Excerpt from the “Compass Law Firm Rankings

Guidelines for the creation of submission texts

As explained in chapter 1.4.1, rankings with comprehensive document analysis collect a lot of data from law firms. This data is divided into the following categories, all of which must be treated individually. Please note that this information is requested per practice group:

Official Structure Information
Special aspects & highlights of your law firm in brief
Replication of current ranking placements
Client names
Matters
Official structure information
Key points of the entire law firm as well as the respective practice group are queried here. This information includes:

– Firm name

– Addresses/contact details

– Firm size

– Practice group size (number of partners, associates, etc.)

– Industry sectors in which the practice group operates.

 

This information is the basic structure of the document. It is important to record the practice group size and the industry sectors as accurately as possible. However, think carefully about which industry sectors you can really demonstrate strengths in. Under no circumstances should you name industry sectors in which you have no demonstrable work. Such gaps will be noticed by researchers and reduce your credibility.

The same applies if too many lawyers are listed as “full time” in different practice groups. Coordination between the practice groups is therefore absolutely necessary.

Special aspects & highlights of your law firm in brief
In various items such as “What is this department best known for?” or “Practice overview” you can enter brief information about the special features of the respective practice group. This is not yet about the causes, but about the general underlining of your law firm’s special features and the most important current developments in brief. The following points, among others, should be recorded here:

– Law firm peculiarities such as the organisation of a law firm into service lines rather than practice areas

– New client wins

– Panel successes

– Successful pitches and beauty parades

– Opening of new offices

– Special additions to the staff

– Special service specialisations

– Selected press articles about your firm reflecting the above points

Replication of recent rankings
If you work with rankings, you will no doubt often wonder about the placement of some of your competitors. It will also happen that, especially at the beginning of your work with rankings, you do not fully agree with your own ranking. Of course, you have the opportunity to refer to this. However, when doing so, avoid statements without factual arguments, such as:

– “Law firm X is bad.”

– “Our firm is better than firm X and therefore we must be ranked better.”

Client names
This point is very easy to confuse with Client Referees (Chapter 6.5). Client referees, as mentioned, are the names and contact details of clients and other referees sent in by law firms as references for their own work.

Only clients of the law firm may now be mentioned under client names. This chapter is mostly divided into two sections:

– Publishable Clients:
Here you can enter client names that can be publicly disclosed by the rankings. Such entries must, of course, be approved by the respective clients in advance.

– Confidential Clients:
Here you can enter names that may not be published but are used by the rankings to evaluate your law firm.

Matters (Causes)
Explanation of terms
This item is by far the most complex. The term “Matters” has become the standard term for describing law firm causa and extensive legal work. The term “deal” was confusing especially for non-transactional deals – after all, there is no such thing as a “deal size” in the narrow sense of Dispute Resolution, for example. However, a monetary value can also be assigned to causes from dispute resolution, e.g. the amount in dispute. To avoid semantic ambiguities, the rankings use the term matter, which subsumes all work on a cause from all areas of law.

However, in transaction-heavy rankings that focus on areas of law such as banking & finance and capital markets, the term “deal” is also often used.

In this chapter, the term Matters is used due to its broader meaning.

When describing Matters, the following points are generally asked:

– Name of client

– Summary of matter and your practice group role

– Matter value

– Is this a cross-border matter?

– Lead partner(s)

– Other lawyers from your firm involved

– Other law firms involved

– Status of work (ongoing, completed)

– Local law firm used

– Press coverage

– Why was the matter innovative?

– Is this matter confidential?

Correct texting by Mattern
Of the points mentioned above (chapter 7.5.1), most (such as “Name of client”) are self-explanatory. For others, however, law firms make serious mistakes in practice. I would therefore like to give some hints on how to fill in some of the items correctly.

Summary of matter and your practice group role
This is a description of the matter and the tasks your practice group has taken on. The trick is not to make the text too long or too short. Many law firms, however, move exactly at these two extremes. Some write: “We advised client X. It was a special case. It was a special case.” Others reproduce entire briefs with sub-inserts and sub-references that are (or can be) barely read by researchers.

So please stick to the ranking guidelines. According to these, an entire Matter should not take up more than one page.

