We recently conducted a Q&A masterclass with The Legal 500 on how to optimise Directory rankings.
Watch the full webinar here:
For a transcript of the panel discussion, please see below:
Georgina Stanley, Editor at The Legal 500 United Kingdom (GS)
Ella Marshall, Editor at The Legal 500 EMEA (EM)
Tim Maltin, Managing Partner, Maltin PR (TM)
Alastair Mitchell, Directories Associate, Maltin PR (AM)
Tim Maltin (TM) – Good morning, everyone, and thank you very much indeed for joining this Legal 500 Masterclass. We are absolutely delighted that hundreds of you have signed up to the Masterclass. So, there will be lots of questions, and what I’d say is to those of you joining us remotely, if you could please type your questions in to the panel, then we will endeavour to answer all of them today. Although we’ve only got an hour and a half, we will try to answer all of your questions. So please keep those coming in and in the meantime I’d like to introduce the panel.
We have Georgina Stanley, who is the editor of The Legal 500 UK, and as many of you may know, the deadline for that is actually the 31st of March, so it’s fast approaching, and we are very pleased to have Georgina here today to answer these questions.
We are also joined by Ella Marshall, who is the editor of The Legal 500 EMEA. That is launching in the middle of April and the exact date will be confirmed shortly. But Ella and Georgina can answer your questions on all general aspects of Legal 500 directory entries.
From our side, we have Alastair Mitchell, who is our directories associate at Maltin PR, and myself, Tim Maltin, managing partner at Maltin PR.
So, without further ado, while we’re waiting for questions to come in, I think we’ll kick off with some of the questions that you sent in advance, and we’ve tried to group these in some sort of logical order, so although many of you submitted your referees a while ago, we thought we’d start with referees. So this is really to Georgina or Ella.
A lot of firms ask us ‘How should we select our referees? How should we choose them? What should be the balance between clients and maybe peers in the markets? Maybe barristers that the solicitors have worked with?’ So, perhaps we can start off with that question.
Georgina Stanley (GS) – Absolutely. So, when you’re looking to choose your referees, you obviously want to make sure they are clients or barristers that you’ve worked with quite recently. I think sometimes, one of the mistakes firms can make, is they can include people that they haven’t worked with for a long time and then that confuses them if they’re put down for a referee.
Obviously, you’re much more likely to get a response if you’ve worked with them within the last 12 months and they know that they’ve been put down on that form as a referee and they’ve been sort of briefed on what their role is, effectively, in the Legal 500 process.
We would always encourage you to tell them when the emails from us are going to be coming out, what to look out for, effectively. You can include barristers. You can include other law firms, but you should also make sure that you have included a good number of clients as well.
TM – Thanks very much indeed, and while you’ve been answering that question, we’ve had our first question typed in this morning. So, one questions is, and by the way feel free to type in which firm you’re at if you’d like us to mention that as well. One question that has come in for the panel is: “If we’re submitting for a London area but there’s no equivalent for another region, can we include matters led out of our regional offices or should we only submit London-led examples?”
GS – If you are submitting for an area that is not covered in any other part of the UK guide, then it is absolutely fine to include that work in your London submission. There is no problem at all with that.
TM – That’s great, and a related question is: With London submissions that close at the end of March, does that include regional practice areas as well, or do people have a little bit more time for regional aspects?
GS – Regional submissions closed in early February, so that is very much done.
TM – Ok, bad luck, but there’s always next year! Samantha Walker asks: “Does it penalise firms if they’re unable to name clients on submissions?” So, many firms are very concerned, obviously, about confidentiality. So the question here is “Will that harm the entry?”
GS – Ella, do you want to take this one?
Ella Marshall (EM) -Yeah, sure. I’d say that’s a tricky one to answer, really. If it’s completely anonymous, it’s very difficult for us to verify the work or to see the client’s profile in the market. If you’re able to provide the name of the client under a ‘confidential matter,’ that’s absolutely fine, or tentatively, something you might be asked to expand on at the interview stage.
Alastair Mitchell (AM) – Okay, we’ve had another one from Sonita Haywood, if I can step in there. Sonita asks “Can we use ongoing cases or do you prioritise settled cases?”
EM – Definitely with ongoing cases, I would say. It lets us know what work you’ve been handling, what stage it’s at, whether it’s on appeal, whether it’s pending. Absolutely, please include ongoing work.
TM – With ongoing work. If a client has a really good case, and it’s within the last year but it has maybe settled and perhaps favourably, for example, presumably that’s completely okay to include that as well?
EM – Yes, Tim, definitely. Also if it’s within the research period, please include it.
