Love them or loathe them, legal directories like Chambers and Legal 500 are an influential part of the modern legal landscape. And, as they become more ubiquitous, so a new brand of professional has emerged: the legal directories consultant. So what is a legal directories consultant – and do you need to hire one?
What does a legal directories consultant actually do?
This answer to this is, generally, whatever you need them to do. It’s a field mostly populated by individuals and (very) small businesses, most of whom offer a service that is bespoke to their clients’ needs – this could be as extensive as handling the entire directories process, from writing the submissions to sitting in on interviews and coaching lawyers, or as little as giving your final submissions a review and ‘tweak’, or even doing a one-off talk to your partners or BD staff on how to make the process more efficient – I do a ‘demystifying the directories’ presentation that I’ve now done to a number of firms in the UK and Europe which can be used to kickstart the process, either as a one-off or as part of my wider offering, and I imagine others offer similar services. There are also companies that offer a less bespoke but more affordable package aimed at making it easier to handle the process in-house, or firms which offer directories advice as part of a wider outsourced communications or PR package.
Is it expensive?
As the above answer will indicate, that is a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question: it depends on the level of service you need. You may be billed for individual submissions, by the hour or a flat ‘package’ rate: this will depend on the consultant and the level of support you require. But most consultants will aim at significantly reducing the amount of time fee-earners have to spend on submissions, which can mean they virtually pay for themselves.
Who is a typical consultant – and why should I listen to them?
Most consultants will have considerable experience of working on submissions, and many will have worked in-house in positions of authority in the major directories. My own experience – which is not atypical – is several years at Chambers, working across their books and including editorship of the UK book, followed up by a stint in-house at a Top 50 law firm. This kind of background means that a consultant will know – from bitter experience! – what it’s like to be a researcher, what the guides are looking for in terms of information, and how best to present it.
They also bring an objective eye and an authoritative voice to proceedings: because they are free from the kind of internal politics that even the best law firm will have, they can look at your submissions clearly and tell you whether you are presenting your strengths to the best effect, and can also give you a realistic view of your chances. Because they are experts – and you are paying them for their expertise – their opinions will often carry more weight with fee-earners.
Can they definitely improve my rankings?
Absolutely not. There is no magic wand here, and hiring someone who used to work at one of the directories doesn’t buy you special favours. What they can do is maximise your chances of getting a better ranking by improving the way you communicate with the guides – and in my experience, better submissions and clearer information help the researchers learn more about your firm and can lead to more recognition, but this is in no way guaranteed.
So do I really need to hire a consultant, or is this just a sales pitch?
Obviously, if you feel you need a consultant, please do get in touch! But to be serious, only you and your firm know the answer to that: the first step is identifying what your issues are. If it’s resource, then hiring a temp to handle the admin might be a better idea, or looking at improving your internal systems so that information is collated over the year rather than pulled together in a desperate rush. Check you are not making obvious, easy to fix mistakes, such as sending submissions in very late, or not telling your referees you have put them forward. Join free forums such as Defero Law and LinkedIn, where professionals discuss these things; you might find you have not being doing something that is very obvious! If you want feedback from the directories themselves, try contacting the editors direct or, for Chambers, attending one of their Meet The Editor sessions. Chambers Confidential – while not cheap – can also be a useful way of identifying what the market and your clients are saying about you, and finding out if there are issues that you need to address.
There are lots of options out there: a directory consultant can be invaluable to some firms, but might be the wrong fit for others, so it is worth considering what you need and shopping around. One thing is for certain though – the directories aren’t going anywhere. I know from my own in-house experience that clients are increasingly asking for rankings in pitches, and independent verification from the directories can be a powerful marketing tool. Dealing with them in the most effective and cost-efficient way possible should now be part of every law firm’s marketing and business development plan.
[Note: This is an updated version of an earlier post]