Writing, editing and legal directories advice

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


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