A beginner’s guide to Chambers (and other) legal directory submissions

Several days after Chambers & Partners released the research schedule for its Chambers USA 2020 guide, I was in Atlanta for the Legal Marketing Association’s Annual Conference. Countless times during my trip — in the course of getting-to-know-you chitchat over lunch, at cocktail parties and between sessions — I had some version of the same conversation, which usually began with the elevator speech of my job:

“I’m part of Infinite Global’s content team,” I’d say. “We’re a full-service communications firm that works with law firms and other professional services companies, and I lead the award nomination and legal directory submission work for our clients.

As soon as I’d mention legal directory submissions — Chambers & Partners, The Legal 500 and IFLR1000 — my conversation partner’s face would show a look of exhaustion, followed by a big sigh. “It’s that time again,” they’d respond, with a tone of resignation.

Except for one woman I encountered. She’d just moved into law firm marketing after spending several years in marketing roles at other types of professional services companies. “Everyone keeps talking about Chambers in ominous tones, but I don’t yet fully understand what I’m getting myself into,” she told me.

Each year, legions of law firm marketers, business development professionals and legal administrators — and, in some instances, lawyers themselves — tackle their first legal directory submissions. Some have more-experienced colleagues or outside consultants such as Infinite Global to turn to for help and guidance. But for those who don’t have a coach or mentor, the process can feel opaque and confusing.

What’s the big deal about legal directories?

A couple decades ago, if you heard someone talking about a legal directory, it was likely in reference to Martindale-Hubbell, or a regional or practice-specific directory. At their core, these directories were effectively legal phone books that erred on the side of inclusivity. If a lawyer wasn’t listed, it was unlikely he or she was in private practice. Martindale-Hubbell does some very straightforward ratings of lawyers who have chosen to be peer reviewed.

Inclusive legal directories serve a purpose, but they’re not particularly effective for in-house counsel and others who need to hire lawyers in unfamiliar jurisdictions or practices. And so emerged legal directories such as Chambers, which publishes exclusive guides that include only the very top lawyers in particular jurisdictions and practices. In the United States, that translates into about 2% of lawyers being ranked by Chambers.

Who uses legal directories?

If you ask general counsel whether they use legal directories and how they use them, you’ll commonly hear that these are effective tools for identifying short lists of lawyers to handle particular matters. Before hiring, those lawyers are still vetted through the company’s standard process, be it RFP or a series of interviews, formal or informal.

In the United States, most in-house counsel seem to turn to Chambers over The Legal 500 or IFLR1000 — so in most instances, I recommend that if a law firm were to focus on just one legal directory, it should be Chambers.

Why is the legal directory submission process so stressful?

Chambers organizes its legal directories by jurisdiction and practice area. For common practices, such as commercial litigation, the guide will rank lawyers on a national basis, by state and in some instances by city.

Each of those rankings requires a separate submission, and submissions can run 40 pages long. However, when appropriate, portions of the same material can be used across different submissions, so firms don’t always need to reinvent the wheel. And not every firm will submit for both state and national rankings for a practice. (In a competitive practice, lawyers ranked in Band 2 or lower on a state basis are unlikely to get ranked nationally, so a national submission might not be worth the effort.)

Chambers submissions are time-consuming because they require a lot of information. Those responsible for a submission need to compile details on up to 20 recent matters the practice has handled, as well as a list of ranked and unranked attorneys in the practice; a practice overview; a list of the practice’s and individual lawyers’ recent accolades, published articles and speaking opportunities; a list of clients; and feedback on Chambers’ most recent rankings of the practice and its lawyers. Additionally, the submission must include a list of up to 20 references (known as “referees”) who can speak to the abilities of the practice and its lawyers.

How long does it take to compile a submission?

I recommend to clients that they start working on their Chambers submission six weeks prior to the deadline. As with most deadlines involving lawyers, if the process begins too early, they are likely to push it off in favor of more pressing work — and perhaps lose track of it. But wait too long and there will be a scramble.

Typically, I allocate a week to analyzing past rankings and selecting lawyers for inclusion, then three weeks after notifying the lawyers for them to gather their matter details, identify potential referees and request the referees’ cooperation. During that time, we’re simultaneously drafting or updating the list of accolades, feedback on past rankings, attorney bios and practice description.

Once all matters have been compiled, there’s normally about a week’s worth of follow-up work — tracking down miscellaneous details, locating press coverage of matters, and things of that nature.

The final week is dedicated to copy editing, ensuring matters and referees are optimally arranged, and getting signoff from practice group leaders.

Now I’m worried — where can I learn more?

Legal directory submissions are tough. Not only do they require a tremendous amount of information, but a strong submission involves a high degree of strategy. Who is being put forth for a ranking? What matters should be included? What makes a good matter write-up? What kind of feedback should the practice offer to Chambers? Who should be included as a referee?

Each year, Chambers hosts forums in major cities that include a “How to Chambers” breakout session. In 2019, US Chambers forums are scheduled for Chicago (June 10), Houston (June 13), Washington, DC (June 17) and New York (June 20). Infinite Global also has Chambers pros on staff, and offers customized Chambers training sessions, hourly strategic consulting and Chambers project management services. We’ve also published a number of educational articles on legal directory submissions over the years, including:

Jennifer King is an Associate Vice President at Infinite Global, based in Chicago. A former legal journalist, she advises clients on successful public relations strategies, including the creation of legal directory submissions. Jennifer can be reached at jenniferk@infiniteglobal.com

Need help with your law firm’s legal directory process? Infinite Global’s legal directories team can help you develop a strategy for submissions; advise you on IFLR, The Legal 500 and Chambers best practices; help decode what makes a successful legal directory submission; and manage your law firm’s submissions. Let’s talk about how your law firm can improve its submissions to Chambers, IFLR and The Legal 500.

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