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The Brits Love Their Directories. But Why?

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  • The Brits Love Their Directories. But Why?

    We found fascinating this lead to a recent story in the Times of London:
    The tension is palpable in a room at a Central London hotel. A gaggle of law firm business development staff — and even the odd partner on the scrounge for a free drink — nervously quaff warmish fizz and impatiently giggle through a typically quixotic speech by Michael Chambers.

    Every year the founder and publisher of the Chambers directories makes this crowd sweat. They may be entertained by his incidental musing on the state of the legal profession but what they are really twitching over is the moment when he stops talking and unveils this year’s tome.

    Then there is a wildebeest-like rush to the tables stacked high with freshly minted directories and a flurry of page-turning as marketing team leaders desperately assess whether their firms are up, down or even out of the all-important ranking tables.

    Color us flabbergasted. Does this really happen in London? If so, why?

    And does it happen in New York, Washington, Chicago, Houston or LA? And if so, double why?

    Okay, so assuming that it does happen in London (and possibly elsewhere), the Times of London asks what appears to us to be a very reasonable question: do directories like Chambers “matter”?

    The Times of London, supported by a recent survey, expresses its doubts.
    The London and New York professional services researchers Acritas recently surveyed 500 leading general counsel — arguably the main target market for the directories — and found that only 5 per cent considered the directories relevant in making decisions on instructing external lawyers for specific pieces of work. Only 3 per cent said that they have been influenced significantly by information in the directories.

    By that math, some 95 percent of general counsel don’t use directories like Chambers and Legal 500 for figuring out whom to hire. That generally squares with what we know about how lawyers get chosen — through word-of-mouth and through personal connections, not through a reference book.

    That said, according to the story, Chambers and Legal 500 remain bullish. John Pritchard, the founder of Legalese’s Legal 500, says: “The more independent analysis and commentary there is of the UK and global market then the better that is for market participants and their clients.”

    Senior law firm partners agree. “They perform a valuable role — they bring some transparency to the market,” says David Bickerton, head of the London office of Clifford Chance, before adding: “An awful lot of clients read these things.”

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