Is opting out of the legal directories a realistic option? With Chambers UK and Legal 500 just out, and the Chambers UK deadlines already looming, many firms - especially those who haven't got the rankings they wanted - will be asking themselves the perennial question: why do we bother? It's a ton of work, a massive hassle and we still don't get what we want! Wouldn't it be easier to just not send in any submissions and let the cards fall where they may? While I sympathise with the sentiments, I would argue that taking a proactive and engaged role in the directories process is a vital part of a firm’s wider PR and business development strategy, and that opting out simply leaves the field open for your competitors to control what is being said about you.
Now, obviously I'm slightly biased - I work as a directories consultant, I'm part of this site's Directories Tune Up advisory group and I'm an ex-Chambers UK Editor, so frankly it would be a little odd if I shrugged my shoulders and said the whole thing was a waste of time. But I have also worked in-house, so I know from the coalface how much work - and, yes, stress, money and hassle - the directories process can involve. But knowing all that, I'd still say that in most cases, it's a mistake not to submit. Because I've also seen the benefits of positive results, and also witnessed firsthand how learning to engage with the directories properly can take a lot of pain out of the process and help you get the results you deserve.
Identify the problem: the first step in addressing the issue of whether to submit it to identify what your problem is with the current situation.
Is it that your firm, or practice area, consistently doesn't get the results it wants? (See my previous blog post on how to address this).
Is it the drain on resources? In which case consider outsourcing the process - there are a lot of good consultants out there who can help with anything from managing the whole process to giving you strategic advice on how to streamline your process or improve your results in a target area, and most will be flexible enough to offer a service suited to your requirements and budget.
Do you have your internal processes set up to deal with the task? For instance, do you track your deals throughout the year, or is it always a last minute scramble to pull things together? There are lots of ways to make the information collation easier, or at least spread the pain over the whole of the year.
Are you spreading yourself too thin? Are you taking part in every guide instead of being focused on those most relevant to, and prestigious in, your target market? It can be tempting to try and get listed in everything, but consider if it’s actually worth the effort.
It’s all about controlling the conversation.
The main reason I think it's important to engage with the directories is because your competitors generally will be. By engaging smartly with the directories, you get a chance to shape the message they get (and therefore give out) about your firm: without doing that, you're leaving it entirely to chance. The directories will still speak to your clients: after all, it's likely they'll get their names from other sources. They just won't necessarily speak to your best or happiest clients. They'll still speak to your competitors. They'll still include your firm in the guide: you can opt out of the process, but they still have every right to include you in the tables. So while you genuinely might not care now, when the results seem a mile away, will you still not care next year, when the guides come out and have a fulsome paragraph of praise for your nearest competitor, and one line about you? In nearly all other areas, be it putting out PR and marketing, social media, online presence or CRM, firms put time and effort into shaping how they are perceived by the market – why then leave this one thing to chance? A good directory write up – like a well crafted press release, a well designed website or a well-run Twitter feed – might not get you work directly, but is all part of a wider strategy to ensure your firm is perceived in the very best light.
But saying that…
The exceptions: of course, there are some firms for whom the process is pointless. I can think of at least a couple of firms that get ranked every year and have never submitted to the guides: they have their niche, everyone knows they do it, and so while they rarely get quotes or an interesting write up, they're in the rankings with absolutely no effort on their behalf. Sounds great, right? But unfortunately this only tends to happen in small marketplaces, usually where work is gained primarily by personal recommendations, and where growth is not a target. Such firms are often built up by one strong lawyer who has, say, enough strong contacts to have a nice agriculture, family law or private client practice. They don't need - or particularly want - to expand. If this is you, then fine: why waste time doing what you don't need to? But these firms really are the exception. For everyone else, I think this is a conversation you want to be taking part in.
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