them!

They assume, not ask: It might be surprising, in an era when client service is more vital than ever, but some lawyers still blithely assume that it’s OK to give someone’s name as a referee without checking first. Not only is this fairly rude, it can have catastrophic consequences to a lawyer/client relationship – clients can get very offended about the fact their details have been passed to a third party without permission. Also, some organisations have strict policies about not responding to directories: so unless you’ve checked your client is allowed to respond, you also risk wasting a referee.

They leave it to the last minute to ask: Lawyers should be thinking about their referees at the start of the submissions process, not the end, to leave plenty of time to obtain permission and, if a client refuses (for whatever reason), to find a suitable alternative.

They assume that permission is transferable: It isn’t. Asking a client to be a referee for one guide then assuming that means you can use them for others is, again, presumptuous. Make sure you are very clear in what you are asking and what they are agreeing to – some clients are happy to answer one set of questions but will be annoyed if then contacted by another directory.

They assume senior is better: While it’s great to be able to speak to someone with an overview of an organisation, be realistic. A referee not only has to have recent experience of working with the firm, but has to be contactable and relatively available. It can be better to name someone lower down the ladder but more accessible (and, often, with more direct contact with your lawyers) than naming an impossible-to-pin-down CEO. Likewise, should you have a more glamorous practice area, remember that it is highly unlikely that Oscar winning actress will take the researcher’s call, no matter how impressive her name looks on the client list.

They don’t explain the process: Directories are such an established presence in the legal world now that it’s easy to forget clients may not have dealt with them before. It’s important to let the client know the kind of questions to expect, what they will be asked to talk about, and stress that they won’t be identified and that the information will be confidential. Also, since a lot of research is now done via email, they need to be prepped to expect an email and not just ignore it as spam.

A longer version of this article is available as part of the Defero Law Directory Advice service. Should you require assistance with your submissions, please contact Tracey Sinclair on


Legal Directories: Submissions – what extra info should you include?

Extra information – what is it worth including?

All researchers will be familiar with the sinking feeling they get when they pick up a submission that has ignored the recommended length and is packed to the gills with extraneous information, personal recommendations and lengthy lists of publications and awards. But equally understandably, a firm sees these as ways of validating its case for a strong ranking. The trick, as ever, is striking a balance between what the directories need (and will focus on) and what your firm wants to include, or what, politically, you know you can’t leave out.

What do the directories care about? The main answer here is: their own research. No amount of awards and publications will convince them you are a great practice if their own notes are full of clients saying you’re terrible. The whole point of the directories is they do very extensive research and use that to formulate their rankings. If they were too easily swayed by things like awards – especially those awards for which they don’t know the criteria – they wouldn’t be doing their jobs. But that’s not to say supporting information can’t be helpful – to you and to them – if you use it properly.

But we won a load of awards this year! Feel free to mention this, but don’t use it as the hook you hang your submission on (that should be the quality work you are doing for quality clients), and keep it brief. For example, in the practice overview, you can include something like, ‘among our highlights this year was winning the Lawyer award for Best Employment Team and HR Magazine’s award for best external counsel’. It doesn’t have to be lengthy. You can also add this to case highlights where relevant (‘it was on the back of this deal that we won the X award’), and to individual lawyer bios. The Chambers submission template has a section for Additional Info where you can supply a list of awards, commendations etc. A little context may be helpful, too, if you feel the significance needs highlighting but again keep it nice and brief.

What about all our publications? This can be tricky, partly because lawyers can over-estimate how impressive their own publishing credentials are, and partly because most established lawyers will be regularly published and it’s very hard to differentiate between them. Again, this can be tackled by a brief line in the practice overview and bios, with a focus on what makes them stand out – for instance, being regularly quoted in the quality press will generally have more cachet than being published in a niche or minor publication. (So you could say, for example, “Partner Joe Bloggs has this year been widely quoted in the Financial Times and on BBC radio on the subject of Product Liability, reinforcing his reputation in this area” or “Josephine Bloggs this year edited the key textbook on Agricultural Law in the UK”). If you really want to send a long list of publications (or attached press releases) I would suggest putting these at the end of the submission, perhaps as an appendix, but remember busy researchers generally favour conciseness over lots of extra information

Client testimonies: Some firms are reluctant to give the directories client details, perhaps for reasons of confidentiality, or because they don’t want their clients bothered by a third party, and occasionally will include (or suggest including) client testimonials in the submissions. I’d advise against this: most researchers will only consider client feedback that they have got through their own, independent research. Far better to spend time making sure you correctly choose your referees and prep them as to what to expect so they are more likely to both agree to be referees and to respond.

A version of this article was first published as part of the Defero Law Directory Tune Up Group.