As a certain Danish prince knows all too well, indecision can be a killer. You may feel your practice has all the ingredients for a ranking, but there might be a nagging doubt keeping you from committing those precious hours to pull together a submission. After all, there’s nothing more frustrating than putting all that time and effort into the directories submission process only to result in no ranking and much soul searching. Helpfully there is some groundwork that can be done before drafting a submission. Below are some tips to consider when mulling over whether to submit.
Reading last year’s rankings
This may seem obvious, but looking at last year’s rankings – not just at which firms/individuals were ranked, but also at what was written about the ranked firms – can be a useful starting point when assessing your practice’s prospects for a ranking. Compare and contrast your practice’s work and team with the ranked firms – does that work match up in terms of scope, scale and complexity? If the answer is yes, then it would most likely be worth submitting.
Do you regularly see ranked firms on the other side of matters? Not only is that a good indication that you should be submitting for this area, researchers will also take this into account, so make sure you’re highlighting the point in your submissions.
The definition conundrum
Figuring out what work does and doesn’t fall within the scope of the relevant practice area can be a challenging one, particularly as these can differ in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways between the various directories. Codified definitions are a helpful starting point where available (Chambers and Partners provides practice area definitions on its website here), but those are not always available or as clear as they could be. When in doubt (and where an examination of last year’s rankings as above doesn’t clarify the situation), it’s always worth reaching out to the directory directly. The relevant editor will be able to provide specific advice on what type of work should be covered in a submission and what should be omitted.
Why is it important to lock this down before you start pulling together a submission? On the practice’s side, there’s nothing more frustrating than going through the process of gathering your strongest work highlights only to be told that many of those matters don’t fall within the scope of the relevant practice area. From the perspective of the researcher, having to sift through a submission full of extraneous information can be equally irksome – researchers have to review large volumes of data in pretty tight timeframes, so providing clear, concise and relevant information will be greatly appreciated.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint – the importance of demonstrating track record
The directories place a fairly heavy emphasis on a practice’s track record, particularly when looking at possible new entrants to the rankings. That’s great if you have a well-established practice – highlighting the practice’s past work highlights will help to illustrate that track record – but what if the practice is a nascent one? You have a couple of options: wait until the practice has some time and experience under its belt before submitting, or putting in a submission straight out of the gate. The former might seem more sensible than the latter, however putting in a submission early on into the practice’s lifespan – even if the prospects of a ranking off the back of that submission might be slim – could help to lay a foundation on which to build in subsequent submissions. Researchers will take notice if you can point to past submissions as a demonstration of the practice’s growth trajectory and track record of work, so think of a submission as an investment into a future ranking in that instance.
Learning from past attempts
As strange as it may sound, one of the benefits of submitting and failing to get a ranking is the ability to ask for feedback on how your submission failed to meet the criteria for entry. This will enable you to address those points in future submissions and strengthen the prospects of attaining a ranking. The initial disappointment of failing to achieve a ranking can be mitigated by the knowledge that you have access to data that can help you refine and improve your messaging going forward.
The Legal 500 will provide detailed feedback on request while Chambers and Partners will provide limited feedback, however detailed insight can be purchased through their Chambers Unpublished product which, while expensive, can be a worthwhile investment on a selective basis. If opting to go this route, the best approach would be to target core practice areas.
Although these tips have largely focused on submissions for areas where a practice has previously not been ranked, this also applies for ranked practices that want feedback on how to improve their rankings. In addition to doing the above, reviewing what the directories wrote about your practice can provide some additional insight. Some of the things to look out for include the following: Lack of feedback (indicates that your referees were unresponsive or failed to provide substantive feedback); unimpressive work highlight information (may suggest that more work needs to be done to improve the quality/detail of the work highlights supplied in the submission); a narrow focus on one aspect of the practice (may indicate that more work needs to be done to substantiate your work highlight information with evidence).
There will always be an element of jumping into the unknown when it comes to submitting to the directories for the first time/submitting for a new practice area, but incorporating the tips above will help to manage expectations and provide the best possible case for making a submission.
My name is Alex Boyes and I am one of the directors at SavageNash Legal Communications. I’m a former editor at The Legal 500 and also worked at a large international law firm. Together, SavageNash Legal Communications has over 40 years’ directories-related experience, from both sides of the directories process. If you’d like more guidance on making submissions to Chambers or The Legal 500 in the next cycle, please do get in touch via our website or on LinkedIn.