UK Bar legal directories: How to be a great referee

Being a referee for an instructing solicitor or a fellow barrister is not quite as controversial as Wayne Barnes’ job in the France v Scotland Six Nations final last month. You won’t need any red or yellow cards, television match officials or touch judges.   And just in case you didn’t know, Wayne is also a practising barrister. As the interviews for Chambers & Partners are in full swing, and with Legal 500 about to come to life, here is my advice:

Say yes: As in life, when you say yes exciting things can happen. When a researcher contacts you do engage.  It’s not difficult and it is a real opportunity for you and your set.  Book the interview immediately – they have limited slots and they fill up quickly. If it’s an email survey, do it straightaway or save it somewhere where you’ll remember to do it.  And do look in your spam folder regularly.

Do your homework: The researcher will send you a list of people s/he will want to discuss with you so take some time to think about each of them.  There may be a couple of people missing from the list so do include them too. 

The rankings are the battleground: The current rankings are what will interest the researcher most. What do you think of the current tables? Do they accurately reflect the market? Who is missing?  Who should move up/down?  Has anyone listed died? The editorial teams are understandably anxious to ensure their information is up-to-date.  

What is the interview about? They will be most interested in comparing those firms/sets in the tables. Be prepared to identify the lawyers you rate highly wherever they are and whether or not they already feature in the publication.  Say where and how they impressed you. 

Be kind: The researcher may be very new to the job and is unlikely to be a lawyer.  If you are patient and understanding you can forge a good relationship and encourage them to come back to you as a source for future queries.  It is worth it.  Your researcher today may be the Editor in a few short years’ time.  

What makes a great referee? Someone with wide experience of the legal market and practising lawyers at all levels.  Someone who is happy to share insights into the big cases and who acted on them.  Someone who is friendly and happy to educate. Someone who has good examples of who is a great lawyer or advocate.

If you can’t be nice don’t say anything.  Nothing is attributed to you directly but it’s not worth being horrid. It’s not necessary and it could come back to bite you.  Just think of your obituary.

Make it easy. If you can save the researcher time and a few more calls because you have been helpful you have been a great referee.

Tell people what you’ve done for them: Once you’ve been a great referee tell people what you’ve done.  That way, they know they owe you a favour and what goes around comes around. Do feel free to get in touch about, my unique web-based system designed to streamline the directories’ submission process which is currently being used by 830+ lawyers.  I have been filing submissions for both magic circle law firms and top barristers’ chambers for years.

Legal 500 UK Bar 2022: How do you choose your five best cases?

When your marketing team reminds you that you have two days to get your five best cases to them for the past 18 months (we’ve all been given a bit of wiggle room due to Covid-19’s effects on the Courts) how on earth do you choose?

Remember that the researchers at The Legal 500 are journalists, not judges.  They are highly intelligent but are likely to be in their twenties, not their seventh decade.  Having filed submissions for both magic circle law firms and top barristers’ chambers for years here is my advice:

They can count to five: As the researchers ask for five cases give them five. Not one or twenty, just five.  They actually say three to five but five is best, it’s the perfect number.  Just think Chanel.

Think of your audience: Who are you writing your cases for?  Make them interesting. Yes, the researchers are paid to read them, but do you have to make them suffer for their art? Just make it obvious, tell the story.  Litigation is usually about people falling out in some way. Money is just something to argue about, a way to wreak revenge.

Use plain English: A lay person needs to be able to understand your cases so if you use technical legal terms explain them, or better still, leave them out.  Aim for a Plain English award, not a Golden Bull citation.

What elements does the best case contain? It does depend on your practice, but the following are universal:

  • Big numbers. It sounds obvious but it is helpful if you are involved in big money cases. Everyone can relate to £millions particularly if you are eking out a living on tuppence a year as a junior researcher.  And money is a big driver (along with sex and fear but more on those later).
  • A juicy storyline.  Murder? Cripes. Knives? Ouch. People falling out over a multi-million-pound business. Surely not? Do tell us why, businesses are founded on personalities and those can be big: the ramifications of a fall-out can be huge.  Whatever the story, tell it.  The researchers have thousands of cases to read, make yours interesting.
  • Twists and turns. Cases have twists and turns, take us through them, it takes the reader on a journey and we like those.  Elements of cases can stem from human frailties such as a thirst for power, a need for validation or a desire to punish.  All make for a fascinating story.  As a BFF (litigation partner at a top 20 law firm) says, “get a therapist, don’t litigate”.
  • A great punchline: What was the case about? Why is it one of your top five? If you can’t answer this bin the case, it’s obviously not worth it.
  • Sex and Fear: Big drivers for people in terms of responding to marketing but they have no place in your cases.  If they do, for heaven’s sake tell us more.

Do feel free to get in touch about, my unique web-based system designed to streamline the directories’ submission process which is currently being used by 830+ lawyers.  And the Legal 500 UK Bar deadline for London is 16th April 2021.

Legal directories: choosing the right referees

Referees are key to submissions to both legal directories but there are significant differences between the two.  Having filed submissions for both magic circle law firms and top barristers’ chambers for years here is my advice:

More is more.  Legal 500 ask for 20+ referees. It is effectively unlimited.  You can provide fewer but it is really better to try to provide as many as possible.  It also helps to remind you to maintain your relationships all year round, not just reaching out to your contacts two days before the submission deadline.  Chambers only ask for five.

Ask your referees’ permission to put them forward. It sounds obvious but it is often overlooked. It is only polite, for heavens’ sake.  If they engage on your behalf they are doing you a huge favour.  And you can offer to reciprocate.  

Make sure they know who you are.  Oh dear.  Yes, it has happened.  A researcher asked a referee about a particular lawyer and the answer was “who?”.   At the opposite extreme, don’t include your mother!  Referees do not have to be linked to a particular case.  It is an advantage if they have known you for years as they will be able to wax lyrical about your skills as an individual.

Availability.  Availability is a key factor.  Don’t ask the busiest person at the bar to be a referee unless you know that they will prioritise you above everything else that comes into their inbox.  Ditto the Managing Partner at a magic circle law firm.  There is no point in nominating referees who are too busy to be available to the researcher, choose someone less senior in the same team who will engage.

Warm up your referees: It is worth reminding your referees just before the research starts that they have agreed to do this for you.  It’s a pain to check the research schedules but Legal 500 does actually send out emails to remind you.  Legal 500’s Bar Editor Will Tolcher sent one last week about the UK Regional Bar research deadlines.

This is an annual process.  Look after your key relationships all year round and you will not find this onerous or difficult. 

Need some help with directories? Feel free to drop me an email to learn more about, my unique web-based system designed to streamline the directories’ submission process which is currently being used by 750+ lawyers.