AM – Sometimes we sense nervousness about including cases that settled in the other side’s favour. What’s your view on those? Do you think, well this is actually really good work. They didn’t happen to win the case but it’s still a really good matter. What do you think about that?
GS – If it’s really good work, you should still include it. I would definitely encourage you to still include it even if it settled in the other client’s favour. I would say, on a slightly related note though, I think sometimes, not for litigation but for corporate transactions and particularly some private equity and auction deals, sometimes people will include a lot of roles for bidders who weren’t successful. And in that instance, that is going to slightly penalise you if all of your roles are for the unsuccessful bidders, because there obviously wouldn’t have been as much work.
TM – And Emma Arnold asks a slightly more technical question: “Is there a category where we can submit for our court of protection department in the regional entries?”
GS – No, there is not. That is an exact example of where, because we don’t have that in the regional UK guide, you should submit to London.
AM – With interviews, obviously a very important part of your research process, could you tell us a little bit about how they play into the research and what questions tend to come up in those interviews?
GS – So, the interviews are a really important part of the research. For the UK regions, they’ve already sort of started happening. They will interview a huge number of every practice area that they’re researching across all of the different tiers to make sure they’re getting that cross section of the market. And they’re obviously using those interviews both to assess the firm that they’re speaking to but also to get a full picture of the market as a whole. And they’re looking, using those interviews in conjunction with the submission forms from the firms and also the feedback from clients.
TM – Thank you very much. In terms of the next question – this is from a firm that operates in many regions but it’s interesting. They’re saying that they’re a firm with five offices in four of The Legal 500’s regions, but practically, and like many firms post-COVID, they’re working from wherever their clients need the firm to be working, and so staff will work in all offices or teams across many offices. Given that, how should firms decide which region to put which matters in?
GS – The way the UK guide is structured at present is that it really- you’re submitting for where you have your office. It doesn’t matter where your clients are as much as where your lawyers are. So, I know that in a post-COVID, current COVID world where everyone is working remotely, this is one of the questions that we get a lot but we do, for the UK regional guide, require you to have that local base in order to submit and then beyond that, where your clients are based is less relevant.
AM – Do you see that changing, as workforces become remote and, you know, it doesn’t have the same meaning to say we’ve got a London office or Manchester office or whatever.
GS – It’s obviously one of the things we need to look at quite carefully over the next few years but right now, I mean, we clearly can’t have everybody submitting to every area because they happen to have a client that is based there.
AM – Someone’s just gone back to the interview – is there a set list of questions you typically want a researcher to ask? Can you tell us any more about the conversations that tend to take place there and the questions that come up?
GS – There are some set questions that they will ask to try to get a feel for the practice and the market. They will obviously ask you any questions they have in relation to your submission form, any areas where maybe they felt there wasn’t enough detail about where the practice was going or what had happened or what your role was on a particular case. Those will be the ones that are specific to your form, and more generally they’re going to be asking you about the rest of the rankings, the best firms, the best individuals in that market. Ella, is there anything you wanted to add?
EM – No, I think that really covers it. We might, as Georgina said, expand on the work that you’ve been doing, ask around the market. Actually, just a related question with regard to who should be on the interviews – this is a question that comes up quite often – the researcher ideally should speak to the practice head. If there are more people who are heading the practice, that’s absolutely fine, but it can sometimes be a little bit difficult to keep track of the information if there are multiple people on the call, so I’d just say to try to keep it to the practice head.
AM – I always thought that you did more in person interviews – obviously that’s gone away in the last couple of years. Would you like to see those come back, or are you going to stick to phones and video calls?
EM – For London, we’re definitely hoping that we’ll be able to do more in-person interviews. Obviously, I don’t think it will go back to exactly the same volume as it was, not least because everybody’s working to different patterns now in the office, so logistically organising them with everybody who is only in the office on a Tuesday and a Wednesday, it’s going to be more difficult, so it’s going to tip the balance slightly. But we are definitely hoping to do more in-person interviews for London.
TM – Thank you. Nicola Begg asked a question about how you handle referee names. If referees are put forward by multiple practices and for more than one firm as well, are those referees asked about all areas they are submitted in support of? How do you handle that?
EM – That happens frequently! We contact referees by email, that’s probably something that we should say, it’s a key differentiator. We do contact all referees, they will be asked to provide feedback for all firms, but it is entirely their choice – they’ll have links to the different firms and different practice areas that they’ve been put forward to, and then it’s down to them to provide feedback for that firm. There’s also a general comment, where they can provide additional feedback on other firms in that feedback form, but ultimately, it’s their choice. I think that comes back to looking at being more selective as to who you’re putting down as a referee. I always go back to an example for EMEA a few years ago where we had one individual who was put down seventy-seven times. It’s a little bit outrageous, but I very much doubt whether that person filled out seventy-seven forms, so perhaps just consider who you’re putting down on that form and how likely they might be to respond.
