Just how good are legal directories?

Posted by Ian Dodd, UK director of Legal Futures Associate Premonition

Dodd: artificial exercise

Dodd: artificial exercise

Below you’ll find an abstract from an academic article by Dr Chris Hanretty, reader in politics at the University of East Anglia. The full article, which I have read, will soon be published in the International Journal of the Legal Profession. I’m reproducing the abstract with his kind permission:

Lawyer rankings either do not matter for litigation outcomes or are redundant

I investigate the success of litigants in tax cases in England and Wales between 1996 and 2010. I explore the effect upon success of having better-ranked legal representation, according to rankings of barristers published by chambers. I find that, for a variety of model specifications, there is no significant positive effect of having better-ranked legal representation.

After conducting a sensitivity analysis, I conclude that better-ranked legal representation might have a positive effect on litigation outcomes, but only if better-ranked lawyers receive cases that are substantially more difficult to win. However, if better-ranked lawyers receive substantially more difficult cases, this suggests consumers of legal representation are sophisticated enough to dispense with legal rankings.

The views that follow are mine and mine alone and not, as far as I know, Dr Hanretty’s.

I’ve long wondered what use the rankings of lawyers, particularly barristers, are in the legal directories.

Essentially, you get some of your mates to say nice things about you (you’re not going to do otherwise, now, are you?). Then you pay (how much depends on how much of it you want to be in print) the directories to reproduce these nice things and come up with some artificial rankings in a host of different categories.

They’re artificial because they’re based on qualitative and subjective comments the sources of which are not treated to any moderation or levelling to ensure each comment is weighted to equivalence.

You pay to adjust your website to accommodate all these nice things in the biographies of the fortunate and glowing barristers and sit back and wait for new work to flood in because of it. And, I imagine, you keep waiting as I’ve never, so far, been able to find out if any work does result from the directory rankings.

Then, you are seduced to pay a large amount of money to go to an ‘awards evening’ (I’ve noticed that the number and categories of awards swells every year to assuage the expectant attendees; some to the point of nonsense) and, probably, to pay more to take a table to invite those people who said nice things about you in the first place.

Next, you squeeze yourself into an ill-fitting dinner jacket, eat too much almost inedible food, drink too much expensive but inferior wine (maybe I’ve been to the wrong awards ceremonies?), stuff your pockets with business cards of people who have no intention of doing business with you and who, through your blinding headache next day, you can’t remember anyway.

Finally, after paying all this money (which I’ve always held can be spent much more wisely in targeted marketing) you wait for all the new work to come in.

I really would be interested to know who runs a cost/benefit exercise on these things or is it all done for self-aggrandisement?

I’d recommend you to keep your eye on the International Journal of the Legal Profession. If the article abstract (never mind about what I say) doesn’t alter your thinking on legal directories, it might.

    Readers Comments

  • Graham Laing says:

    Utter garbage.

    Before you write such drivel at least get your facts straight as to how the legal directories operate and are remunerated.

  • Toby Unwin says:

    Great article, Ian.
    It’s long past time for facts to reign in legal selection.

  • Anon barrister says:

    I know nothing about how directories are remunerated but I agree entirely with the broad thrust of the article. The ‘researchers’ are generally recent graduates who have no knowledge of the legal market. Laziness or incompetence means they usually go to the usual firms and chambers and lo and behold the same people appear year after year. They have they no ability to detect changes in the legal market. They are disinterested in chambers who do not already have numerous people in the directories. There are many examples of people taking silk who have never been in the directories. There are examples of people in the directories who have retired, changed practice areas or taken appointments. There is no scientific basis for the assertions in the directories or the rankings. I write this has someone is them.

  • Martin Edwards says:

    Spot on. Not only do these directories have no real worth for the reasons set out in this article, the very fact that they exist suggest that the profession in general, and more particularly, the Bar is crippled by self-doubt and insecurity to such an extent that fragile egos need propping up with entires in what are, in effect, pure vanity publications. I suspect that very few (if any) of the researchers has any experience of actually instructing any of the lawyers included in the list and so are in no place to judge a particular lawyer’s experience and skill. It is a great pity that individual lawyers spend so much time and money on these useless entries rather than devote effort to protecting what really matters – access to justice and the almost constant assault on the profession by the political class. In short these directories are a symptom of a deeper malaise within the profession. Mind you, with the advent of online review sites (and we all know how those can be manipulated) it is possible that these directories are living on borrowed time.

  • Graham Laing says:

    If the writer believes that the legal market directories are driven by ‘getting your mates to say good things about you’ then he not only has a poor understanding of the directories but also generally about the way UK mid market and blue chip companies purchase legal services.

    I can just imagine now – Head GC of a large global standing in front of Director of Procurement saying:

    ‘Yeah Im just getting my mate in to handle our 2016 legal spend!’.

    Dear oh dear.

    The directories have always been about anecdotal client driven market commentary. All firms are subject to the exact same yardstick.

    The directories don’t profess to offer insight into measured performance. I’d question the attempt of measuring technical performance. Its an apple and pear comparative exercise.

    Legal 500 or Chambers don’t do awards evenings and secondly firms can see through Google Analytics exactly how much traffic is driven and leads generated via its links with both of the aforementioned directories.

    From a search engine optimisation perspective – there aint that many relevant legal backlinks better than those two.

    So lots of value.

    A crap article, trying to add credibility by clinging desperately onto the work of some poor old none-the-wiser academic with a shockingly poor understanding of legal and the directories.


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