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Navigating and maximising the legal directory referee process

January 26, 2023

Compiling the necessary information for each step of the legal directory submissions process requires a lot of care and attention. Whether for work highlights, narrative pitches, or the referee process. The latter is particularly important to directories as external feedback for a practice area team or lawyer contributes strongly to their case for ranking – particularly for Chambers. Combined with the perception that firms have less control during this section of submissions, the legal directory referee feedback process can provoke a collective deep inhale from legal professionals. It is worth revisiting the purpose of referees to truly understand how they contribute to legal directory submissions. And how it benefits a firm and bolsters legal directory rankings. Only then can steps be taken to optimise the referee process and maximise the results.

What is the client referee process?

The client referee process is a key part of legal directory submissions. It complements a firm’s work highlights and narrative pitches and forms a key part of the directories’ in-house research. It is important to remember the distinction between these two sections of legal directory submissions. While the narrative pitches and work highlights showcase your firm’s standout achievements and provide supporting evidence of the firm’s work over the last 12 months, the referee process seeks to confirm these assertions through external sources by ascertaining the quality and value of your service, and the capabilities and prowess of your practice area team and its lawyers.

It is for that reason that Chambers in particular highly values this section of the process and affords it a lot of weight towards your rankings, even more so than work highlights evidence or narrative pitches. The referee process is also a great relationship building opportunity. Keeping in touch with clients before and during the process ensures ample time and touch points, both for keeping them abreast of when to expect a request to interview from a directory but also as an opportunity to strengthen the business relationship.

How can you optimise the legal directory referee process?

It is often thought that firms have little to no control over the client referee process but there are ways in which they can inform the process and maximise their results:

1. Choosing a referee

Reputation isn’t everything
Many firms think that choosing a high-profile contact, such as a CEO or General Counsel, is impressive for a directory and therefore adds more weight to their ranking outcome. However, the most important aspect for a legal directory is a referee’s likelihood of responding to an interview request. If your contact does not have the time to interview, this impacts a firm’s case to be ranked. Similarly, selecting a heavyweight contact runs the risk of them also being chosen by another firm. And, as directories do not reference the firm when requesting an interview, a referee may not know which law firm or lawyer they are due to speak about. Equally, should this contact be chosen for multiple lawyers in the same firm, they will not be requested again after one interview. It is policy of Chambers not to contact referees more than once in any three-month period in relation to a specific regional guide.

A unique contact
The better approach is to choose a unique contact, one who is unlikely to be included in a rival firm’s referee list. The priority is to choose someone who is sure to respond to interview requests, with whom a firm or lawyer has spent a lot of time working, and who will speak highly about their skills. Even if they are junior or less high profile. Non-clients are accepted as referees, but ensure that they can still attest to your team’s prowess and expertise and have witnessed the team’s work over the last year.

2. Communication is key

Keeping in touch with a client referees both before and during the process is critical to ensuring response rates. We've put together a useful post to help your clients understand the referee process, and what's expected of them, here.

Before: First, it is crucial to ask a prospective referee their permission before listing them as a referee. This means they are not caught unawares when requested to interview and can have more time to prepare their thoughts in advance. Similarly, an out-of-the-blue call to interview may inconvenience them, which may then be reflected in their answers to the researcher.

During: Keep in touch with any referees throughout to be close at hand to answer any questions they may have about the process. It also provides the opportunity to advise them as to when they can expect communication from the legal directory and to answer any emails promptly. And to keep an eye on their spam email folders, just in case.

Chambers have launched a Referee Management Tool (RMT) which allows you to see when research begins and ends, your referee response rates and the Contact Statuses in real time. This enables you to get in touch with referees to ensure the researcher's email has been received and encourage them to respond within the timeframe. It also shows if the referee has been contacted within 3 months so will not be contacted again. This is an additional paid for product but could be beneficial in areas where you are not getting the feedback you expect.

3. The importance of complexity and sophistication

As part of Chambers’ updated internal system for influencing final ranking decisions, sophistication, complexity and relevance of case work are prioritised as key aspects of a firm’s performance. This is also the case for the client feedback process. Much like narrative pitches and work highlights, ensure client referees can attest to the intricate, complex nature and sophistication of case work and its significance in the wider market. Similarly, referees should be prompted to effusively praise their lawyers for their service and commercial awareness. The volume and weight of the feedback received will contribute to their ranking. Combining these two features is the goal and will be well received by Chambers and other legal directories.

The client referee process is vital to improving legal directory rankings.

A client’s relationship with and opinions on a firm and its work can greatly impress a researcher, all the while bolstering a firm’s rankings. With greater understanding of what the client feedback process attempts to achieve and by integrating these practices, firms and, more importantly, their referees will be more prepared for the process. While increasing the chances of a good ranking for a firm’s practice area team and its lawyers.

If you need more guidance on the legal directory submissions process, our newly published ‘Your Best Practice Guide to Chambers and Partners Submissions’ gives oversight of the entire process, and Kidd Aitken’s best tips for navigating it. Alternatively, you can always contact us for personalised advice and guidance from our dedicated Coordination Team's years of experience navigating the referee process.

Angela Armitage, Head of Coordination

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