Rule of thumb: 1 Matter/Deal = 1 page

When describing the Matter and your role in it, be sure to explain what exactly it was about. A simple “we advised on the drafting of contracts” is not meaningful enough. Explain what the specifics of the matter were. For example, were there complications based on interruptions in the advice? Were newly enacted legal provisions applied? Did you have to take on special tasks such as project management or similar?

Is this a cross-border matter?
Cross-border work is generally rated particularly highly by rankings. However, you must also explain what the work consisted of. Just because the client has offices worldwide does not necessarily mean that your matter was cross-border.

If you have worked with a law firm in another country, it is of great advantage to name this law firm as well. It is not enough to simply say: “We have an international network of partner law firms.”

Why was the matter innovative?
This is an extremely important point, because here you can distinguish yourself particularly clearly from your competitors. For example, special firm constructions, new ways of solving legal tasks, etc. should be mentioned here. In the same way, you can introduce innovative law firm processes, e.g. the particularly client-friendly processing and provision of all advisory data to the client.

How the scores in rankings are created

In general, I divide the survey methods of rankings into three categories. The categories are defined based on how much research I perceive the respective survey methods to require. The definition corresponds to my subjective opinion, which I formulate based on my observations. The greater the amount of research I perceive, the higher the quality of the survey for me.

Document analysis by researchers
This form of survey is by far the most comprehensive form of data collection that I perceive on the market. Rankings send detailed document templates and/or guidelines to law firms (see practical examples in chapter 11). The law firms compile data according to certain specifications and send it in structured form to the rankings. There, the data is analysed and additionally enriched by interviews with so-called client referees (law firm clients as well as other referees such as other lawyers).

This research is extensive, lengthy and a new challenge for all law firms in terms of time management. In my opinion, however, this form of research is the one that delivers the most complete and therefore best results precisely because of the high effort involved. You can read more about the quality of law firm rankings in Chapter 3.

High effort, high quality.

 

The data requested by law firms are, for example:

Cases handled by law firms.
Firm size (number of partners, lawyers, legal staff, non-legal staff)
Additions/leavings
Practice groups
Press releases
General information on the advantages of a law firm over its competitors
(Publishable) regular clients
Winning new clients/mandates
v.m.

Client referees (law firm clients and other referees) are asked e.g. about the following contents:

Duration of cooperation with the law firm
Particularly good/bad experiences with lawyers from the firm
Overall impression of the firm
How the firm compares to its competitors
Strengths and weaknesses of the firm and individual lawyers
v.m.

Which client referees are interviewed again depends on the law firms. They send the rankings a list of client referees who are eligible for interviews. The interviews can be conducted orally or in writing, but as a rule not all of the client referees listed are interviewed.

Practical examples of how such data submissions are carried out are presented in chapter 11 in the form of templates as they are used 1:1 in the practice of rankings.

The frequency of such surveys varies depending on the ranking. Some ask about specific countries and areas of law in a particular month throughout the year and set deadlines for the submission of information. Several countries may be surveyed at the same time in the same areas of law. Usually, law firms are notified about the upcoming deadline about three months in advance.

Sometimes only one jurisdiction is surveyed, sometimes up to seven or eight at a time. Other rankings collect once a year for all countries and all areas of law at once. What at first looks like efficiency often drains all marketing/PR resources in law firms for one or two months. Especially for large, internationally active law firms, this has created the need to work with the rankings throughout the entire year and to allocate the corresponding resources. For more on the question of resources, see chapter 6.3 and chapter 10.1.

Reconciliation by clients, lawyers/attorneys
In this type of survey, clients and lawyers are asked directly about the quality of the services provided by lawyers and law firms via questionnaires. Mainly the following information is recorded, for example:

Which law firm / lawyer do you recommend in which area of law?
What key work has law firm / lawyer X done for you (brief information in e.g. five lines)?
Special information about law firm / lawyer X.
Here the effort for law firms is considerably less than in the case of document analysis by researchers (Chapter 1.4.1). For reasons of quantity alone, the accumulation of data collected in this way can only represent the market less comprehensively than the methodology from 1.4.1.

Less effort, less comprehensive statement.

