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How to respond to disappointing legal directory rankings

September 19, 2023

The complexity and importance of legal directories warrants the time and thought put into them — it can be one of the strongest accreditations in your legal marketing toolkit.

With that in mind, legal directory rankings that are lower than hoped for — or, worse still, failed to rank at all — can both deflate your law firm’s morale and raise concerns about return on investment for future submissions to legal directories.

Instead, taking a strategic approach with reflection and some of the suggested improvements we’ve included below can help your law firm to rank better over time. Here, we discuss topics to cover in your post-ranking meeting and approaches you might consider taking. 

Identify areas for improvement in your submission

Your first step is to have an honest post-results analysis meeting of where your submission may have fallen down — whether it was due to the work highlights provided or not meeting the criteria as outlined in the instructions.

It’s worth noting that disappointing rankings can often simply be due to a lack of understanding when it comes to the editorial process for legal directories —you can find out more in Our lessons from 10,000 legal directory submissions. It’s vital you gain an understanding of any contributing factors to make an informed decision for future submissions.

For example, Chambers & Partners take a very cumulative approach. Firms almost never rank in their first attempt at submitting, as they want to see full commitment to the process first — and, if you miss submitting one year, it's safe to say you may be returning to square one. So, for the Chambers & Partners legal directory in particular, consistency and patience are crucial.

This is where legal directory consultancies, like Kidd Aitken Legal Marketing, could be invaluable, bringing two important skills to the table (similar to legal directory strategy meetings):

1.      We know how directory editors think, what they look for, and what helps you stand out, thanks to the in-depth experience of our staff in previous roles as editors and researchers with Chambers & Partners and The Legal 500. This creates incomparable insight.

2.     We also have the right degree of separation from your law firm — you have the greatest knowledge, but you may be closer than you realise and not spot promotional opportunities. We, on the other hand, ask challenging questions to unearth what genuinely helps you standout.

Here are a few common areas for improvement.

Work highlights

Clear, compelling narratives of work completed by your law firm will showcase your expertise — it’s a central part of any legal directory submission. Demonstrating skills and knowledge, applied to the unique circumstances of a case, provides a valuable insight for any legal marketing professional into how you stand out from your competitors, especially in specific practice areas.

Many legal directories provide guidelines on the number of matter summaries you could include in your submission. 'Quality over quantity’ is a key factor, but if your total number of matter summaries falls well below the guidelines, this could indicate the submission did not follow the provided instructions by submitting enough examples.

Referee comments

Navigating and maximising the legal directory referee process will complement your law firm’s work highlights, narrative pitches, and feature centrally in the directory’s in-house research process. Listen to our interview with Tim Girven for more on The Legal 500’s research process.

That said, unconvincing comments will be detrimental to your submission, so you need to be sure that the referees you choose will submit something credible.

Reputation isn’t everything. If you’ve chosen a high-profile contact, like a CEO or General Counsel, it may seem an impressive addition, but the most important aspect is a referee’s likelihood to respond to an interview request at all, rather than status alone. Equally, if chosen from multiple lawyers in the same firm, they may not be requested again after one interview — for example, with Chambers & Partners, it is a policy of theirs to not contact referees more than once in any three-month period.

Don’t shy away from choosing someone more junior, either. They are likely to have more time to respond to interview requests, and may even consider it to be an investment of confidence in their opinion. The best approach can often be to select someone unique, who is likely to respond and less likely to be included in a rival firm’s referee list.

Effectively use your word count

Legal directory submissions give guidance on word or page count for certain sections, and you should adhere to these guidelines. Rather than cramming in all sorts of information to the submission, it’s crucial that your law firm’s website has been optimised as a landing space for everything a researcher may need to find.

We’ve written before about how lawyer website profiles boost legal directory submissions, but it’s an area often overlooked. Once your website has been optimised in line with legal marketing objectives, don’t forget to regularly maintain it. Outdated content will be a detriment to your submission.

Researchers will look at previous years’ submissions, too, so there’s no need to repeat details.

Communicate and plan your next steps

Be prepared for the impact this news might have on your colleagues. As well as people included in your original strategy meeting, consider involving any internal communications and HR professionals who may also be suitable to have in the room. Expressing empathy for their feelings will set the right tone for further discussions surrounding the plan for future submissions.

You may be faced with a lot of questions on what went wrong. Analysing the submission as detailed above will help to prepare you for some of these questions but refer back to your legal marketing objectives and business development goals from the pre-submission strategy meeting as an initial way to construct the conversation and confirm next steps.

Seta date to start planning for next year’s submission to show colleagues you are handling the situation — with particular emphasis on the strategy meeting to get things off to the right start.

Kidd Aitken Legal Marketing are your legal directory experts

Responding to disappointing legal directory ranking news with reflection and creativity is the best approach to take. This could be a golden opportunity to take your legal marketing efforts to the next level.

If you need support with your pre- or post-submission strategy meetings — not to mention all stages of the legal directory submission process or legal awards — please get in touch with Kidd Aitken’s team of experts today.

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