GS – That one comes up particularly for barristers. For the UK research, London research, when people put down barristers, again, like Ella said, really think carefully about that, because some barristers will get in touch, and they’ve been put forward dozens of times.
AM – Absolutely, so sticking with the referees, a few people have asked about notification of when they’re going to be contacted. Can you tell us a bit about how you let firms know when the referees will be contacted by the research team?
GS – They will receive an email shortly before referees are contacted, so if you’re looking at the UK regions, referees are going to be contacted this week. Firms will have received an email – assuming they were in our database, and it didn’t go to their spam or anything – they will have received an email last week saying their clients will be contacted this week.
EM – I think it’s also important to note there, like Georgina said, this email isn’t coming from individual researchers, it’s coming from a general inbox, so please do look out for that.
TM – Great. In matter examples – this is slightly off the referee point, we’re jumping around because we’re just taking questions as they’re piling up in our inbox – in matter examples do you prefer paragraphs of text, or bulleted information? That’s the first part of the question, if you answer that then we’ll come back to the second part.
GS – It depends on how detailed your matter highlights are going to be and your paragraphs are going to be. Personally, I think you want to keep it as clear and concise as possible, and therefore if you want to use bullet points that is a good way of doing it. I don’t think anyone is going to penalise you either way though. Most firms tend to use paragraphs, but I would encourage people to do it as clearly as possible.
TM – Thank you, that’s very helpful. The second part of that question is related to new associates and new partners. So, if a firm has taken a lateral hire, potentially from another firm, do partners require a “run up” in the sense of maybe you’re reluctant to rank individuals who are new, maybe under two years, to the firm? Can you just tell us about if you have any policies around that?
EM – I don’t think we actually have any policies around – you mean if a lateral hire comes in as a partner, providing they had a strong body of work behind them at their previous firm, they were leading on significant matters in the submission form, good feedback from peer firms, and good client support, we wouldn’t have a quota on the number of years before they’re considered.
GS – The flip side of that though is that if you’re saying that your practice is really great because you’ve hired this person, but all the work that they did was at their previous firm, while it’s not going to prejudice the assessment of the individual, it means it’s going to take a little bit longer to assess how they’re actually doing at the firm within the practice.
AM – Sometimes we get situations where people say: “I’ve just joined last week. Can I put the work I did at my old firm in the confidential section of the submission, and put a note saying that this work was carried out when I was at my previous firm?” What do you think about that?
GS – People do it all the time.
AM – No penalisation there. Also on case matter summaries, we’ve had a few people ask about the level of detail – we’ve spoken about length, there’s also the level of detail and how technical and jargon-heavy respondents should be. What are you looking for there? What sort of level of knowledge and understanding do your researchers have? Are they looking for something that’s sort of quite narrative-based and for a non-fee earner, or are they looking for something that’s highly technical and maybe includes jargon? What’s your take on this?
GS – I don’t think you should have a need to include jargon. The role of the submission form really, if you think about it in a nutshell, is to talk about what your practice is doing and why the work that your practice is doing matters, and why we should think that the work you’re doing is better than the work of the other firms submitting, or on par with the firms that you want to be ranked against.
The technical stuff, you don’t need to have that then – really, you should be assuming that what you want to express there is why it matters, how it highlights the growth or your practice, the strength of your client base, the development of the work that you’re doing. I would encourage you to do that, not try and fill it with technical jargon, because I don’t think anyone is going to gain there, regardless.
Even if we gave you a researcher – there are some researchers in some areas who do have PhDs in particular areas of law, for example – even if you’ve got one of those, and they had a full understanding of all of the jargon, just filling your matter description with jargon is not going to tell them why it matters, and why it’s important.
TM – Thank you. We’ve had a question in from Lesley who is head of marketing and Business Development at Excello Law. What she’s saying is that they don’t have practice heads, so all the lawyers listed in the submission tend to want to get involved, as it were. She’s asking how they deal with that, because each lawyer has their own client matters within a team approach. If you could just say something around when there’s lots of lawyers working on something but if a firm doesn’t particularly have practice heads, then is the answer to just name all of the lawyers that were involved or choose a lawyer to be the head of that particular practice area?
EM – No, I don’t think you necessarily need to use a lawyer that is the head of a practice area. What I would say is regardless of who has handled the work, only include your best work in the submission, so don’t try to be equal to everybody. Be selective and choose standout matters.