If “only” lawyers and legal practitioners are surveyed, the resulting rankings are more an indicator of the networking of law firms and lawyers than of the quality of legal advice. However, a high degree of networking is also an indicator of the functionality – and thus indirectly the quality – of a law firm. At the very least, it means that the law firm has a quality that is perceived as satisfactory by other competitors. It can also mean that the law firm has created a strong network and can obtain relevant information there when needed. Of course, this also has a high value for clients. Of course, it can also mean that, for example, a small law firm likes to be named by big competitors because there is no competition between the two and the big one prefers to give the vote to someone who will not take business away from him.

Evaluations based on votes by clients and lawyers or jurists take place over the course of the year and tie up comparatively few resources at the law firms.

Readers’ opinions
Some rankings collect evaluations from their own readership, among others. According to these rankings, a readership of many thousands of subscribers is surveyed.

I am not aware of any special survey documents being sent to readers/subscribers, although I have been working with rankings since 2004. Nor have I ever been commissioned by a firm to compile comprehensive information (as in chapter 1.4.1) for such a reader opinion ranking. Based on my subjective perception, I assume that the effort required to compile such a ranking is considerably less than that required for document analysis by researchers (chapter 1.4.1). This is not to say that such surveys do not exist at all in the context of reader opinion rankings – I am speaking exclusively of my experiences here.

Advantages and the added value of rankings – and why they work

Creating comparative systems
Intangible services, especially those as complex as legal services, are very difficult to screen for quality before acquisition. Even in the best case – where a law firm has already been engaged in the past – the client wonders whether the law firm has maintained the level of e.g. three years ago, whether the lawyer involved at that time is still there, how the interaction of the necessary fields of law within the law firm works and whether the law firm (still) fits the client’s company in terms of its size and orientation.

Apart from personal recommendations or experience, rankings are often the only structured and objective source of information on the quality and scope of services of law firms and lawyers.

Gaining clients still works on a personal recommendation basis – but the success of this system ends at the latest when one has to present an objective, number-based set of arguments for the selection of a law firm to the decision-makers within the client firm. This is done with the awareness that, for example, lawsuits can be lost or contracts can go wrong and that one has to take responsibility for the selection of the law firm. In such cases, the selection of a law firm must be as objective and quantifiable as possible. Rankings cover precisely this need.

Rankings are also very important for the reference business. How, for example, is a Finnish law firm supposed to name a partner law firm in Austria to its clients if it does not constantly deal with the market there? You may have met a few colleagues from Austria once at the IBA, but that doesn’t mean you know anything about their work.

Translation for non-lawyers
Whereas lawyers could at least rank their own industry colleagues in certain categories without rankings through personal contact or by reading their colleagues’ professional articles, non-lawyers lacked these possibilities completely. Professional articles are hardly comprehensible to non-lawyers, and even in personal contact it is difficult to tell whether the person facing you is highly qualified in law or not. A ranking list, on the other hand, everyone understands.

Everyone understands a ranking list

 

Rankings also strive to communicate in a language that can be understood by non-lawyers. Causes are presented in a simple form at a high level, e.g. to explain that law firm X is primarily active in the IT sector in mergers & acquisitions and serves top clients here. A leading IT firm would therefore probably, without knowing the legal intricacies of Law Firm X’s cases, include this law firm on its shortlist at least once.

Promotion by the legal industry
So how did the rankings ultimately prevail? And why was it lawyers in particular who helped rankings achieve their breakthrough?

For many years, lawyers saw themselves as a rarefied and therefore elitist point of contact for legal matters. They were aware of their special position and attached importance to maintaining it and not making themselves comparable and interchangeable “at the push of a button”.

So shouldn’t lawyers automatically fight the rankings? In fact, in 1999 two lawyers from Munich filed a lawsuit against one of the most popular rankings, JUVE.[1] At first, the lawsuit actually went through – in 2002, however, a constitutional complaint filed against the lawsuit was upheld.

But where was the flood of lawsuits against the rankings? Surprisingly, this did not happen – on the contrary: law firms and lawyers were increasingly trying to be listed in the rankings. The reason for this was, on the one hand, the growing competition within the legal sector. Established law firms wanted to see their status confirmed, while younger competitors sensed an opportunity to position themselves relatively quickly in the market.

