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What is a legal directory?

January 26, 2023

For many law firms around the world, pursuing a legal directory ranking is a valued investment. Allocating resource into their legal directory submissions because the firm recognises the benefits that come from having a high ranking for a practice area, individual Partner or both. But for law firms who are newly established or smaller than their industry counterparts, the process can be confusing. The question of whether legal directories are worth it, is frequently asked, particularly if resource would be stretched when beginning their legal directory journey. It's also hard to keep track of the key dates, particularly for firms who submit for multiple guides, which is why we have a Submissions Calendar to help you stay on top of deadlines. Kidd Aitken have also put together a guide to help law firms and lawyers understand what a legal directory is, what’s involved in the process and how achieving a ranking brings a myriad of benefits to their legal practice.

What is a legal directory?

A legal directory is a catalogue of the leading lawyers or practice area teams across practice areas, industry sectors and geographies. Some directories also rank firms, using criteria such as capability, experience and expertise in their jurisdiction or practice area. Clients and law firms looking for local counsel regularly consult legal directories. Law firms consider directories as an important part of wider legal marketing efforts, while remaining separate. This is because they provide an independent, unbiased analysis of a law firm or Partner. Adding credibility to their legal skills and able to be promoted through additional marketing materials.

A brief history of legal directories

The legal directory as we know it today was first published as the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory in 1931, after the fusion of two other well-known publications, Martindale’s United States Law Directory and Hubbell’s Legal Directory. It grew to become the most comprehensive coverage of the legal profession and began as a two-volume set. In 1996, the directory consisted of 25 volumes and contained entries for 900,000 lawyers and firms from around the world. It is now available digitally via LexisNexis. Martindale-Hubbell is an inclusive directory and provides profiles and reviews of the lawyers it covers. But does not rank them or their practice area teams. The two most prominent legal directories that rank its entries are The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners. The former was established in 1988 and the latter a year later in 1989. They are both exclusive directories, only ranking those at the height of their profession. As such, they have been increasingly recognised as the most prestigious legal directories in the industry. Chambers was dubbed “the most notoriously difficult to crack” by The National Law Review in 2018.In recent years, a plethora of legal directories have appeared. Chambers and The Legal 500 each have expanded to include separate jurisdictional and practice area guides. But directories solely focusing on jurisdiction or practice area have also come to the fore.

Different types of directories

There is a wide variety of directories in the industry. The most established directories include Chambers & Partners and The Legal 500. Their rankings are based on rigorous third-party, objective research by a team of in-house editors and researchers, supplemented with client and peer feedback.Alongside the Chambers and The Legal 500 directories is a broad selection of additional guides, specified by jurisdiction and practice area. They also seek to provide a snapshot of the legal industry at its time of publication and as such consistently update their categories and selection criteria.The IFLR1000, Benchmark Litigation, WTR1000, and Latin Lawyer 250 are examples of smaller, more industry or region-specific directories. They rank their industry’s key practitioners. Other directories in the industry such as Who’s Who Legal and Best Lawyers are largely based on peer feedback.

What is the difference between a pay-to-play directory and an independent directory?

Pay-to-play directories also exist but differ from directories that conduct independent, objective analysis. They can be thought of as paid PR opportunities or advertising with different objectives. Directories which are widely distributed and with a large readership, offers greater exposure for a firm in their chosen marketplace.However, as the placements are paid-for the directories do not independently research and analyse a firm’s standing in the same way that third-party objective directories do. In this sense, the rankings are not comparable and should not be regarded in the same light as rankings from Chambers or The Legal 500.

What is the process involved with legal directory submissions?

Each directory and guide has a different research process. However, generally this process involves a firm compiling a submission document for review on behalf of a select lawyer or team of lawyers. Including their biographies, narrative pitches, and work highlights.

A narrative pitch

A narrative pitch introduces a Partner or firm to the researcher. It should demonstrate the standout attributes and elements that set them apart from their competitors. This is the statement that will be backed up with evidence, aka work highlights.

Work highlights

Work highlights serve as the real-world examples to back up the assertions made in the narrative pitch. Depending on how many work highlights a submission requires, it is good practice to demonstrate a rounded experience and feature a selection of clients and matter types.