TM – Okay, that’s great, because they have a consultant lawyer model so they’re a dispersed firm, so there’s no hierarchy, and obviously many firms are moving to that type of model. So, I think what you’re saying is to put all the partners that are down in that matter and the ones that are most involved.
GS – Yes, we would want to see evidence that, regardless of whether there’s a practice head, that there is a definite practice doing that work.
TM – Okay, that’s great. Alastair, do you want to take the next question?
AM – Yes. So, on referees, you don’t have maximum numbers. What do you find is a good number? What do you find is a good minimum to aim for that gets you the right information that you want on the firm?
EM – I would say, I suppose, around 20 names per practice area but if you want to give us more, give us more. We don’t count the number of referees and we do contact everybody.
TM – Great, I just noticed we had some questions coming in on the chat side as well as the Q&A side. So, let’s not ignore those. The new Cost rankings for London firms, can you, either Ella or Georgina, share any insight into what you’re looking for, as it’s the first time for this ranking, e.g. value of bills and matters, technical elements of work, superiority of courts that they’re appearing in, or is it all of the above?
GS – I would say all of the above! We haven’t researched this before, so they are going to be looking at it completely from scratch this year based on what comes in, effectively.
TM – That’s great. That was from Sonita Hayward, so that’s great. And Sonita also asks “Can we use ongoing cases or do you prioritise settled cases?” I think we answered that. When will we know when you contact our referees? Is it on your website or do you email us in advance, and we can contact our colleagues to alert them?
GS – Yes, I think we touched on that earlier. We will tell firms when their referees are going to be contacted. We don’t give them an exact day, but they are told: “Your client will be contacted next week.”
AM – So there’s some more about the sort of regional split. Everything is based in London, there are categories only available for London, can the team include work that has been done outside of London, or do they concentrate on London work? Do you think you covered that?
GS – I think we covered that one earlier. I think maybe some of the questions are coming in both places?
AM – Yes, what about this one, I think this is an interesting question: “Are certain types of work considered more valuable than others? So, are matter highlights focusing on opposition or litigation work stronger than general work carried out for the client?”
So, you often see 5 or 6 big cases and then you see the day-to-day ongoing support work for various clients. Is there a sort of hierarchy of how valuable you see those matters as being?
GS – Certainly for the UK guide, we would prioritise the big cases or the big deals over the everyday kind of commercial work. Obviously, it’s great to have demonstrable evidence of strong client relationships with big clients, but generally, we are looking for that big top-end work for the UK. I don’t know if it’s slightly different for EMEA.
EM – No, I absolutely agree. We are looking at market-leading, precedent-setting dispute work. Yeah, we’re looking at the key cases.
TM – We have one question here where I think it could be bad news: “Should we have submitted our referees for the London firms already, or do we submit these along with our application at the end of the month?”
GS – No, that comes in at the same time. Absolutely fine. No bad news! It’s all on the 31 March.
TM – Excellent. I think Alice Thomas will be very delighted to hear that. Thank you.
AM – On the submissions as well, Lindsey Ryan asks: “How important are the other areas of the submission documents? So you’ve got obviously the matter highlights, what about the firm overview, the feedback section? How do those play in, how are they assessed, and what are you looking for in those sections of the document?”
GS – They’re very important. The practice overview, what differentiates your practice. I say they’re really important as long as you use them right. It’s your opportunity to sell your firm, to sell the differentiating factors. Whether that’s in terms of the progress you’ve made, the hires you’ve made, the share of a new market that you’ve gained, growth in revenue within that practice area that you may have achieved over several years. And putting in context the work you have there.
In terms of what you think about your rankings, again, that is your opportunity to say we think that we should be here because of X,Y,Z. You do need to demonstrate that but it’s also your opportunity to feed back on the market as a whole, and that is an important part for people to know.
We’re not expecting firms to simply comment on their own ranking. It’s much better if firms also comment on the rankings generally. So, if you think somebody is in the right or wrong place, tell us and explain why. That’s not to say we’re going to take it at surface value but it’s good feedback. Anything else, Ella?
EM – I would just say, on the “About Us” section, please do tailor it to that practice area rather than a general firm overview.
TM – Ella, earlier you mentioned about being selective, and one sort of follow-up question is how selective should one be? So, for example, there’s a maximum level of matters publishable and non-publishable. What should the minimum be for a good submission?
EM – Well, I wouldn’t put firms off by setting a minimum. If you’re demonstrating good work, and you can’t quite make the full 20, that shouldn’t really be a bar for you submitting. If you are submitting for a very competitive practice, though, and you’re struggling to fill the 20 matters, that’s likely to count against you in some way.
