Step back from your firm and write for an external audience.
Research-led directories like Chambers and Legal 500 are primarily interested in client service – what your law firm can deliver for clients.
They are less concerned about the internal workings of your law firm – some of which is interesting, but not particularly relevant for directory submissions.
A common example:
Let’s say you’re writing an environment submission.
“Should we include Partner X in our submission – he’s not in our team?”
The partner in question is a corporate lawyer with an active environmental practice.
The directories want to know that he advises on the transactional aspects of environmental law, as opposed to being, say, a litigator.
However, it doesn’t matter to the directories whether the particular partner sits in the firm’s designated environment team, or in the corporate department.
What matters to the directories – and to clients – is:
• Have they worked on environmental matters?
• Are they known for their environmental work?
• Can they produce examples of environmental work over the last year?
• Are there clients that can speak to the quality of their environmental work?
That’s your criteria for whether to highlight him or not in the submission.
The directories and clients don’t care too much what department the lawyer sits in for formal purposes, since these labels are largely administrative terms to help the firm organize itself internally.
Think about the last time you hired a lawyer.
Did you care that the lawyer you met was in the commercial practice or the corporate practice?
It probably didn’t even cross your mind.
Larger, more sophisticated clients may have a more nuanced understanding of the firm’s structure but they are still primarily interested in the service, not titles.
Even so, firms spend a huge amount of time agonizing over this stuff in submissions.
While it’s important to give the reader a flavor of your practice, I see lots of submissions like this:
“Our Corporate Team advises clients on M&A transactions in conjunction with our Mergers, Private Equity And Venture Capital Group. In addition, lawyers from our Transactions Practice and Corporate Governance & Advisory Department assist on public and private acquisitions, and we have Deal Working Groups focused on the Automotive, Real Estate, and IT industries.”
Note the excessive use of Capital Letters and corporate speak to make each practice sound Really Important.
I understand why firms do this.
Status-conscious lawyers are touchy about titles, and departmental labels often correlate to compensation systems, and budgets, and other internal sensitives.
I once worked with a law firm who spent huge amounts of time arguing over whether Partner X should be included in the real estate submission – even though he was a well-known real estate lawyer – because he sat in the firm’s corporate team rather than its formal real estate team.
I explained that the directories would neither know nor care, since this was an internal designation useful only to those in the firm’s finance team who had to segment lawyers into boxes for accounting purposes.
There are times when delving in to the firm’s structure is relevant.
Your submission should mirror the way in which you market to clients.
So for an industry sector section, if you have a dedicated group that draws in lawyers from different practice disciplines, then mention that.
Another example: I worked on a submission recently in which we said that the international arbitration practice had been designated as a stand-alone practice, rather than forming a part of a broader dispute resolution team.
The firm had expanded its international arbitration practice in recent years, and the development of a discrete department illustrated the growing strength and size of the practice – a point that we wanted to emphasize.
However, generally speaking, the internal mish mash of teams, departments, working groups, sub-practices, and the like should be kept in the background when writing submissions.
Law firms should mold their practices to the directory categories.
This is tricky sometimes because every law firm organizes itself in a different way.
So you have to squeeze your practice into the specific confines of the directory category – writing to mirror the directories’ structure rather than the administrative quirks of your firm.
Sometimes the fit is natural, other times a bit of creativity is required.
In practical terms, there is a box near the start of the submission template where you indicate the name of the firm’s official department – which may or may not be the same as the directory category.
You can mention the name of the department one further time in the introductory part of the overview.
But after that, leave all the titles and internal speak to one side, and just refer to the team by the name of the section – what the directory itself calls the section.