Effect of rankings: confirmation and positioning

A driving force for the influx of rankings was – and still is – the basic psychological programming of the legal profession. A good lawyer must have the self-confidence to do the right thing in conflicts and delicate situations, otherwise fear of failure would paralyse the lawyer’s work and make it impossible in the long run. This self-confidence, in turn, requires that in publications – and especially in rankings – the firm performs as positively as possible and better than its competitors.

Conversely, law firms and lawyers are often the best distribution channels for the rankings, as the law firms publish their results and thus links to the rankings on their own websites.

[1] http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/JUVE_Verlag_f%C3%BCr_juristische_Information#Rechtsstreit

Planning and control of submissions by means of project management

Each submission must be treated as a separate project. Depending on the size of the law firm and the resulting scope of the submission, the project must be formulated in detail before the work begins.

In addition, the project must be anchored in the relevant decision-making bodies of your law firm as a fixed task that is monitored and controlled accordingly.

Two-round feedback system
The great danger of wasting many resources without effect and of generating frustration within the law firm on the subject of rankings lies to a large extent in the seemingly endless rounds of information gathering. All those responsible for rankings – i.e. the persons or the department responsible for compiling the rankings – know this situation only too well: missing partner feedback is delivered very late or not at all. Or, even worse, the feedback is only given after the documents have been completed. Often, at “5 past 12”, almost the entire submission in the legal field concerned still has to be revised. It is only a logical consequence that the quality of the documents suffers and the ranking result falls short of expectations.

No endless feedback loops!

To prevent this, we use the “two-round feedback system”. First, the very first draft of the submission is created from all available information. This draft is labelled “- 2” to indicate that two more rounds of feedback are possible.

All available information” means all data that can be extracted from internal and external databases and files by means of desk research, without having to ask the law firm partners directly for feedback.

After completion, the “Draft – 2” is sent to the partners, who are now supposed to insert current cases, mainly by keyword. From these keywords, the ranking managers now create the “Draft – 1”. So now there is only one possibility for the partners to give feedback. This draft is called the “Pre-Final Draft”.

This draft is also sent to the partners. In this draft, however, the partners should only release or correct the causes and formulations worked out there, but no longer insert any new causes or other extensive information.

After the corrections from “Draft – 1” have been incorporated, the submission is ready and sent to the ranking.

 

Reminder
Often a reminder to decision-makers regarding open feedback is not enough. In principle, there is nothing to be said against sending further reminders. But those responsible for the project should set up rules of the game that must be clearly communicated and, of course, adhered to by the other side.

I recommend announcing three reminder rounds for each of the “Draft – 2” rounds, as this involves by far the greater effort for the partners. For “Draft – 1”, where the effort is less and the reaction should be quicker, only two reminders are sufficient. In addition, at this point you are almost certainly already very close to the ranking deadline and for this reason alone cannot provide more time for feedback.

Project plans
Visualisation with tools such as Microsoft Project Professional © 2013 used here is an absolute must in project management. Especially in the legal industry, decision-makers are under enormous time pressure as fee-earners and therefore react correspondingly better to short, visualised information.

Moreover, such a tool forces project managers to consider which resources are used for which tasks (tasks) and for how long. Once you have entered all the data, you also get a very quick overview of the project duration and can identify corresponding deadlines for work completion or escalations to management.

The patterns shown here have been created using a Gantt Chart. General project management issues such as start/start or end/end relationships or fixed and manual time adjustment of tasks are not addressed in the context of this book. However, it is recommended that you at least familiarise yourself with the basics of project management and the tool functions before using such a tool.

There are two points that you must bear in mind in any case:

Set the submission deadline as a fixed end date for the project. This will immediately show you the so-called “critical project path”. This path shows you at any time which tasks are delayed and endanger the completion of the entire project.
Link the tasks with each other so that the time dependencies between the tasks can also be measured and displayed. In the chart, these links are shown as arrows between the tasks.
The chart shown here displays only one area of law and assumes “Peter Muster” as the only ranking responsible. Please bear in mind that if there is more than one area of law, there must be more than one person performing Peter Muster’s task in each case, as one resource, in this case Peter Muster, cannot work on more than one area of law at the same time. However, if Peter Muster remains the only resource and there are, for example, three jurisdictions, then you need to increase the project time by the total volume of Peter Muster’s work – which would be an additional 32 hours in our simple example.