Ultimately, we are prioritising quality, but it doesn’t hurt your case if you also have quantity.
TM – That’s great, and just to confirm, I think we’ve covered this already, but Michelle Maguire has asked, “If we can’t name clients even in the confidential section, would we be penalised for that?”
EM – Unfortunately, yes. Firms are likely to be penalised for that. If it’s too generic, it’s very difficult for researchers to assess the work.
GS – You can go into it in the interview, perhaps. If you get an interview, then potentially you may be able to work around it then, but if it’s too generic it’s meaningless.
TM – That’s a good idea, Georgina, thank you very much indeed. I think that’s actually very helpful and very good to have a clear steer on that as well.
AM – Sticking with submission for a moment, “Is there anything you see coming up a lot, which you think, we don’t need that on there, it’s not necessary and firms don’t need to spend time including information like that?”
GS – Other awards and recognition, we’re not going to be looking at that. Background articles: sometimes, firms include press coverage or articles that people have written. We’re not going to be looking at that either. I think those are the main things going into. I think if firms are looking at ways they could cut down the time they spend on the submission, then potentially some of the information- some of the biographies. Obviously the context is fantastic. It’s really good to have that, but I do normally say if firms are struggling to write that individually, then you can just link through to their bios.
AM – Yes, do you mean things like professorships and all those non-fee earning activities that a lot of lawyers do?
GS – Yes, I mean also some firms will just for the leading individuals they are putting forward. They will just send a link to the lawyer’s bio and that, often, is absolutely fine but you want to make sure. If you are doing that, if there are extra things about that person you would put it in that box. If someone has been on maternity leave/ parental leave or something that is going to impact on the volume of work their doing.
TM – Okay and a question from an anonymous attendee, “How many individuals do you recommend putting forward as recommended individuals for each practice area submission?” So is there a rough guide for how many matters should be attributed to each partner? For example, three matter highlights per individual?
EM – Rather than looking at it like that I would say start with your best work and divide it like that instead. So if it happens that one individual has lead on six of the best matters in the submission for that person rather than trying to spread it round the team.
In terms of the number of individuals you are putting forward, this might be different for London but certainly for EMEA we say please don’t overload us with names because it can mean that we can’t see the wood for the trees and it dilutes the quality if you are just packing it with names really. In those leading individuals, next generation partners, and rising stars lists, do try to narrow it down to stars in the team.
GS – I would agree so for London; absolutely don’t give us too many but you do want to put forward your best people and everyone you are putting forward you need to make sure. Obviously, you don’t want to leave out any of your best matters just because you want to provide equal representation as Ella said.
But equally if you really think someone deserves to be ranked and they are not included in any of the matters you have included for the firm as a whole that is absolutely going to count against them because if you are looking at anybody, even if they are already ranked, people seeking a new ranking they really do need to demonstrably doing the market leading work and if we can’t see that they’re not going to get there.
AM – Okay, thank you. Another question on referees, does there need to be a connection between the referees you put forward and the matters in your submission?
GS – No, there doesn’t!
TM – A referee related question as well, for the 11th February deadline, obviously they are being contacted a month later. Is it possible to have slightly longer? Is it at all extendable for referees, is it a hard deadline on that?
GS – I think you mean to add new names, but we cannot accept any new names after the 11th February deadline, all referees are being contacted this week for outside London.
EM – I would just say that I appreciated for firms it might look like quite a long time between submission and us contacting them, but the referee team spends quite a long time processing that data which is why it’s a fixed deadline.
TM – Similarly on that point, a follow up question on that, for the 31st March deadline, is there any flexibility for providing referees any later than that deadline?
GS – No, there really isn’t. What people don’t see from the outside, which Ella alluded to there, is the work of the referees team. We want to make sure referees are only getting one email from us with all the relevant sections they have been put forward for. If people start sending in additional referees later there isn’t the time to sort that properly and you don’t want people getting multiple emails, as it would annoy them.
AM – Okay, this goes back to bios and who we should add to our submission, and also a slightly broader topic: how often are diversity stats used? What is your approach and your way of assessing diversity?
GS – It is something that is important to us. It’s something we’ve been monitoring ourselves over the last few years and when we are looking at the rankings, we are always trying to make sure we are as representative as we can be and in terms of the diversity stats that firms provide us so we do not go into as much detail as Chambers does. We don’t ask for a practice breakdown but, if firms want to provide it, that’s great. But we don’t specify that they must as it can get quite difficult from a privacy point of view, depending on the size of your practice. So, at the moment, we are looking at the diversity within our own rankings; we are trying to make those as representative as we possibly can in terms of both gender and ethnicity. From firms, what we really want to see, is demonstrable evidence, if you have it, of diversity within your team. So, please make sure you have included the talented women and minority lawyers within your proposals as well as the white men.
