I recently returned from a trip to the United States where I caught up with law firm clients, contacts and friends.
The topic for discussion was legal directories, and I thought I’d pass on some of the overall trends and themes.
This isn’t scientific but reflects comments from around 70 U.S law firm marketers.
Best Lawyers-US News has moved into the top rung. Best Lawyers was always popular with smaller and medium-sized regional firms, but the tie-up with US News has enabled it to penetrate the AmLaw 100. On the plus side for the legal marketing fraternity, their survey is less onerous than others, the US News brand strong, and the readership wide.
Among what I would call the research-based directories, Chambers has established a leading position. Firms are divided over Legal 500. Some like its user-friendly researchers, good quality editorial commentary, and national scope. In a crowded directory market, however, others don’t see it offering anything different to Chambers.
The Euromoney directories such as Benchmark Litigation and IFLR1000 have a few fans, among litigation and corporate finance-minded firms, respectively, although their small teams struggle to compete with the likes of Chambers/Legal 500.
PLC has a great legal know-how business and some other strong products, but its legal directory arm (which is a small part of its overall business) is low profile. Firms need something to grab onto with legal directories, and the ending of the Global 50 summary and lack of any editorial commentary was cited by a few marketers.
Larger firms were more relaxed about SuperLawyers and other individual-led online directories than in previous years. Social media has had a major impact. Law firm marketers realize that attorneys have to maintain an active online presence.
Rather than try to control everything centrally (as they used to do), the thinking in most law firm marketing departments is: “we will coordinate the larger firm-wide initiatives such as Chambers, and leave individual attorneys themselves to manage LinkedIn, SuperLawyers, Avvo, and others.” This makes sense.
The Directory Season
In the old days, you got a break and a chance to get your breath back; now it’s a year-round effort. Firms are tired. The U.S now resembles the mature U.K market (where submission-led directories have been around since the 1980s) – marketers are increasingly weary, and directories are seen by some as a “necessary evil”.
Are Directories Worth It?
Yes, and no, say firms. A majority of firms do see value in legal directories, but that value is increasingly buried in a relentless year-round administrative battle to stay on top of everything. Marketers are the front-line infantry in this eternal war.
Some major firms are seriously considering pulling out. We’ve heard this before in the UK market. Since the 1990s, firms or groups of firms periodically threaten to withdraw from the process entirely. It likely won’t happen in the U.S, as firms fear the consequences, but it reflects a genuine frustration.
The issue as ever is not whether there is any value per se from directories – clearly there is some – but the ratio of input to output – what firms put in and what they get out.
Directory submissions are the crack cocaine of legal marketing. Everyone is addicted. Legal publishers are addicted to requesting them, and law firms are addicted to producing them. So much so that the word “directory” and “submission” have become synonymous.
Nowadays, when I get calls from prospective clients, they don’t say “can you help us promote our practice to directory publishers”, they say “can you help us prepare our submissions because we hate it and it takes forever”.
Only a tiny percentage of information in directory submissions is published. Directory publishers need to spend less time asking law firms to fill in onerous surveys, while law firms need to spend less time preparing lengthy submissions and agonizing over every detail.
This has been bubbling away for a few years, but has now become serious. In their eagerness to secure maximum directory coverage, and efficiently manage their directory programs, law firms are supplying the same client contacts to multiple directory organizations. So the same clients are getting hit repeatedly throughout the year by different directories.
Some clients, such as GCs at large companies, use a range of external advisers and are listed as a reference by multiple law firms. I heard of one client who had received almost 30 recommendation requests from directories in less than a year. Six or seven law firms had all listed this same guy for multiple publications.
Clients are getting irritated and telling their lawyers to stop supplying their name. Lawyers are increasingly nervous of imposing on their clients. Some firms are starting to hold back on providing client references; others are limiting the number of directories they work with.