Please note that the chart is intended to illustrate project management techniques and has not captured all the tasks and processes involved in a submission. For example, work with client referees, project governance tasks and numerous operational fine control elements are not recorded.

Project Governance – Integrating Submissions into Firm Management Processes
Another essential component of treating submissions as a project is the creation of project governance, i.e. the definition of clear management and control responsibilities in the project. Essentially, the following management roles within the project must be defined and assigned to the appropriate persons:

Project management: Responsible for the operational control of the project and reporting.
Decision-making body: One or more persons who are given the decision-making authority by the office management to make decisions within the project at the level of the office management. As an example, this could be the release of causes for submissions.
Interface to law firm management: One or more persons who take over project reporting to law firm management and escalate to law firm management in urgent cases if necessary. An example of this would be if a law firm partner has not delivered their feedback on time after several reminders and a decision has to be made not to submit the legal matter due to this delay.
This interface is also responsible for ensuring that law firm management agrees to the project plans and has an appropriate commitment to the project. Finally, law firm management will want to see project plans that they themselves have agreed to implemented accordingly.

The impact of project management in practice
Of course, as a lawyer with law firm experience or a non-lawyer employee, you may think when reading these suggestions that they cannot be implemented in this way in the day-to-day work of a law firm – and in my experience this is often enough the case. But there are also law firms in practice that use such project management successfully and stick to the prescribed procedure. In other words, some just give up smoking – and the others wait until the pressure of suffering is great enough and they are ready for a change.

Clearly communicated rules are the be-all and end-all.

In any case, a rigid, clearly communicated framework is the best way to positively influence work processes. The less rigidly you set the framework, the more possibilities you give those involved, e.g. to take their time with feedback, deliver texts later, etc.

Of course, you will always have to deal with delays in the project, but clear communication of the work processes, responsibilities and specifications – combined with appropriate communication in the management bodies – is by far the best way to complete your project with a reasonable effort.

The great and in every scenario helpful added value of such an approach is the creation of transparency. You can see at a glance what effort needs to be made and who is responsible for what tasks. This creates more awareness of the requirements for such work. Think about how you felt when you saw the project plan in chapter 6.4.3.

In addition, the question of blame, which is difficult to avoid in negative scenarios, will have to be clarified quickly. For example, in the case of poor ranking results, it can be determined very quickly whether enough material was provided for a good ranking or whether, for example, the native speaker simply took too long for a translation.

Finally, this procedure and the corresponding tools provide you with very good possibilities for reporting to decision-makers. If you hire external service providers, you can also quickly see what the cost situation is, since you can of course also assign monetary amounts to the hours.

Case Study: Law firm with 15 equity partners

Problem:

Our client, a top international law firm with over 15 equity partners, had participated in numerous rankings for years.
However, a qualitatively and quantitatively comprehensive preparation of the documents was not possible due to time constraints.
The process of obtaining data from the respective law firm partners was also very difficult, as some partners did not provide the information or provided it too late.
The processing of the client referees was uncoordinated. The practice groups did not coordinate with each other. As a result, for years the same client referees were named several times over numerous areas of law.
The client referees were also not asked after the submission whether everything had gone well.
This meant that client referee feedback contributed correspondingly little to a good rating of the firm.
Due to the lack of coordination between the practice groups and the absence of a general coordinating body, the submissions of the practice groups had different qualities.
The client was undervalued in all major rankings due to the process failures.


Solution approach:

Set up a process accepted by all partners for obtaining the necessary data.
Introduce an appropriate system with well-defined feedback rounds and reminders.
Introduce project management tools for working with submissions.
Map the entire process using project management tools.
Set up a project reporting system for the firm’s management.
Define clear responsibilities in the submission process.
Introduce client-referee tracking.
Collecting client referees after the submission.
Create a data repository for submissions.
Conduct full submissions to solidify the proposed changes in the firm and give the firm time to get used to them and build up internal resources.

Potential for improvement in the rankings

Although rankings have in principle triggered a very positive development in the legal industry and represent a high added value for all target groups (see chapter 1.2), there is also some potential for improvement within the ranking industry.

