Sherrards’ head of international and litigation, Paul Marmor, who is also an Officer with the Law firm management committee of the International Bar Association, has moderated a Webinar for the IBA on Why General Counsel and Law firms work with law Firm Directories with a panel including Janet Mcarthy Group Legal Director BUPA, Matt Wilson Associate General Counsel EMEA Uber, David Burgess Publishing Director Legal 500 and Melissa Davis managing director MD Communications. With over 850 registrants from 80+ countries this was a truly international event.
The IBA’s Law Firm Management Committee recently presented a webinar on the growing role that Legal Directories are playing in the legal profession across the globe focussing on why General Counsel (GCs) and law firms work with the legal directories. This is the third instalment in a box set series of the growing influence of legal directions in the legal industry across the globe.
The webinar can be viewed here and below is a detailed summary for readers preferring something to read in black and white.
Moderated by Paul Marmor LFMC Co-Outreach and Education Officer and Head of Litigation at Sherrards Solicitors, the discussion touched on diversity within the sector, improving engagement with GCs and clients, and the benefits of legal directories.
Sometimes considered an unnecessary nuisance, presumably due to the submission process, legal directories are in reality a remarkably valuable resource. Janet McCarthy explained how they can come into their own to help supplement research which can be useful in the context of entering new markets where it can be difficult, on occasion, to access material about firms; she explained that “The research they (the directories) put into independently assess and value…the numerous campaigns and pitches law firms can be an additional reason to use them as a further source of information to corroborate our findings”.
With a previous stint at Arsenal Football Club, though disappointingly not on the pitch, and now as Associate General Counsel for Uber EMEA, Matt Wilson reiterated this view. Due to the nature of the industry, where there are new developments and challenges constantly arising, there is a need for strong external players that can react to any number of issues faced by the business. He explained that “Using the directories is…incredibly valuable, especially when we are looking at markets that are less familiar to us, including some of the markets in the developing world”. The vetting done by the directories helps GCs and clients to gain a sound understanding of suitable firms that have the necessary background and skillset to provide effective solutions for the matter at hand.
Diversity in the legal sector
David Burgess, noted however, that in recent years there has been a shift away from the traditional approach of solely looking at practice areas and client base with diversity becoming an area of focus. “We want to look at what firms are doing to actually improve their diversity and inclusion policies and… to make their law firms a more inclusive place”, he commented amid an explanation of how The Legal 500 is pushing firms towards achieving a fairer balance, in terms of gender for instance, as well as ensuring that talented individuals are better recognised for their work. There is undoubtedly more that directories can do to encourage diversity and inclusion in the sector and David welcomed ideas from attendees to the chat, and more widely, on how to improve further.
Inviting questions from the audience during the webinar, the speakers were asked whether a diversity requirement would work as a pass/fail criterion in a tender – in short, the consensus was that such a feature would in fact function as a deciding factor where competency between competing firms is of the highest level. David notably mentioned that the definition of diversity and inclusion, however, is not consistent across regions as is the case with the US and Asia where requirements of this kind are measured in varying ways.
Matt explained that “One of the reasons why we [Uber] value diversity so much is because it gives us that diversity of thought, background and perspective that allows us to make better decisions”. By working with a diverse team in terms of gender, ethnicity and even experience, the customer base is better represented. Law firms that therefore showcase diversity and inclusion are more attractive to GCs and clients as they are able to demonstrate a better understanding and awareness of the changing market.
Janet agreed adding that utilising “Diversity to solve complex legal problems is consistent with the values and ethos of Bupa’,” and undoubtedly those of many other businesses; the profiling of firms by directories is useful as it provides a good indicator of firms’ appreciation of the modern world as well as the needs of clients. The way in which information is presented by legal directories is key then, as acknowledged by David. He reassured that The Legal 500 was looking at how to “incorporate diversity and inclusion into the rankings in a meaningful way” so that GCs and clients can truly see how firms are actively improving diversity by using their platform and through introducing new policies.
Improving submissions and engagement
Sound submissions to legal directories are of the utmost importance – firms must ensure that the information provided not only evidences all their strengths but is also up-to-date and accurate. David commented that the process is “a fantastic opportunity to do an internal audit” and advised that firms treat the directories as potential clients for whom they need to provide a 30 second overview. He suggested firms ask themselves:
- How can we get across what we do differently?