TM – On that topic, if you feel it has already been covered that’s fine, but on that topic of how much info are you looking for in the Your Team section, so when text is provided on leading individuals, next generation and rising stars for example, would a short paragraph of a nominee’s practice suffice, or are you looking for comprehensive summaries of nominees’ practices, recent deals and anything else?
EM – I don’t think we need to see that summary. We need to see their name in the matter highlights, for leading individuals certainly leading on those matters for your leading individual nominations but you certainly don’t need to provide us with a short summary of the work.
GS – No, I would say if there is someone you are particularly keen to get forward and they have done something really remarkable in the firm, and you can demonstrate that, then you can mention this. If you have got a woman who is leading some sort of initiative or leading a particular client relationship, you can put that in there but make sure it is relevant, it is useful context around the work.
AM – On the whole though you would say fee earning work should be the focus?
EM – Yes, actually just going back to what George is saying, if anybody has been leading on any AI innovations within the firm that would be useful to know but, yes, the fee earning is the focus really.
AM – Somewhat related to that – someone has asked how do you treat fee earners who have moved into management positions, or roles, for example, If someone becomes the managing partner, or some other senior role, and they won’t be as active on matters day to day. How should you include them or position them, and do they stand a similar chance of being included as previously?
GS – That is an issue that comes up every year. If people are really not doing any more fee earning work and they haven’t been for some time then it is quite difficult to justify including them in the rankings. If they are still doing some fee earning work then that’s fine really and I know if you have more senior partner positions they are still going some client work but it depends on the individual position.
TM – Someone has asked whether The Legal 500 share the email you send to referees. Do they receive one email for all the categories of firms or do you group them?
GS – So this is the whole point of the process the referee team go through. We try to make sure they receive one email with everything for London solicitors would be in one email, for example, rather than multiple different ones.
AM – A question about what happens inside The Legal 500. Can we receive feedback from the editorial team after launch so we can improve our submissions for next year?
EM – What we do have available for firms is the Research Plus product. This will give information on quality of submissions, as well as information on feedback response rates, a little about your competitors in the market and that’s what we have available to firms.
Given the volume of submissions we receive, we are not able to provide tailored feedback to individual firms.
TM – One firm has asked a question about naming clients within the Confidential section. This firm works for private individuals who may not have any press profile unless their case is high profile of course, or if it’s PI or Clinical Negligence work.
Do you penalise firms in that instance for not naming a client?
EM – No, because we imagine that most firms in that category would be in the same position.
TM – That’s very helpful, thank you.
AM – We have a question about interviews: We have been contacted by one researcher covering four practice areas but were only offered interviews with two practice heads. How do we deal with this?
GS – We can’t give every firm an interview for every practice area they submit for. That would not be viable based on the number of hours in a day! We receive thousands and thousands of submissions, so what we would suggest is that when researchers are looking at interviews, they often look for the areas they think they need the interview in, the firms they most need to interview.
Beyond that, if there are particular areas a firm feels they should be interviewed in, these can be suggested. However, we could not, and do not guarantee, an interview with every firm.
EM – From the firm’s side, try to focus on areas there has been progression or developments over the past year, and you want to get that story across to the researcher. Alternatively, perhaps suggest a practice area in which you are generally under ranked.
TM – Thank you. We’ve had a, not exactly, controversial question, but this person says: This year both Chambers and The Legal 500 have the majority of the deadlines in February (9 and 11 February respectively).
Do you think in future years you may stagger these dates so they are not in the same week?
GS – Chambers was the one that moved, not The Legal 500! We could not change our submission dates around Chambers’ research as the research had to start on 20 February. There is not a lot we can do around that I am afraid.
EM – What we do have available to firms is the Convert Now tool. If you are preparing submissions for Chambers, it is sometimes easier to run those through Convert Now, which is 70% accurate, and will move data to The Legal 500 format, which from an administrative perspective, can help.
AM – “One of our teams in Band 3 keeps stating in their submissions that they want to be in Band 1. Presumably no firm can jump up two Bands.” True or False?
GS – That’s not true! But you would have to do something quite remarkable in order to jump up two Bands, particularly if you are looking to jump up to Tier 1. That would normally be very exceptional cases, if, for example, you’ve hired in a big team. Then if your team is totally transformed, then you have the opportunity to say that you are not the same firm you were three years ago, this is us now and this is the work we are doing. But this is pretty rare!
