By Amy Spach, AS Written Communications
In the realm of law firm rankings and directories, Sir Issac Newton’s law of motion – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction – prevails. Generally speaking, law firm marketers dread managing the ranks and lists as much as lawyers enjoy the competition.
With hundreds of local, regional, national and global ranking opportunities, according to a comprehensive roundup by Jaffe PR’s 2013 Rankings and Publication Report, it’s clear the contests and recognitions are here to stay, so marketers should know some rules and best practices.
Program moderator Laura Shovlowsky, a business development manager at Proskauer Rose LLP, engaged the crowd by telling the tale of why rankings do matter. Following a “beauty contest” for major work, the client issuing the RFP explicitly stated that it had selected the winner, in part, because the law firm was ranked higher than its competitors were.
Here are some highlights of the Q & A discussion at the program:
1. What is new for Chambers USA in 2013?
- New dates. There are new submission deadlines in many categories – make sure to review the new dates.
- Expanded geography. Chambers is widening its gaze into less prominent legal centers in some states. For example, in California that means looking beyond financial centers in LA and San Francisco to consider activity in places such as Sacramento.
- Chambers 100. Look for news soon about the “Chambers 100” which will select the top 100 attorneys in the United States.
- Managing Partners. Chambers researchers will arbitrarily select and call managing partners to interview. Mills said if your managing partner isn’t selected, it does not mean a thing.
2. What’s new for Daily Journal lists and rankings?
- New lists. The paper has approximately nine honor lists this year, and the number of lists can fluctuate. Municipal Law rankings are new this year, and a new entertainment supplement looks likely too.
- No Submissions Needed. For lists such as the “Top 100,” it is not necessary to submit entries for higher-profile attorneys already on the paper’s radar. Houston suggests putting more energy on attorneys on their way up whom may not be as widely known, or may have substantial practices outside of California.
- More Parties. The paper is hosting more receptions celebrating their lists, such as this year’s events in both Northern and Southern California to mark the “Top 20 under 40” and a reception for top corporate counsel.
Houston reports the receptions are well-received and successful networking opportunities.
3. What influences an attorney being selected or ranked?
- Reputation. For the Daily Journal, nominations from readers and reporters carry a lot of weight. “We are surprised when we got nominations for attorneys whose work we never heard of previously,” according to Houston. He suggests “always pitch the attorney’s work,” and keep reporters informed in “real time,” sending news of deals, verdicts and events even if the paper may not cover it.
- Dormant Profiles. Attorneys with little or no feedback will have a hard time making the Chambers list and it might cause them to lose their place.
- Face-to-Face. Place attorneys before reporters and editorial boards far in advance of the ranking deadline. Houston told how he reversed his view of one attorney, from underwhelmed to wowed, once he encountered the attorney at a roundtable session.
- Submit Early. Superstar attorneys will be recognized without much marketing effort. To break someone new into the listings, submit early so reporters and editors can review the submission before a deluge of entries fatigues the judges. Early submissions are less relevant for Chambers but a late one can hurt.
4. What does NOT work well in submissions?
- Truthiness. Fudging, lying, being economical with the truth – call it what you will. Be honest. If the attorney is not really the lead attorney, don’t say he or she is, especially if all the press materials name another person as lead attorney. The editors have a strong fertilizer filter.
- Wordiness. A 20-page submission will not be well regarded. Brevity is welcome and worth the effort. Do not overload information and don’t paste in attorney bios readily available on websites. Quality will trump quantity every time.
- Confusion. Confidentiality is always a concern. To avoid post-submission troubles, be very clear on what is confidential and what information is public.
5. What’s the best way to break into the rankings with a new lawyer?
Buzz. People should be talking positively about the lawyer and his/her work. For those who may not be “white hot,” a solid few years of consistently high-caliber work and feedback can also earn them a spot.
6. Can a firm cannibalize their own entries by submitting too many?
The Daily Journal does have a maximum number of attorneys they will consider from a single firm for the “Top 100,” and Houston suggested a judicious approach for some entries.
MORE ABOUT CHAMBERS RANKINGS
7. What happens when Chambers contacts a firm’s client referee?
The whole process is meant to be respectful of the client’s time and disposition. Chambers researchers do not hound clients to make contact. If the first contact attempt results in merely a message being left, researchers will try again in three months. If they have made contact, they will not contact that client again for six months. Cross-references in researchers’ databases allow them to interview efficiently. They will conduct a single interview with a client who may be listed in multiple practice areas, even by several different firms.
8. What is a super client?
Some high-profile clients are submitted by several law firms and become known as “super clients” by Chambers. Super clients receive white-glove treatment and the researchers work as elegantly and efficiently as possible to obtain the evaluative information without annoying the clients.
9. After we’ve submitted our practice entry, what happens?
The first month immediately following the submission deadline starts the research stage. During this time, the researcher manages the file and contact process. Firms can notify client referees that they may receive an email from Chambers approximately 7-10 days following the submission deadline. Lawyers can check back with clients on response dates. Be aware that late entries and updates to submissions should be made early in the research process. The later a revision is submitted, the more likely it may not make the review cutoff.
10. Is the Chambers template required?
No, it is not, says Mills, but it clearly demonstrates the precise information they seek.
11. What happens if a firm submits more than 10 matters or less than 15 client referees?
Chambers editors make recommendations that reflect their preferences and they like to see them followed. Sending in 11 matters is not grounds for disqualification but sending in 25 will not aid your case with researchers. “Target your best work,” said Mills. Try to fill the client referee sections if possible – more than one client from an organization can be named. Exceeding the amount of clients will not make the firm look more valuable.
12. How do we know if our clients are responding to researchers?
Firms can contact Chambers researchers during the research period to determine their client response rate. Researchers won’t name the specific clients they’ve spoken to but you can get a sense of how many have participated.
13. Can a bad interview prevent a good ranking?
Researchers rate every interview from excellent to poor. While a total debacle is rare, make sure attorneys, clients and other references put forth are willing and capable of a professional and productive interview.
Amy Spach, Principal of AS Written Communications, works with law firms and attorneys nationwide to create website and marketing copy, including submissions for rankings and lists. Contact her on 323.876.6374 or email@example.com