- What do we have to offer the client?
- How do we understand the client’s business?
- What have we done in the last 12 or so months that can help the client in a way that their current firms cannot?
Melissa Davis, Managing Director of legal PR agency MD Communications, emphasised the value of reliable references. She explained that referees are crucial in influencing rankings and so it is essential that they are firstly, available and happy to provide feedback to directories and secondly, that there is an ongoing working relationship with them. There is little worth in putting forward names if there has been minimal or no interaction with the client in the last year as any commentary from them is unlikely to provide a true picture of the firm’s current position and ability. Time should therefore be taken to select appropriate referees to best support the submission for both team and named indviduals, and to avoid referees being duplicated across departments within the same firm.
A collective point of frustration among the GCs that firms should take note of was the lack of advance warning before their names are given to directories for references. As a matter of courtesy, firms should strive to contact GCs and clients beforehand to acquire their consent; not only does this demonstrate a level of respect and professionalism, but it also helps to maintain that all important working relationship for the future.
Benefits of legal directories
The submission process is often perceived as lengthy, but ultimately the benefits associated with legal directories are worth it. Janet remarked early on in the webinar that not only do the directories save GCs from having to independently research firms, they also function as a reliable tracking tool for any changes within firms.
Aside from profiling, the rankings awarded by legal directories are considered an excellent guide for GCs and clients in assessing the best suited firm, but there are also advantages for the firms themselves. Naturally, how the ranking is used is up to the firm whether referenced in email signatures, in tenders or however else, but Paul expressed his view that that rankings are especially helpful for recruitment, retention and staff morale in a crowded market in the quest for good talent.
Matt added, in response to a question from an attendee of the chat, that the rankings provide a benchmark when receiving advice from a number of firms and also, in ensuring that the firm in question is best placed to provide the necessary advice. As global markets evolve, and new areas of specialism appear, he appreciates honesty about capability. Although directories provide incredibly valuable insight into a firm, it is far better for a firm to be candid about whether their practitioners have the necessary expertise as getting caught out can only have detrimental consequences.
Key lessons to take home
Janet: Directories are really useful to GCs and if they are not already being utilised, they should be! It is important that there is an “alignment of shared values and purpose” between firms and GCs and to approach business with the same set of values – “if you can get that trust element right, then you’ve done extremely well to building a long-term sustainable relationship”.
Matt: GCs rely on directories as a vetting tool, especially in industries that are rapidly expanding; the information provided helps to benchmark when reviewing, from a panel for instance, and get a reliable overview of a particular firm. Aside from this, firms should bear in mind that communication and engagement is key – GCs are usually happy to feedback to directories where a firm has performed well, but advance warning is inevitably preferred for a more favourable reference.
Melissa: Directories and the rankings they award can be indicative of performance, but also can help firms themselves in terms of recruitment and retention so it is beneficial to be proactive – not only do submissions need to be supported by strong references, but information in the public domain should be kept updated to allow researchers for the directories to get a better idea of the firm as a whole.
David: Directories are very “plugged into the market’” and there are constant conversations with GCs about what firms are doing so there should be real regard for the overall culture and attitude that may be perceived externally – there has been a shift away from focussing only on practice areas so firms must be able to demonstrate their awareness of the changing world by continuing to interact regularly with clients and GCs.
As a final note, the IBA Annual Conference is set to take place in Seoul later this year. Running from 22-27 September, the conference is a great opportunity to join the debate on the future of law and build invaluable connections with leading international practitioners.
For more information on the conference, and to become a member of the IBA, click here.
The IBA’s Law Firm Management Committee will be holding its own open forum in Seoul on 24th September so please do join us there, or alternatively contact Hanim Hamzah to get involved with the committee.
To view the previous two webinars on legal directories, follow:
Part 1: How does one get into the directories?- click here.
Part 2: Once ranked how does a firm and/or an individual make something of their ranking? – click here.
Part 3: Why do General Counsel and Law firms work with law Firm Directories – click here.
If you would like to get involved in this webinar programme, contact Paul Marmor.
Authors of this article: Paul Marmor & Sohini Saujani of Sherrards Solicitors.