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Why spending time on your directories submissions NOW can save you money later – and how a professional can help

It’s September, and for some of us in the UK, that means only one thing – yes, the UK directories season is looming! But while most firms put off even thinking about this until they have to (usually when the results are published or Chambers schedule is announced), putting a little time in now can save a lot of time (and money!) later. And even those firms without the interest in, or budget for, substantial outside help can benefit from some professional advice before they get started.

So here are some things to think about now, to save yourself pain later:

What worked in your process last year – and what didn’t?

Which submissions were in good shape, done on time and caused you least hassle – and can you replicate that in other departments? Some firms repeat the same mistakes every year and wonder why things never get easier. Not all problems can be fixed – there will always be other demands on your time, and client work obviously has to come first – but recognising that the same issues always arise and thinking about solutions NOW can help minimise them.

  • Do your lawyers always leave choosing the referees till the last minute? If so, focusing on referees before the submissions are drafted might be useful.
  • Are you expecting busy partners to draft submissions when this could be handed off to others in the team?
  • Do you have simple guidelines in place to help those unfamiliar with the process?
  • If your submissions are written by junior lawyers, have you identified who is doing this yet and made sure they are available? (I’ve seen firms blithely assume lawyer X will handle it again, without realising they were just about to go on secondment or maternity leave…)

Thinking about these questions in advance will allow you to get the ball rolling faster when you start the process in earnest.

What information can you prep now?

For most firms, certain parts of the submission will need little changing year on year and can be used with only minor edits and updates (the overview, lawyer bios etc.): the directories know you are busy, and they don’t expect you to reinvent the wheel every year.

If there are submissions where you know you fell down last year – things were left to the last minute, or the final version didn’t get your message across the way you wanted it to – you can use this time to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again this year. I’ve seen lots of clients streamline the process by preparing or polishing their core text in advance so that it just needs minor updates once the work highlights have been chosen.

Can a professional consultant help?

Not every firm needs or wants – or has the budget for – a professional directories consultant, but here’s where spending a little can save a lot. If you consistently find you struggle to get the rankings you want, or your submissions never quite gel, or even if you have a nagging feeling you’re missing a trick, it may be worth speaking to a consultant. And while retaining someone to handle the whole process can be costly, there are some surprisingly inexpensive options available.

Submission review: If you’ve never used a consultant, having one or two of your submissions reviewed before you start the next cycle can identify recurring problems, and help create suggested text for tricky areas of the submission (usually overview, feedback, sometimes work highlights).

This is usually fairly inexpensive, and can be enormously productive: it can identify areas in the submission where you are including more information than the guides need – so help you cut back how long you spend on the damn things! – and offer a fresh perspective.

You may think your key messages are coming across clearly, but someone unfamiliar with your firm may not. The good news is most lessons are easily transferable across practice areas – having one or two submissions reviewed will help you eliminate issues across multiple areas – and the vast majority of problems are easily solved. I’ve worked with firms who spent a lot of money on Chambers Confidential reports (which can, of course, be useful in certain instances) to try and figure out why they weren’t getting the results they wanted, when a quick submission review at a fraction of the price identified obvious – and easily mended – problems. Once these were addressed, the firm saw their rankings improve, and cut down the time spent preparing the submissions.

Guidelines review: If you handle your submissions in-house, having a professional review your internal guidelines can also be useful. Most consultants will have both in-house experience with at least one guide and will have worked with multiple law firms – they will be able to highlight any tips and tricks you may have missed, again at a relatively low cost.

Need more comprehensive assistance? Start shopping now!

The most popular consultants get booked up very quickly and, though they may be able to squeeze in last minute help depending on their schedule, if you have a lot of submissions or require a lot of help, it’s important to book someone’s services in plenty of time.

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Can I help? Contact me at traceysinclair23@gmail.com

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What is a Directories Consultant, and do you really need one?

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 (often 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. Some specialise in particular jurisdictions or for particular Guides, based on the experience of the consultant (say, Asia, Latin America or the US), or may target particular firms (for example, some specialise in working for barristers’ chambers). 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 (so covering most jurisdictions) 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 – often 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. Looking at my own client list, almost if not all have seen some improvement in their rankings; many have achieved best-ever rankings with my help, and generally see year-on-year improvement. A consultant can also help if you are generally satisfied but have one or two areas that you just can’t seem to crack: sometimes it takes as little as a one-off submission review to identify where you are going wrong.

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 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, setting up meetings, and attending talks, such as Chambers’ 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.

Further questions?
If you think a directories consultant might be the right option for you, why not drop me an email: traceysinclair23@gmail.com

 

[Note: This is an updated version of an earlier post]