Legal directory submissions have been a regular business development fixture across global legal markets for years – starting with the UK market more than 25 years ago.

Participants have undoubtedly become savvier about what it takes to produce compelling submissions. Yet, every year we hear about the significant time and cost involved in completing a set of ‘best foot forward’ submissions and the challenge of sparking enthusiasm from lawyers and barristers to provide the intel required.

However, there are some serious strategic benefits to the work that goes into a submission that are largely overlooked. Done right, they can yield efficiency savings and ‘wins’ for the firm in other business development activities.

Take up recycling!

Bids, tenders, and proposals are the cousins of the directory submission, sharing many attributes. A few examples:

  • The discipline: teams of lawyers, business development, and marketing professionals coordinating their time and effort to produce informed, focused content to meet the submission requirements and deadlines.
  • Understanding the process: whether submission or tender you must know your reader and have a very clear grasp of the process and how the information you provide will be evaluated and used.
  • Strategic planning and clearly presented evidence: in both instances, having fully understood the process, the goal is to communicate relevant value and impact. To do this, you must understand your worth within the relevant market or sector and be able to evidence it. Everyone says they are best – but can you prove it?

Submissions and the legal directories themselves are a gold mine for bid teams, providing a wealth of current and informed killer content. And the ‘recycling’ isn’t all one way. Work done for the directories can be repurposed for bids and tenders.

Partners hate being asked to repeat work they’ve already done. Having been a bid manager in a previous life, I know that ‘we provided all of this information for the last The Legal 500 submission’, was often the response to a request for information for a tender. Creating and using submissions to maintain an up-to-date ‘bid library’ for tenders, CVs, deal summaries, and award submissions works well.

Business planning and client management strategic audit

While firms and barristers will approach their directories submission process differently, like a tender it is important to scope key messages and identify relevant evidence before putting any words on paper. And if in the end you are unhappy with your ranking or write-up, you need to know why. Your dissatisfaction might be clear, but is your strategy and argument?

If a firm has a well thought through strategic plan, writing submissions for key practice areas should be straightforward as the information required (key strengths, key clients, matter highlights) should be clear.  If the scoping session is more like pulling teeth or sounds more aspirational than a look back over a busy year, this should be a flag to business development teams and heads of department.

Why has the team not achieved objectives and goals set out in a business plan (and if there aren’t any, why not)? If matter highlights are difficult to identify, or a team fails to show strength and activity across the ranks, is there an issue with the team structure, experience, or training deficit or is effective delegation an issue? Is the team unrealistic in terms of its capability in a particular market or sector?

The directories process is a valuable opportunity to carry out an internal audit of strategic business plans and evaluate key client relationships. For example, when pulling together matter highlights are any key clients missing from the list of top matters – and if so, why? If a team can’t put forward new client names, does there need to be a renewed focus on targeted growth plans and pipeline?

Focused and well-presented content

What makes it in to a directory is incredibly brief. With the discipline of a tender specialist, ask yourself – is the volume and content of information you’ve thrown at the submission appropriate? Is there a chance the things you want to be understood could get lost? Sometimes, getting to the point quickly can be the best time-saver of all when up against deadlines.

Ultimately, the power of a standout ranking is clear. However, often overlooked, there is significant value to be gained from the submission process and content itself to support wider business development activities.

This article was originally published in fivehundred magazine, February 2019 edition, available online.