I know him by reputation…

The use of lawyer directories as indicators of quality has been given added importance recently by Quality Solicitors’ indication (see the comments section here)that they use such directories as part of their vetting process.  I’m not aware of any research on these, so it’s particularly interesting to see this excellent piece in the Law Society Gazette.  The answer to the question: do they measure quality?  Yes, no, maybe, sort of, not really, dunno.  But very interesting nonetheless.

2 thoughts on “I know him by reputation…

  1. In 1999 there was research done with clients by Kevin Wheeler on behalf of 40 City firms. I’ve found some of the details on the Gazette website, although I’m sure there was a more detailed story which didn’t show up in the archive search.
    — 54% of respondents had used a legal directory in the past to identify a firm or appoint one to carry out work.
    — 31% of these had used Chambers and 24% had used Legal 500. Less than 10% had used one of 11 other directories.
    — 54% of respondents felt that the consequences of not taking entries in legal directories would be minimal.
    — 16% felt firms would miss out on work by not taking entries.
    Make of this what you will. All the firms hate the directory entry process, which is very time and resource-consuming and just a general pain in the behind. I seem to recall that one firm gave it a miss one year in an effort to encourage others, but nothing has happened because firms do not cooperate (question asked and answered then). If they did, maybe they would reclaim some of the power they’ve handed over to the directories.

  2. Avrom Sherr, someone who I think Richard knows, reviewed an early edition of the Legal 500 in the MLR and his short and somewhat dismissive analysis, summarises what he thought of them from a legal academic’s viewpoint.

    I have some knowledge of the directory research process, as does Ed Reyes. To a large extent, I agree with Ed- I think they have their place, they are useful, and they are one way, amongst others, to assess the relative merit of a law firm or partner, but no more than that. Certainly not to the extent Lord Irvine identified- the process for assessment for silk is far more rigorous, undertaken for a different purpose, and rightly so. That is, however, another debate.

    There is a tendancy amongst some legal journalists to highlight the resources firms expend on the process but in relative terms, facing such challenges, the resources that directories themself use, are proportionately much, much less- making the achievement of getting an accurate 30,000 word summary of, say, London capital markets practices, no mean feat.

    However, whilst the criticisms of the process he identifies are fair ones, it should be remembered directories, like other media businesses, are susceptible to the same pressures in the market as law firms, pressures have been magnified, as law firm marketing departments have shrunk, and advertising and other spend have gone down, drastically in some instances.

    That reduces the scope of resources the directories can bring to assessment and analysis, and encourages commoditisation of the research process. Whether that is a good thing depends on whether one feels that hungry young researchers looking to break into the crowded market for paid journalistic experience approach the job in the right way. My feeling is they can, but continuity is a problem as career expectations grow. There are ex-directory researchers on the FT, Guardian and elsewhere , (and even a few of the legal weeklies). Good for them, but less easy for the directories.

    Other journalism on the regional and national papers have been hit by similar factors, so one should be seen in an overall media, well as legal context- they are part of that market- so they will rise and fall as that market does. I suspect that there will be no Times-style paywall, yet.

    I’m also sceptical about how much power firms have actually handed over, as it strikes me that all the directories have is a measure of influence, rather than real market power.

    A related point, however, is the utility of the directories for the Bar. The Bar, with vastly less BD resources than MC law firms, varies in its approach but most of the major sets and a lot of the medium sized ones take an active part. Chambers & Partners has arguably made a virtue out of this the most, with a dedicated Bar editor, to the extent of adding the almost inevitable and highly competitive awards ceremony to the process.

    As a marketplace for the Bar, the Bar Council views the process with an interested, if sceptical, eye; as do the law firms who give the references. Here, I think there can be some use in at least making people aware of (broadly) the nature of how certain barristers might be right for certain cases, and that is a professional benefit.

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