Reduce effort
“Didn’t we just do that?” – A question that is often asked in law firms in connection with rankings. In fact, I recommend to my clients to have all ranking tasks done only with the help of project management tools such as Microsoft © Project.

Whereas in the past these were manageable time commitments – such as four submission deadlines per year, for which you had to set aside a total of about three weeks – rankings today have become so extensive that you have to set aside time for them throughout the year. Large law firms are particularly affected by this. It is one thing to prepare a submission for Labour Law Zurich, for example – you have to take time for that, too, of course, but the effort is still justifiable in relation to the available resources and, above all, the internal law firm policy goals. But it becomes much more complicated when there are four or so different areas of law: Which cases should be selected for whom? Who has filed the documents relating to Causa X where? Can we file a case in several jurisdictions? No? Then we take Causa X for my area of law … etc.

 

Approx. 15h net working time per submission per area of law.

Even if law firms set up their own departments for rankings and/or bring in external consultants and service providers, the effort is still great. If you want to handle a field of law cleanly and professionally, you have to spend about 15 hours net working time on a submission and the associated client referees. And this only includes the pure writing and research time as well as the often necessary translation into English. The time spent asking for information and reaching law firm partners is often several times that amount. Also to be taken into account are often multiple feedback rounds, at the end of which new feedback is given, which again requires a reworking of the submissions.

Then, of course, there are the client interviews. It is no problem to ask a client to take time once a year to answer a ranking question about working with the firm. However, the same client will understandably be less willing to take time for, say, four surveys a year.

The whole procedure leads to an understandable permanent stress for many law firms, which can only be avoided through correspondingly efficient organisation – see chapter 6.3.

Choose deadlines better
It is hard enough to collect feedback from busy lawyers during regular working hours. Nevertheless, there are rankings that set their deadlines during the holiday season. Deadlines in August or – even worse – in December do little to promote a relaxed approach to the subject matter. Ironically, the “availability of law firm partners” is often cited as an argument for setting such deadlines. Of course, partners are not 100% busy with clients during these periods – but that is no reason to rush into well-deserved relaxation periods. However, such poorly chosen deadlines can usually be avoided through appropriate organisation – see chapter 6.4.

Picking up clients better
It is already a very delicate undertaking to ask clients to take time for interviews that only benefit their firm. It is all the more serious when clients are not interviewed correctly. Unfortunately, it happens again and again that rankings ask clients during their holidays or give them very tight deadlines for answering questionnaires. It can also happen that telephone interviews are too lengthy or the questioning deviates from the actual topic.

You can read about how to deal with such developments successfully in chapter 6.5.

Evaluate comprehensibly
An incomprehensible evaluation or non-inclusion in a ranking naturally contributes the most to disgruntlement. After all the work that has gone into it, it is difficult for law firms to comprehend if the targeted ranking has not been achieved. Of course, it also happens that law firms simply make bad submissions and build up false expectations. It is only correct that inferior submissions do not have the desired effect, because otherwise all the extensive submissions prepared by other law firms with a lot of effort would be devalued and the market presentation would also be distorted.

Apart from such cases, however, there are always good submissions that do not lead to an increase in the ranking or to a new inclusion in the ranking. In both cases, the rankings often refer to poor feedback from client referees. This is, of course, unsatisfactory for law firms, as they can neither exert pressure on clients nor do they want to, and ultimately the impression is created that the submissions themselves are pointless. What is the point of collecting all the documents if at the end of the day it is the client interviews that decide? – Unfortunately, this question falls short. Rankings argue that submissions are the absolute basis for being considered for a good ranking in the first place. Client interviews are then the fine control, so to speak, that decides on rank 1 or 2, for example.

You can read how to achieve the best client feedback in chapter 6.5.

A special case is the aforementioned initial inclusion in rankings. Here, directories are particularly tricky. As a rule, you have to submit an exceptionally good submission, including client referees, in order to be included in the ranking on the first attempt. The reason for this is the deliberate long-term evaluation of the market. If a law firm were to be included in the ranking, e.g. in second place out of four, after only one good year, it would have to be removed from the ranking again if it had a bad year or did not submit a submission in the following year. This would make the rankings spongy and too volatile.

