Referee feedback is one of the most important elements of the directories’ research, but many law firms stumble when selecting referees.
So before you send in that spreadsheet, ask yourself the following questions:
1.Have you asked them (and have they said yes)?
It’s easy to assume a client will be OK with it because you have a good relationship, but they might already get asked a lot, or there might be a company policy in place against giving external feedback. Also, it’s just polite!
2.Have you worked for this client in the last year?
It looks suspicious to a directory if the last good feedback you can muster up is from 4 years ago…
3.Can they talk about more than one lawyer/department?
This isn’t essential, but when referee numbers are limited you can get more ‘bang for your buck’ if someone can comment on more than one person.
4.Are you SURE they are happy with your service?
Really, really sure? And if they are a client of more than one department, are you sure they are happy with the firm as a whole? A grievance with another team can spill into your feedback.
5.Will they answer emails?
A lot of research is done by email. The most positive feedback in the world is no use if the client never gets round to sending it…
6.Have you put them down for more than one directory or award application – if so, do they know and are they OK with that?
‘Referee fatigue’ is a real danger: clients can get very sick of being constantly asked for feedback, so you need to ensure you don’t overuse them.
7.Are they from different organisations?
Providing multiple contacts from one organisation can backfire as it may annoy the client (‘you already spoke to my colleague!’) or can look to the directories like you only have one good client. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but still something to consider.
8.Are they referees for lawyers you wish to get into the tables/move up the rankings?
Remember those at the top of the tables will likely get plenty of peer recognition so may be less reliant on client feedback (though this will depend on how individual guides work, so again is not an absolute rule).
9.Do they come from a client you have mentioned in your highlight deals?
If you can’t provide any clients that match your big deals, the directories may wonder why. (This will of course vary from practice area to practice area – in areas where deals are very sensitive, it’s to be expected clients will be reluctant to be put forward as referees.)
10.Will they have any frame of reference with regard to other firms?
If you work in a sector where many of your clients are individuals rather than organisations (eg, family, private client, personal injury, trusts and estates) you may be better off putting forward other clients or professional contacts who are more able to compare your services with those provided by competing law firms. This is especially true if your clients are individuals who are not legally sophisticated (for instance, in the clinical negligence or personal injury spheres, where you may be the only lawyer they have ever instructed): they may agree to be a referee out of obligation to you, but may find the process upsetting or intrusive, and their feedback is likely to be of limited use.
Final bonus question: Are you using the correct spreadsheet?
It sounds obvious, but every year I stop clients from sending Legal 500 spreadsheets to Chambers and vice versa (or have spreadsheets where information is copied across from one to the other, with little or no attention paid to the difference in formatting). You need to send the directories the info they need in the format they request, so it can be properly uploaded onto their systems.
If the answer to any of these questions is no, you may need to think again.
For further advice on choosing and managing referees, or any aspect of the directories or legal awards process, feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org