The Legal 500 and Chambers rankings – how much sway do they really have?
The 2019 Legal 500 and Chambers rankings were released with much fanfare last week. The usual social media and PR melee soon began, but is it just an internal pat on the back? If my Twitter feed is anything to go by, it’s anything but!
Now, I do not want to take anything away from the teams or individuals mentioned – getting ranked (and, importantly, keeping that ranking) is no small feat. But who is listening? Who really looks at those rankings? And, ultimately, what does it mean for those that are lucky enough to be included?
The first benefit I can mention without any question of merit is that The Legal 500 rankings have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for Save the Children. In 2015, Sean Jones QC saw that lawyers who were ranked naturally liked to share the news on social media. With the weight of The Legal 500 behind him, Sean quickly saw his idea of selling imaginary “licences” to those who want to set about blowing their own trumpet for a donation to Save the Children of ‘one billable hour’ of their time. Since 2015, the campaign has raised well over £300,000 for the charity. So, if you have already tweeted without a license this year, head over to Billable Hour to do your bit now. Then tell everyone about your achievements while at the same time helping the world. Or The Legal 500 will come after you…
Congratulations to everyone ranked in the latest @thelegal500 UK, and thanks for your patience. We will give it a couple of days and then we are coming for your #BillableHour money and making #Billableheroes @savechildrenuk @seanjonesqc
— The Legal 500 (@thelegal500) October 29, 2018
Outside of charitable giving, law firms obviously attach some credence to the directories. They have been published for over 30 years and are the go-to reference for law firms, clients, recruiters – that’s me! – soon to be lawyers and, of course, journalists. No-one can doubt that the logo looks great on the law firm website, the trophy looks great in reception, and the firm can tell anyone who will listen that they are a leader in their field… But who really pays attention? Clients? Other law firms? Recruiters? Potential recruits? And what difference does it make? Will it increase PEP?
Well, as I’m sure you can expect, it’s not a definite yes or no answer from me. Instead, my key takeaway from conversations with partners, HR teams, lawyers, journalists, and recruiters is that with a ranking comes trust. Trust that the team or lawyer is competent at what they do. Law firm marketing can be, well, a mixed bag. There’s a balance to be struck between being able to show you’re an expert in a particular field, and showing a client you’re able to take on the full variety of work they require. Some firms get this right. Others, not so much… So an independent directory can be useful for wading through all that marketing spiel.
Research conducted by Gareth Stephenson, former Freshfields partner and now founder of Top3Legal, a disruptive legal directory driven by direct client recommendations, shows that corporates are eight times more likely to use a personal recommendation than a directory one. This recommendation is then validated by the firm’s entry into the directories. There’s that trust again…
In my experience, given what I do, the biggest impact these directory rankings have is on the law firm’s recruitment. It is certainly true that it is much easier to sell a lawyer a new role in a ranked team than a position in a team without one. Just as law firms are much more likely to have an interest in a ranked lawyer than one without – particularly if they are recruiting outside their core practice areas. Rankings can help to push through a process, spark interest in an introduction, and help in salary negotiations. Again, it’s trust in the directory that increases the firm or individual’s caché.
That trust reaches beyond the recruitment process. For clients, this trust brings with it a confirmation that the firm or team pitching in front of them is rated, ranked and reliable. They are a known entity. If you ask partners about the influence of these rankings, they will usually downplay their significance. Of course, no client has ever instructed a lawyer or firm based solely on their Legal 500 ranking. But, if they do look and you’re not there, will that give them pause for thought? Maybe.
Hard work does pay off!
Of course, there are those leading individuals and teams who are continually highly ranked, even when they are not necessarily still at their best. While, on the other hand, excellent partners and teams revered by many in their field or firm for their technical expertise but lacking in internal clout (or without marketing power behind them) are simply missed altogether. It all undoubtedly starts with a good marketing department but, without the hard work invested into understanding your clients, and then the requisite merit being achieved and duly recognised by the extensive research teams at Chambers and Legal 500, you’re not going to be ranked – no matter how large the law firm, how high the PEP, or how well known the individual is.
Rankings are – and will continue to be – a part of the legal landscape. Whether they aid instructions, assist in lateral recruitment, or improve marketability they are not going away any time soon. And, if they only assist in raising money for Save the Children, well, that’s OK with me!
Route1 Head of Engagement