So the rankings check which law firms perform consistently well over several periods before including new entries. Of course, this procedure is also a means of keeping law firms in line so that they participate annually and do not drop out – on balance, however, it is not devoid of solid logic. Nevertheless, it might be advisable not to be too harsh here and to make more differentiated decisions.

Reduce pressure on law firms to participate
Since rankings have become so popular, existing and potential clients, reference partners and young lawyers often wonder why law firm X is “not there”. Of course, no law firm is expected to be in every ranking, but large law firms in particular are expected not only to participate, but also to be at the top of at least the most popular rankings.

The smaller a law firm is, the more this pressure decreases – or at least that is how it used to be. In the meantime, a great many law firm boutiques are already represented in the rankings and even one-person law firms have moved into top rankings.

Even small law firms are feeling the pressure to participate in rankings more and more.

This development reflects the competitive pressure within the legal industry. The question is of course justified whether this pressure has not also been intensified by the rankings, because they introduced a means of creating weighted market transparency for the first time. To a certain extent this is true – on the other hand, the rankings would probably not have been so popular if the competitive pressure had been less and clients had been plentiful for all market participants.

Making rankings better and more serious
This point is by far the most important at the moment. Successful developments of a product or service always find imitators. As long as the competitors act seriously and competently, there is nothing to be said against it from the client’s point of view. As is well known, competition stimulates business and gives customers access to cheaper and better services.

Unfortunately, the ranking industry has seen an increase in questionable rankings that do a poor job of collecting data or simply give away “awards” to the highest bidder (“pay for play”). Law firms quite unexpectedly receive an email saying that someone has decided that the firm should get an award for area of law X. I, too, as a business consultant, am not a member of the legal profession. Even I, as a management consultant who does not practise law, have received an email from such a “ranking” congratulating me on winning an award in an area of law!

The desire of some law firms to appear in a ranking is so great, however, that even these providers have a lively influx. However, this damages the entire ranking industry and causes confusion among all target groups. Although some rankings are now viewed critically, law firms still fall for dubious providers. The pressure to have no or too few “awards” or “ranking results” on the website is often perceived as too great.

Unfortunately, this also affects the clients. Smaller firms in particular rarely conduct large-scale research on the quality of ranking providers on a law firm’s website for cost reasons. Mostly, the client looks through such awards on four criteria:

Does the award fit my legal problems? Is the area of law in which I need advice and/or the industry in which I work represented?
Ranking: Where does the law firm stand in the rankings or in comparison to its competitors?
Recency: How long ago was the last win/ranking?
Quantity: How many different awards from how many different providers have been won?
What could happen, you might think. – What can and does happen is that good rankings, which invest far more effort and costs than “pay for play” providers, fall into this rut and either disappear altogether or at least lose quality. The first victim of such an effect was, in my opinion, PLC Which Lawyer? – a case I describe in detail in chapter 1.6.7.

It goes without saying that clients who make careless choices can end up buying bad legal advice and suffer damage as a result.

The end of PLC Which Lawyer?
PLC Which Lawyer? was often mentioned in the same breath as Chambers and Legal 500, as one of “those rankings you already need”. In April 2013, PLC Which Lawyer? simply went offline.[1]

Although the ranking was seen as important, most of my clients have always viewed PLC Which Lawyer? results with particular scepticism. In particular, the combined results across all areas of law could not always be understood. The mapping of the respective country markets was also criticised.

However, PLC Which Lawyer? was also and above all conspicuous for one thing: the constant demand for advertisements for parallel sister publications. So, in addition to the main publication, which contained all areas of law and all countries, there were additional publications from the same publisher, which additionally focused specifically on one area of law and sometimes also on one country. I usually advised my clients not to participate because it hardly makes sense to get bogged down in side issues when there is a main reference work anyway.

The reason for this ‘recycling’ of data was, of course, the desire for more business – probably also because there was increasing pressure from the pseudo-rankings. When PLC Which Lawyer? was shut down, a shakeout did take place, but unfortunately at the wrong end. Despite all its drawbacks, the ranking did have some control, and especially the “one fits all” table of all areas of law for one country had ensured a very quick overview.

[1] http://uk.practicallaw.com/7-523-8197

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