Peer and client feedback

Some directories also include an external feedback component in their research. Where peers and clients are asked for objective feedback about a firm’s or Partner’s service. In some cases, external feedback is more important than the written submission.Due to the wealth of information that is required for each part of the process, it is notoriously time-consuming. Firms and in-house marketing teams have to compile a lot of in-depth information from multiple sources and stakeholders. Including busy lawyers who are hard to pin down. Employing project management techniques is very useful as a means of streamlining the internal process and managing resource.How the information is processed is another difference between directories. Some, such as Chambers, employ a cumulative process for their rankings. Taking into account not just that year’s submission research cycle but previous years’ too. In this case, it can take as long as three years for a firm’s efforts to come to fruition. However, this is no reason to delay a firm’s legal directory rankings journey. The sooner you start, the sooner you can expect results.

What are the key benefits of having a legal directory ranking?

Even though the legal directory submissions process is resource intensive and time-consuming, there are many benefits that a firm can expect from being awarded a legal directory ranking:

Exposure to industry peers and prospective clients

Legal directories are often the first port of call for clients when looking for counsel. And rankings do contribute to a final decision on which law firm is awarded the work. Indeed, a survey of GCs conducted by The Legal 500 found that 69% of respondents referred to legal directory recommendation before instructing a law firm. 77% visited law firm profiles and 74% research individual lawyer profiles.Similarly, other lawyers are a key demographic who frequently consult directories. They are often looking for law firms or Partners in another jurisdiction or practice area to provide counsel on a specialist matter.

Differentiation from peers

A ranking, especially a high ranking from a prestigious directory, makes a lawyer stand out from their industry peers and highlights their specialism and career achievements. It is a universally recognised accolade acknowledging a Partner’s prowess within their field of law.

Objective endorsement

The extensive research protocols, teams of expert researchers, and external feedback from peers and clients combine to provide a strong, third-party assessment of a firm’s or individual Partner’s capabilities. It differs from traditional marketing activities in that it is a purely objective research outcome with no bias.


However, that’s not to say that a ranking cannot be used in a firm’s wider legal marketing strategy. Indeed, at Kidd Aitken, we believe that gaining a ranking in a legal directory is one of the best forms of marketing that a law firm can have. It elevates a firm’s or Partner’s reputation and deserves to be included in marketing activities to promote their standing.

Championing diversity

Rankings help firms accurately represent the talent of their diverse workforces to the wider legal industry. It boosts a firm’s reputation and that of their skilled Partners but also their corporate reputation for being inclusive and progressive. For prospective employees and clients alike.

Recruitment and talent retention

Trainee lawyers and law students often consult directories to research the quality and work culture of a firm, as potential employers. Being well-ranked assists with attracting the according level of talent and it’s not unheard of for a firm’s dipped ranking one year to have a knock-on effect on the calibre of student or trainee who apply.

The future of legal directories

In nearly 100 years since the founding of the legal directory, it is clear that they have evolved tremendously over the decades. Entering the market as a two-volume version in 1931, many directories since have become digitised and are available to search through online. As such, this information is becoming more accessible throughout the industry and legal professionals are consulting them more frequently.Similarly, the size of the guides is growing, and more specific practice areas and jurisdictions are emerging as directories seek to expand their coverage and provide a realistic snapshot of the legal industry during any one publication year. Indeed, both Chambers USA and The Legal 500 United States 2021 guides were the largest iterations yet.Legal directories and guides are increasingly being incorporated into marketing activities, used as tools for championing diversity, and business development opportunities. We can only envision that the relevance and prevalence of legal directories will continue to grow for years to come.

How can Kidd Aitken help law firms with their legal directory submissions?

We understand how time-consuming and confusing the legal directory process can be. That’s why we advise law firms on all aspects of the legal directory submissions process. From the best ways to improve their legal directory rankings to project managing the entire process. We write the submissions for multiple Partners and practice areas as well as manage the post-submission client feedback process with our dedicated team of co-ordinators.Our team of legal directory specialists all have first-hand experience, being former editors and researchers for Chambers & Partners, The Legal 500 and other major legal directories and awards. We have worked with over 200 law firms in our six years of operation, producing new and improved legal directory rankings for their practice areas and Partners.

If you’d like to find out more about legal directory submissions, how to strategise for them and how to put one together, our Best Practice Guide to Chambers and Partners submissions uses our insider knowledge to help law firms navigate the process. Alternatively, get in touch for a free 30-minute consultation call for personalised advice.

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