Whatever one may think of them, legal directory rankings are an important reference point for law firms and frequently the first port of call when seeking barristers on their client’s behalf or for in-house counsel. Securing a rank in a Bar guide – whether as a chambers or barrister – is a profound achievement. It is a recognition of expertise and authority in a highly competitive field.

Nevertheless, legal directory submissions can be time-consuming and complex. Rankings are based on market research, case work and feedback from both clients and peers. Collating this requires intense organisation and collaboration, from both barristers and directory editors.

How legal directories rank barristers

It is beneficial to understand how legal directories rank barristers:

  • the rankings are cumulative across individual chambers and barristers;
  • there is a strong correlation between the number of barristers ranked in the Bar guides and the overall chambers ranking;
  • directories employ a mid- to long-term strategy as part of their cumulative research process; and 
  • the previous years’ rankings can count in the current research cycle.

Strategise your submissions

It is prudent, therefore, to define medium and long-term strategies for your own submissions process. This increases the likelihood of ranking highly and maintaining rankings in a competitive landscape. Short-term strategies can be implemented in that very application year in order to preserve precious time and human resources. Mid- and long-term strategies can cover 2-5 and 5+ years respectively; concentrating on where a chambers wants to see their future ranking and how they are going to achieve it.

When selecting barristers to rank, and how many should be entered, it is advisable to consider the submissions from the perspective of the greater good of the set of chambers. Sometimes less is more in this regard and be sure to keep diversity and inclusion initiatives in mind.

When submitting as a chambers, opt for barristers who mirror your mid- to long-term strategies to take advantage of the cumulative rankings approach. Take into account each barrister’s market profile and reputation among peers as these will heavily influence their final ranking. For large teams already featured within a Bar guide, pitch two or three unranked barristers to complement them. Select those who are likely to attract recognition from clients and peers.

Choosing which location applies seems easy but can affect your final ranking too. Regional sections of a Bar guide generally have fewer entries than London sectors and can therefore be less competitive. A barrister who splits their time and case load between London and the Midlands, for example, could consider applying for the Midlands section for greater chances of ranking.

Unranked barristers should avoid the temptation to apply for multiple practice areas. It is worth remembering that directories reward specialism, so stick to applying for only one. Making multiple practice area submissions runs the risk of a barrister being thought of as a ‘jack of all trades’ – a label to avoid.

If a specific niche is not covered, why not get in touch with the directories to ask if they would consider covering it. Chambers & Partners, in particular, is always keen to investigate creating new sections to better cover the Bar.

TIP: Ask for feedback: You are able to ask for free feedback on a limited number of ranking decisions, depending on the directory. While the information can be limited, it can help to inform your strategy for future research cycles.

Write a persuasive submission

This is your chance to demonstrate your legal talent, case portfolio and market insight. Easier said than done? Here are a few tips to help barristers optimise their submission copy.

Aim to capture the attention of the researcher. Researchers review hundreds of submissions per cycle, so be concise. Similarly, a submission may not reach the same researcher each cycle. Be sure to include all important and relevant details for any cases or work submitted.

The opening narrative pitch serves as an introduction to the nominated chambers or barrister. It can be helpful to assess all statements against a sceptical ‘so what?’ evaluation. This keeps the pitch short and ensures that you only include statements that add value.

Avoid excessive technical and legal jargon. It may sound counter-intuitive but using a more human tone creates an easily digestible writing style and pitch.

The ‘work highlights’ section is an opportunity to support the assertions made in the narrative pitch. Include the full number of clients and cases allowed per submission from both current and ongoing cases; this demonstrates a well-rounded case experience. As before, affirm every statement by assessing against the ‘so what?’ test.

The client and peer referee process

Feedback is highly relevant to the submissions process and some directories will place a stronger emphasis on client and peer feedback than others. Compiling referees should therefore form part of chambers’ initial strategy. Keep a list of clients and peers for different practice areas who can be relied upon to provide stellar feedback and uphold claims made in the submission. Ask them in advance if they are willing to provide such feedback.

Identify five clients per barrister from the above list. Barristers whose work is predominantly direct access-related should think carefully about their referees. If possible, avoid putting forward individuals who have never previously instructed counsel; their feedback could be viewed as less valuable by the directory editor, due to their lack of frame of reference.

Barristers need to have worked with their referees in the past 12 months. They must relate to the applied practice area, but do not have to relate to cases from the work highlights section. Avoid listing the same clients as referees in multiple directories; this can overburden them to provide feedback, which can be detrimental.

Clients will need to be reminded to check their inbox for the feedback requests and prompted to respond. Some directories will provide response rates if requested, which can be useful when monitoring which clients have delivered feedback.

TIP: The 3-month policy: Any client referee who has been contacted by Chambers & Partners on behalf of any chambers in any jurisdiction over the previous three months cannot be contacted again. Avoid using the same individual on multiple referee lists – put forward junior referees from the same client company, instead of senior colleagues, as this may result in similar feedback.

When approaching peers for feedback, barristers should keep an eye on the directories to which they are submitting. If there are ranked barristers with whom you have worked previously, or frequently come across in chambers, consider putting them forward. Highlight on the submission that you are instructed in the same work as the individuals the directory currently ranks for this section.

Empowering barristers and chambers

Armed with this insight into the submissions process, how ranking decisions are made, and how you can approach submissions to attain a high ranking, barristers can feel more confident and better equipped to manage their submissions. 

Kidd Aitken is currently preparing a best practice guide containing more tips, allowing chambers to approach legal directory submissions more effectively.