The dos and don'ts of legal directory submissions

Disappointed by your rankings? Determined to do better next time? Alex Holtum sets out a blueprint for future success
Directory Submission concept

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So you have just rushed to get another batch of Legal 500 or Chambers and Partners directory submissions filed. Your business development department has done little else for the last six weeks, a number of partners have got more involved than they wanted to, and nobody is particularly happy with the result. You have learned from the process, and next year you will do it better. However, you also remember saying that last year…

Here are our dos and don'ts if you really want next time to be different. When reading them do remember these are guidelines not rules and that every firm’s circumstances and every directory's process and terminology is different.

Strategy and approach

Do start work on submissions early and work to a plan

Do delegate responsibility

Don't waste time on things that don't matter

It often takes a firm more than 20 hours for each practice area to produce information for a good submission. It can take much longer.

Most submissions are more than 25 pages, some more than double that, which is a lot of information. It is easier to get it right if you have a plan. Giving responsibility for a practice area to one partner or team member will make the process easier. If you send the draft documents to all partners you risk information overload.

References and certain sections of the submission are much more important than others. Prioritise them. Lawyers naturally want to proof-read everything. However, for a 15,000 word submission this would be several hours work. Take into account that the document is neither for publication nor legal advice. Be proportionate.


Book a place on next Thursday's directories submissions masterclass 


Individual Rankings

Do spend time on making cases for individual rankings

Do be selective about who you put forward

Don't dilute their case by putting too many lawyers forward

Don't forget about associates

Individual rankings add considerable benefit to the whole firm. The more individual lawyers that are ranked the better the chance of gaining or improving a firm ranking. For smaller firms it will be easier to select who you put forward. Larger firms should make a decision on who has the strongest evidence for ranking. This should be done at the start as it impacts on the whole process.

For each submission identify which lawyers have the strongest case for ranking.

Each of those should:

  • Appear in at least three or four work highlights
  • Be well known to at least three or four of the references you put forward
  • Be named in the ranked/unranked lawyer profile section of the submission
  • Be mentioned in the department overview

There should also be a clear statement in the feedback section as to why they should be ranked.


Do spend time on references

Do put forward the correct number of referees

Don’t use the same referee twice for Chambers

Don’t put forward the wrong referees

Do encourage referees to respond

Don’t put words into the mouths of referees

Spend time thinking about who you could use as referees and ask if they are willing. This is a much better use of time than proof-reading a submission. Insufficient feedback from referees is the most frequent explanation editors give for not ranking or improving the ranking of a firm. If the directory prescribes the number of referees you can put forward aim to put that number forward. If Chambers has asked a referee for feedback on your, or any firm’s behalf, it will not contact the same referee again within three months. It is best to use a referee for one practice area only.

Make sure referees are:

  • Relevant: someone with recent insight into your work in the practice area as a client or referee or opposing council
  • Likely to respond: many referees don’t 
  • Positive about your work: you want them to give positive not negative feedback.

Be wary of putting forward very senior people in large companies such as CEOs and general counsel. Juniors are much more likely to respond to the researcher and their feedback carries the same weight. Senior people are also more likely to have been put forward by other firms in which case Chambers may not contact them (see above.)

Remember, it is not how many referees you put forward that counts but how many respond. Most don’t.

Speak to referees before you put them forward and notify them when the directory contacts them. You can also use this as a way of keeping in contact with clients and checking they are happy with your performance.

Directories expect a firm to contact referees to let them know the researcher will be in touch and to remind them about the work you have undertaken, but they take a very negative view if the firm actually writes the reference.


Do spend time on essential content only

Do keep the submission as short as possible

Don’t make the submission too long by including large quantities of irrelevant material

A jurisdiction with 20 practice areas will yield an average of 30 submissions per practice area. Given that each submission amounts to around 10,000 words, the researcher will be confronted with15,000 pages and six million words to review.

To help the researcher, make sure key sections are brief and focus on significant information in the practice area being covered. Remove unnecessary information about the firm generally.

Don't spend time including information the researcher will not have time to consider. Directories put very limited weight on other directory rankings, awards, positions held, seminars and publications.

Work Highlights

Do spend time on work highlights

Do include exactly the number requested where possible (usually 20). 

Do prioritise their order

Do include or give an indication of the value of a matter if at all possible

Do focus on key points outlining why the matter was significant

Do make sure that all highlights are relevant to the practice area being researched

Do update work highlights every year

Use Business English – researchers are often not lawyers so it best to avoid legal speak. Keep the description as concise as possible. There is no maximum word count, but 300 words would be pretty long. Make sure you write a description for each work highlight and don't include identical descriptions for different matters. If you include work highlights from last year’s submission, don’t just cut and paste. If the matter is still ongoing then update the description.

Practice Overview

Do spend time on the overview of practice area section

Do be concise and focused

Don’t include unnecessary information

Keep your practice overview short. Chambers now request 500 words for this section and in most instances that should be enough Keep to the point – in particular say what differentiates your practice in the area. Personalise the description of your practice. Don't cut and paste a description that is exactly the same as every other law firm’s description of that practice area.

Feedback on rankings

Do spend time on your feedback on the rankings

Do benchmark your practice against others

Give brief feedback on your own rankings – stating if you believe the firm/individuals should be ranked or higher ranked. Aleo remember to give feedback (positive and negative) about other firms in your jurisdiction, including benchmarking them against your practice

And finally…

Don't  blame your Business Development Team

They are almost certainly doing their best.

Alex Holtum will be leading the one day virtual workshop, Building an effective and efficient directory submissions strategy, next Thursday (2 December). Email [email protected] to book your place. Click here to download the programme

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