The 2019 legal directory season is under way. When it comes to presenting highlights from the past 12 months, your best matters will always speak for themselves. One factor – the most important factor – that cannot be overlooked is client feedback.
How clients will speak about you, your practice, your service offerings, your partners, all of this is critical to be viewed appropriately. That is, of course, if they even bother to respond to the researchers at all — a 25% response rate is considered outstanding. For Chambers, that works out to just 5 out of the 20 names you submitted; typically it’s more like 2 or 3 out of 20. Throw in the various directories all competing for client feedback, a key part of your preparation is identifying the best referees to submit. What do I do?
The easy way would seem to be to use the same referees as last year. However, that “selection process” denies the researcher(s) from hearing up-to-date feedback on your work, so you run the risk of not being judged accurately. Worse, it can lead to referee fatigue, an overuse of your clients who may get agitated. For larger clients, it’s worth keeping in mind that it is likely that several peer firms are using the same references (especially the more senior ones). The last thing you want to do is deny yourselves the chance to pick the best candidates for the best possible feedback, so that your work is viewed in the best possible light.
Here are a handful of tips that (coincidentally and deliberately!) spell REFEREE to make it easier to remember:
Are your clients responsive to phone calls and emails from researchers? Do they know to check their spam filter? Will they make time to respond? And hen they do reply, will they enthusiastically recommend your work and your team — in terms of both technical knowledge as well as its service?
Always make sure that you can use your client as a referee. Never assume. Remember that they may receive these sorts of requests from several publications, and about other law firms and third parties. Some companies even have policies against providing references (quite common with financial institutions). Ask first, and choose wisely.
Create a way to track the references available to you – database, spreadsheet, Post-It notes, whatever works for you – so that the same clients are not overused. Tracking your reference usage allows you to sort, filter and anticipate for ‘referee fatigue’ ahead of deadlines. It will give you time to chose new referees that, after all, may provide a fresh perspective.
Identify those clients for whom you have done work over the last 12-18 months. This improves your odds of receiving specific, accurate, and relatively current feedback on a recent experience. The clients are likely to be more descriptive; furthermore, it will be easier for them to remember the wider team too, a key factor in firm rankings. Are the chosen clients involved in the deals listed in the submissions? Ideally so. Are the chosen clients involved for many other law firms in this area? Think carefully, allow this to be a filter if you’re on the fence about picking someone.
- Right (referee template)
Using the correct referee spreadsheet is important and can be easily overlooked. Though directory reference forms may look similar, each tends to ask for slightly different information. Ensure that all the relevant information is added. (Hint: if coming up against a deadline, leave the address columns out and focus on the most relevant contact information.)
- Examine Experts
Choose client references that have a good working knowledge of your practice group. Usually these are clients that have worked with your team recently, at least over the last 18 months. These clients are “experts” on your team, well enough to describe its strengths in some detail. In-house Counsel can be better than CEOs – they are more likely to respond, know the law and know your team; highly ranked lawyers from other jurisdictions, as well as other professionals, such as accountants or surveyors, also provide valuable feedback as they tend to often be a larger user of legal services.
Remember to keep to the number of referees allowed — for some publications its 20, while others allow for unlimited names.
Remember: the key is speaking to the client referees:
- to get their approval to include their names.
- to choose no more than 20.
- to let them know that a directory researcher will be calling/emailing so they don’t dismiss the contact as cold-calling/spam.
- to have yet another touch point so that you remain front of mind with them. After all, you’re going over the good stuff you did for them!