fivehundred magazine > Editors' views > Your clients are your biggest cheerleaders, and critics

Your clients are your biggest cheerleaders, and critics

Asia Pacific editor John van der Luit-Drummond explains the weight placed on client feedback and how to maximise your firm’s coverage in the next rankings

And… time’s up! The submission process for The Legal 500’s Asia Pacific 2020 guide is now closed. To all firms across the 25 jurisdictions we cover, thank you for contributing to this year’s research.

Over the last few weeks, a number of firms have sought clarification over the factors we consider when rankings practices and individuals. For the avoidance of doubt, the factors we consider are, first and foremost, relevant work highlights. Here we look at the past 12 months but also the recent historical track record of a practice (typically three to five years) for context and to evidence consistency. We assess the scope, sophistication, technical ability, practical achievements, innovation, and representation of cutting-edge market leaders.

The secondary factors we look at are: breadth of practice area coverage; depth and experience of team/changes to the group; client and other referee feedback; significant market/economic developments; ancillary services; your firm benchmarked against the competition.

Although credible recent work highlights is the most important factor, this article looks at the importance placed on referees as a secondary consideration when it comes to our decision-making and offers a few tips on how to make the most of client feedback.

Know your referees

Every year we contact more than 300,000 referees globally. These include in-house counsel (GCs and junior counsel), managing directors, chief executives, external counsel such as barristers, and even other law firms referring clients and work to other jurisdictions.

With so much client and market feedback flooding our researchers’ inboxes with both positive and negative assessments of your practices and individual lawyers, it is important firms don’t underestimate referee opinion.

Referees really do provide us with a warts-and-all assessment of your capabilities and negative feedback is certainly considered in the rankings. It also suggests a lack of awareness and judgement on your part if you put forward a client who, in emails to us, accuses you of providing ‘the wrong legal advice’, are guilty of ‘unethical conduct’, or ‘breaches of confidence’. In short, make sure you really know your referees.

How to improve response rates

Assuming your clients will provide nothing but a glowing endorsement of your practice, how can you ensure a weight of response to tip the scales in your favour during the research?

First, provide us with as many referees as possible! There is no limit to how many referees a firm can put forward, but we recommend each practice aims to provide us with 20 referees.

Next, bearing in mind senior figures such as GCs and CEOs are generally busier, put forward referees who are more likely to respond to us. Sometimes firms focus too heavily on referees likely to impress us, but we find it more effective to measure the number of responses, and what they actually say, rather than the profile/seniority of those responding.

When selecting referees, think about those who have a good relationship with the firm as a whole, rather than just one partner. That way, they can also provide feedback on the firm’s overall service, as well as other lawyers they have had dealings with.

Put forward referees who have worked with the firm in the past year, or at the most, two years. Please note, however, that referees who worked with the firm over two years ago will be less inclined to respond and greater weight will be placed on more recent references.

Finally, make referees aware we will be contacting them via email. It is worth them adding ‘’ to their safe senders’ list to get around strict spam filters.

Unconscious bias

Finally, over the last year, we have been working hard to stop unconsciously biased quotes making it into our guides. Obviously, our researchers are at the mercy of your referees’ feedback; we do not put words in clients’ mouths, nor will we make up quotes where none exist. However, where we can use genuine quotes that are more representative of an individual lawyer’s abilities and skills, then we will endeavour to do so.

That means that women practitioners should not be solely described as ‘conscientious’, ‘thorough’, ‘thoughtful’, ‘a very nice person’, ‘well organised’, ‘responsive’, ‘easy to work with’, ‘pleasant’, or ‘extremely nice’, while their male counterparts are ‘doyens’, ‘assertive’, ‘phenomenal advocates’, with ‘outstanding intellects’, ‘razor-sharp minds’, or just ‘frighteningly clever’.

Still, we need your help to do this. If you are asked to act as a referee during the upcoming research, then please, give us more than monosyllabic responses; try to be aware of any unconscious bias you may have; and, most important of all, provide an honest appraisal of a lawyer’s key skills and qualities. What really sets them apart and why can you rely on them?

If in doubt, think about how you would want your clients or peers to describe you. Would you want them just commenting on how ‘pleasant’ it is to work with you, or would you expect them to make reference to your ‘unrivalled’ legal skills? I suspect you would not want them to describe you – be it positive or negative – based upon an unconscious gender bias. Remember, this is your opportunity to help us highlight the best and brightest the global legal profession has to offer. Good luck, and we look forward to speaking with you, and your referees, during the research period.

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