1) Understand your firm’s submission process.
Typically the marketing department runs the directory process. Most firm’s don’t have the resources to submit to every practice or industry group so they review the broad list of categories and identify the ones they think they have the best shot of being selected for. Reach out to your marketing department contact and learn how your firm approaches these submissions. Discuss with them your interest in being ranked and ask them if there any obstacles in being submitted. Often a firm may not want to do a full submission together for a practice or industry group but they would be willing to submit an individual lawyer to be considered as a leading lawyer if you are willing to work with them on the submission process.
2) Discuss with your practice group leaders how they select the lead lawyer candidates to include in the submission.
Most directories will tell you that you have a better chance of having lawyers selected if you narrow your list of candidates to 2-3 people from each firm. If you include a dozen lawyers for consideration, your chances of getting anyone selected is slim to none. You want to understand how you firm goes about selecting who to list. Typically the selections are made by the firm’s practice or industry group chairs. Reach out to them and let them know if your interest in being included and provide them supporting information about the deals you have done this year that makes you a good choice.
3) Draft your highlights in a descriptive way that highlights why they are unique.
The biggest mistake I’ve seen lawyers make in the 20 years I’ve been doing these submissions is in how they draft the matter descriptions. You need to understand that the person reviewing your matter highlights typically does not have an in-depth understanding of your practice or industry nor do they often have a deep legal background. You need to draft the matter description in language that a “non-lawyer” will understand and you need to spell out exactly what you did that made this matter unique. If you are going to write “Represented ACME Corporation in a $400 million dollar acquisition of ARK LLC” – you might as well just not waste your time doing a submission. You need to call out what it was that made your performance in the matter special. It could be the size of the matter, the innovative legal strategy you used, the decision from the Judge, how the matter impacted the client, if you came in under budget, if you used an innovative pricing structure, etc. There has to be something you list that answers the question, “why is this matter special/unique?” – and you have to make it crystal clear what that
One of the questions I often would hear from lawyers is that they don’t have a specific matter that is unique, so how should they best pick just one matter to include. The best way to address this issue is to put yourself in the reviewers seat and consider what they are looking for when ranking lawyers in your practice or industry. For example, if you are submitting to be listed in the Food & Beverage industry, you want to consider your entire portfolio of work for clients in that industry for the entire year. Rather then just listing one matter, you should draft your submission in a way that shows the reviewer that you did work for multiple clients in the industry and that you worked on matters that may be unique to that industry. It could be a small matter dollar wise, but it may the first type of case in that area or it could be that you represented clients in a broad array of companies in the sector which makes your perspective unique compared to your peer lawyers. Ask yourself “how can I describe what I did for my clients this year that supports the idea that I should be ranked above my peers who do similar work.” If after reading your submission, it doesn’t jump out at you, you won’t move the needle in getting ranked.
4) Consider which of your legal peers at competitor firms may be willing to give you a positive reference when they have their firm’s submission call.
After the written piece is submitted, typically that is followed up by a 30 minute phone call with the researcher and one member of the law firm (usually a practice chair). During this call, they ask for the firm’s representative to review the list of “leading lawyers” from the prior year’s directory. They then ask if you see any names that you think shouldn’t be on the list, and if you are aware of any lawyers from other firms that you think should be on the list. The information they collect in this portion of the call is weighed heavily by the researcher since you are not allowed to provide feedback on members of your own firm, but rather they want to know about your peer firms.
The fastest way to get ranked is when lawyers at other firms tell the researcher that you should be listed. While it’s not often possible to control that piece of the process, in some occasions you may have contacts at peer firms that may be willing to help support you in getting listed.
5) Contact your references in advance.
If you are going to provide client references, it’s vital that you reach out to each of your references and confirm that they are ok with being listed. Beyond just getting confirmation, you need to provide them with the name of the researcher who will be conducting the outreach, and if possible let them know when to expect the email. Marketing departments regularly receive feedback from the researcher that often times a firm will submit 10 names and 80% of them don’t respond to the outreach. It’s more important to list someone who has time and the inclination to respond, then to list someone at a “bigger” company who will not respond.
Summary: I will be the first to tell you that being listed in a legal directory is not usually something that will directly lead to new work. It may help enhance your brand and your biography and it could give you a leg up on the competition when all other things are equal. But if you are going to spend your time on getting listed, be sure to follow these tips.