TM – We’ve talked a bit today about Publishable versus Non-publishable matters. One question from Sean Richardson asks what actually happens to the summaries you enter as Publishable? Where might a summary of those appear?
EM – We have three Matter Summaries that appear in the submission form, above the matter highlights section. It is those three Matter Summaries – include one line descriptions of the work. We don’t need you to elaborate on these – which will appear on the site. These need to be short and succinct. The matter highlights are the opportunities for you to go into detail about that work, and George mentioned earlier, you should show why this is market leading, precedent setting, and its relevance and significance to the practice area.
For the Matter Summaries section, only include publishable work, and that will appear on the website.
AM – Just going back to rankings for a moment. If a firm drops out of Tier 1, and they have been in Tier 1 for a number of years and they drop down into Tier 2, what things would you be looking for to support a return to Tier 1?
GS – It would be the same as any promotion to any Tier. It would also depend on why they dropped down from Tier 1. If the drop relates specifically to some departures of key team members, obviously that would be a harder one to come back from, unless the team itself has changed and you’ve hired in new people or significantly promoted.
Otherwise you are looking for the matters to really demonstrate that they deserve the promotion; clients and matters that are at the top of that market and on par with other Tier 1 firms.
TM – A short question and a longer question! How do we get a copy of the feedback report referred to earlier?
EM – The Research Plus report is a paid for product and it is for London research. George, correct me if I’m wrong, but firms must purchase this before the research deadline, so we have an idea as the research starts which firms have purchased this.
So the decision needs to be made before 31 March!
TM – This participant works in a mediation practice. Are you able to provide a guide of the number of matter highlights you would expect to see per individual mediator?
GS – We don’t specify and we don’t know how many people typically submit. I’m sorry, I can’t answer that in any useful way. It’s not a question anyone has ever asked before!
AM – Are quotes from clients welcome in matter submissions, and should we not bother compiling these for inclusion?
GS – Don’t bother – we can’t use them if we have not sourced them ourselves.
TM – A question here from Georgina Lewis: “One of the practice areas I worked with on this year’s submissions had a challenge with choosing their referee list. It’s predominantly a transactional practice area so they have a few longstanding clients who regularly place work with that department. But these clients have participated in the research several times now. The practice area was reluctant to ask their longstanding clients again to assist with this process. Transactional clients for their recent transactions are fine, but for transactions completed 10+ months ago, quite a bit of time has elapsed since the client business with the firm. Are there any plans for The Legal 500 to change your approach with how, and what, information is being collected for your research? E.g. longstanding clients who have participated in the process several times before.” This is more for clients rather than barristers.
EM – I’m just trying to untangle that question, I’m not sure what was asked there!
TM – I wonder if it’s a matter of: If it’s a client and you’ve already gone to them on a matter, perhaps it’s a longstanding client with many similar matters, is there a situation where you can look back in your notes rather than ‘bothering’ the client again. I think that is what is being asked.
GS – We can’t do that because for all we know something could have changed between i.e. their view of the firm. Just to stress again – we are not saying you need to include referees for the specific deals that you have included in the submission. The total number of people you could contact is a bit greater, and you also obviously need to think about who you are putting forward within that organisation.
AM – There’s a point there about what I call client fatigue, asking the same clients, and your best referees who will have done it time and time again, that you’re reaching the point that they’re not your best referees because they won’t want to do it again. I think that’s partly what that person is alluding to as well.
TM – George Robinson, first of all, he thanks us all for this useful session, so thank you George. When determining rankings for both practice areas and recommended lawyers, do you have a scoring system within The Legal 500, or is it subjective to each researcher?
EM – We do have a methodology, I wouldn’t really describe it as a scoring system. We’re considering the submission, the clients, and the calibre of the client base. The quality of the work handled, we might be looking at particular specialisms that the firm has or an individual has. We’re obviously considering feedback and client feedback as well.
GS – There is no kind of: ‘If you put in eight deals worth over 500 million then you will definitely be in tier two’ kind of checklist approach, that doesn’t exist. It is going to depend on the practice area but also really crucially on each year, and what the other firms put in.
AM – We get questions related to that quite often, about if there’s a quota for Band 1, Band 2 or Band 3, what do you say to that?
GS – No. There is no quota, I would say in the UK guide we’ve been trying to make sure that Tier 1 is very high quality, you will have seen the Tier 1’s generally getting smaller over the last few years, because it is normally possible to differentiate quite a lot within the top end of the market.
AM – You tend to end up with a pyramid, don’t you?
GS – Exactly. If everyone ends up in Tier 1 and you have more firms there than in Tier 4 I don’t think that’s particularly representative.
