The new editor of Legal 500’s Europe, Middle East, and Africa guide, Jonathan Armstrong, had some good advice for law firms over on LinkedIn this week:
“Don’t’ try to cram as many partners as possible into a phone call or meeting.”
Mass conference calls are the bane of directory researcher’s lives.
Nine out of 10 researchers will tell you privately that the best interviews are those when it’s one-on-one – them speaking to one partner.
Two partners on a call can work – if they are cochairs, or they complement each other as they represent different parts of the practice (say one partner does patent, the other trademark, for the intellectual property section).
But more than two partners is rarely desirable.
A friend at one of the directories told me about a situation in which they were asked by a large, well known law firm to interview eight partners for a single section on one call.
The researcher politely pushed back, explaining, naturally, that such an arrangement would be impractical and unwieldy, and unfair to other firms, some of whom wouldn’t be interviewed at all.
An escalating series of calls and emails followed, in which ultimately our man in the law firm marketing department begged the directory researcher to allow the eight-person call to proceed as he had over-promised internally.
“I will be fired if you don’t allow this call to happen!” he pleaded.
So you end up with an unsatisfying compromise, but which keeps a lid on things politically by allowing multiple partners to “be on the call”
The same thing can happen with in-person interviews.
A researcher turns up to an office expecting to interview partner x, but is then shown to a room with 10 partners lined up in a row.
99% of the best directory interviews are where you have one partner – usually the head of the practice or a senior partner well placed to talk about the team and the broader market – talking directly to an interviewer.
They are in a room on their own, with the door shut, talking into the handset (not on speakerphone), concentrating on the call in hand.
They’ve blocked out an hour, they’re not juggling other calls, the secretary outside doesn’t allow anyone to interrupt or enter the partner’s office.
The partner has done some preparation – they know who they’re speaking to, from which publication, they have a copy of the submission printed out in front of them, and they have a copy of the latest rankings (because they know they will be asked about these).
The partner can talk freely and comfortably.
He can promote the practice, as he should, but he can also be honest about recent developments – the firm might have lost a key partner or had some setbacks in court.
She can talk candidly about what’s going on in the rest of the market – which other firms she’s seen on the other side of deals, what she honestly thinks of the rankings.
Partners loosen up when it’s just them on a call.
The researcher can develop a rapport with them, and get some great insights into the market.
From the researcher’s perspective, that’s the goal of a directory interview – to come away having genuinely learnt more about the practice and the market, over and above what you can read in the submission.
The dynamic changes, though, when several people are in the room.
Partners don’t say as many interesting things.
Lawyers are cautious people and they become mindful of what others in the room are thinking.
People are dialing in and out, there’s beeps and tones, you don’t know who’s on the call and who isn’t.
As an interviewer, you try to keep everyone involved but it’s hard to get any flow.
It’s all very stilted.
While a great interview with your law firm partner will not necessarily result in a higher ranking, it will lodge in the researcher’s mind and leave a good impression.
90% of conference calls, however, will be forgotten the next day.
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