AM – Who do you have to put in there as the contact for the interviews? Can you put a central marketing person in to field different interviews around the firm and assign them to different teams, or does it have to be the [head of the] practice?
EM – It’s usually the marketing team. The contact details will list the business development department, and the researcher will usually coordinate the interviews with that person.
TM – If you’ve put your question in the chat, but it hasn’t been answered, could you please move it to the Q&A section. Please move your unanswered questions to that section, and then just some questions that have come in by email to us, we’ve still got more questions to answer on the webinar but I don’t want to forget this- this is a public law boutique called Fietta.
They’re asking how we strike a balance between providing enough detail and remaining succinct. Is there a page limit beyond which any submission, however powerful, is simply too long?
GS – We’d encourage you to use the space we’ve left in the highlight box we provide, and not to fill it with absolutely tiny font so that we can’t read it! It should fit within that matter description box.
TM – They also ask what level of knowledge we should assume in those reviewing our submissions. Should we assume they understand the basics of legal jargon of a specialist practice area?
GS – I would assume that everyone you’re speaking to is very bright, but does not know the specifics of that practice area at the very beginning of the research period. They will know basics, but they’re not going to be experts, they are never going to know as much as the partners that they are talking to, generally speaking, because they’re not partners in law firms! What they really need, again just to stress- it shouldn’t be that technical knowledge that they need to have, they need to understand the market and what matters, but they need to understand the context, why that work is important, and what it says about your practice- not the intricate details of what happened.
AM – Another question on interviews here from Shaun Richardson. For team interviews is it detrimental to have our interviewee cover more than one service with the interviewer, who’s only able to cover four areas? For example, having our team discuss corporate and commercial and employment in one interview- is that detrimental?
EM – I’d say you’re going to be quite pushed for time to do both. I’d say to stick to the one area and do it properly really, rather than trying to rush through something and miss out details.
TM – Rina Popat, firstly thanks us for a wonderful webinar, so thank you Rina, and also asks a rather brilliant question, I think, she asks: “Can I ask how you move up the tiers?”
AM – That is a great question and one we all want to know the answer to!
GS – I don’t think there is a magic solution that is going to guarantee everyone will move up a tier, or everyone would be in Tier 1. You obviously need to make sure that your submission is demonstrating the quality of the work in the firms, in the tier above you.
So you need to make sure that the work, I would encourage you to look at what the other firms in the tier above are doing, and whether your client base matches up, and your matters match up. You clearly need to demonstrate an improvement in the quality of your work, the quality of the client base, maybe depending on the circumstances, maybe the quality of the lawyers or the number of partners within that practice area. Really crucially you also have to get that peer feedback, and the positive client feedback as well.
TM – That’s great, thank you.
AM – Luke Harrison from Keidan Harrison has sent us a question, they’re a new firm founded in May 2020. Luke says, both partners have established track records with their previous firms, what is your approach or how do you deal with new practices like that?
EM – Always very welcome to submit, assuming that this is for London, so by the end of March the practice would have been in the market for ten months, and I would assume it had a good body of work for us to consider.
TM – I’m conscious we’re coming up to the one hour mark, and I just wanted to ask this question from Colin Willett. What I would say to those people with questions, please keep them coming and we will answer them today or tomorrow- don’t stop asking questions, and you can also keep asking questions to email@example.com and we’ll liaise to get those answered. Colin asks what are the five or so top tips we need to take away from this session. I think I’ll put that to Ella first, and then Georgina.
EM – Meet the deadline, would probably be particularly important. I would also say, tailor that submission form to that practice area, it might be worded differently for a different directory, so do make sure it is relevant to the Legal 500. Perhaps think about your client referees after this, who is likely to respond, do you need to freshen up your list perhaps? Consider who you should put forward for interviews, and maybe re-evaluate how you are presenting confidential and generic information as well.
GS – I think the one big one for me is really add that context, really do tell us why it matters. I think it’s the one thing that firms often get wrong on the submission form. They don’t express the importance of the work, or how something has changed, and why we need to be paying attention to it, so that would be my big one.
TM – That’s great, and we do have other questions but we’ll answer those offline, so it’s time for me to thank everyone for attending, we had a fantastic response with hundreds of people attending, and I’d like to particularly thank Ella Marshall, who is the editor of The Legal 500 for the Europe, Middle East and Africa, and also Georgina Stanley, the editor for The Legal 500 UK, and thanks to my colleague Alastair Mitchell, our Directories Associate at Maltin PR, so for now it’s goodbye from me, Tim Maltin at Maltin PR.