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How to maximise your Legal 500 guide coverage

March 2018

ICON would like to say a big thank you to John van der Luit-Drummond, the Legal 500 Asia Pacific Editor, for taking time this week to tell our Singapore chapter how law firms can maximise their coverage in his highly influential guide.

In this interview, Annabel Bowen, BD Manager with Pinsent Masons MPillay and ICON Singapore Committee member, asks John for his key points.

You can also find below his detailed advice in writing, which includes his contacts if you have any more queries.

Deadline: Friday 18 May 2018

www.legal500.com/assets/pages/about-us/get-involved.html This link includes submission and referee deadlines, details of when interviews will be taking place, information on when the list of researchers (and contact details for each practice area) will be available, submission guidelines and referee spreadsheet templates.

Why deadlines are important

Researchers work within very tight timeframes; the more submissions that reach us on time, the more time they can spend researching the market and interviewing.

Referees sent to us before the deadline will be contacted earlier on in the research process, leaving time to recognise any problems with response rates before the writing begins.

There is some overlap with referees, in that firms will often put forward the same referees. In this instance, we would send one email asking for feedback on multiple firms. Any late referees that have already been contacted for feedback on other firms will not be contacted again.


We work to the same timeframe every year.

January – April: Editors’ trips around the region/answering publication queries

Mid-late May: Submission and referee deadline

June and July: Research process/interview period/referees contacted

July and August: Researchers write their chapters/rankings put together

September/October: Editing/production

Early/mid-November: Publication comes out

December: Editor and deputy editors answer publication queries

The research process

The research process takes place in June and July every year. Researchers will aim to contact every firm that has submitted, and will interview a cross-section of practice areas and firms. If you’d like to request an interview or meeting, it is advisable to contact the relevant researcher(s) at the very start of the process.

Once the research process is over, researchers will focus on writing their chapter(s) and will not be able to schedule any interviews during this time.

The team

The Legal 500 research team includes ex-lawyers, law graduates and former journalists. Researchers work on a cycle, typically covering four directories a year. In 2017, most Asia Pacific researchers had either researched the region or their specific jurisdiction before.

In order to ensure researchers are aware of the nuances of practice areas as well as varying legal markets, we have an ongoing training programme carried out both internally (by editors) and externally (by law firms).

Who is the researcher?

The researcher list is published here: www.legal500.com/assets/pages/about-us/get-involved.html on the first day of research (early June). Interviews are allocated on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis.

NEW: Online submissions

The all new submission process for The Legal 500 Asia Pacific guide has arrived! In recent weeks UK-based law firms have been beta testing our new look submission process. A few wrinkles have been ironed out, and we now have a system that will be the foundation of all submissions in 2018.

Firms applying for inclusion in our next Asia Pacific guide will be the first required to submit using the new format, either via our Word document template or our online form. Chambers applying for the English Bar section should submit in the usual way this year.

It is important to note that, while the submission process is changing, the information we are asking for is the same as you have previously submitted, it just needs to arrive to us in our template. For any enquiries about the new submissions system, or if you want to know more, please contact submissions@legal500.com.

Why have these changes been introduced?

The way in which we research and present our findings of the legal services market has changed considerably in the 30 years since the first edition of The Legal 500 UK was published. We’re moving away from printed editions to a wholly digital platform, enabling us to fully utilise the breadth and depth of information obtained during the course of our research to deliver greater insight and analysis than ever before.

The changes to the submission process have been made to provide greater flexibility with the information supplied by law firms – we understand the work and effort that goes into compiling the information for these submissions, and this new system will ensure that we are making the most of that information and, therefore, delivering greater market coverage.

From a logistical standpoint, the changes will mean that firms will no longer have to email rafts of submissions and referee spreadsheets ahead of the deadline – all submissions and referee spreadsheets will simply be uploaded into our online portal, where firms will be able to view and keep track of the submissions that have been uploaded. So no more concerns over lost submissions.

How does the new submission process work?

Those submitting for Asia Pacific 2019 now have the following options:

  • use the online form to fill in and submit their submissions. You can save a draft of your online form at any time while you’re working on it. You can also generate a preview of the form for the purposes of printing off/circulating among various stakeholders for sign off of content. Once the form is completed and you hit publish, no further changes can be made by the firm. Any subsequent amends should be emailed to editorial@legal500.com;
  • download and use the template Word document. This is a replica of the online form which you can fill in offline. You can access the form here. Once completed, the template document can be uploaded directly to submissions.legal500.com.

How do I access the online form?

Asia Pacific-based firms will have been emailed login details to access our online portal. If your firm has not received a login, please email submissions@legal500.com to request access.

The online form can be accessed at the following link: submissions.legal500.com.

How do I fill it in?

When filling in the form, please refer to the editorial guidelines. These can be found by scrolling down the page and clicking on the banner titled THE LEGAL 500 ASIA PACIFIC. The guidelines/FAQs/referee spreadsheets will be accessible from the expanded content.

I’ve already begun to compile my submissions using a different template – do I need to switch to the new online form/Word document template?

The new submission template is the only way firms will be able to submit in 2018.  Chambers applying for the English Bar section should submit in the usual way this year.

Structuring submissions

A separate submission should be sent for each practice area.

The information we expect to find inside your submissions are:

  1. Feedback on the rankings in the current edition
  2. Practice area overview
    • The key achievements of the firm within the practice area over the last 12 months
    • Significant developments
  3. Up to 20 work highlights
  4. A list of key clients (10 – 20, including any new client gains)
  5. Team information
    • How many partners spend more than 50% of their time practising in the area;
    • Have there been any key arrivals/departures; and
    • Leading individuals and next generation lawyers

What makes a good submission?

Try not to send too much extraneous detail and instead focus on the key messages the firm wants the researcher to take into consideration.

There is a tendency for firms to get bogged down in the technicalities when describing a deal/case; ensure that the submission clearly illustrates why each work highlight is a ‘highlight’. Explain how it is complex, groundbreaking and/or unique. What did the lawyers bring to the case?

In the team information, you may like to suggest leading individuals but please be selective and realistic. We have made the conscious decision to keep our leading individual lists shorter and more elite compared to other directories. Ensure the people you are putting forward specialise in the area are a partner with a long track record/strong reputation.

Next generation lawyers. Law firms are encouraged to include details of a select few associates and/or counsel they see as rising stars.

In the arrivals/departures section, state where the lawyers have arrived from/moved to.

Finally, never underestimate the importance of the submission overview. This your chance to highlight the key messages you wish to get across to the researcher. It puts everything into context and should be easy to read – putting lawyer names/standout mandates in bold in this section also helps to draw the researchers’ attention to the points of note.

Common mistakes

Re-sending submissions originally meant for other directories, with feedback that does not apply to our rankings.

Copying and pasting information from the lawyers’ online profiles.

Citing work highlights without any details of the firm’s involvement.

Bulking up the team size with partners who do not specialise in the area.

Leaving out key partner departures in submissions in the hope we won’t find out. Just be honest with us. It’s far better that researchers hear it directly from the firm involved (and that the firm has the chance to explain the situation in interview) rather than leaving it for the researchers to find out (which they will!) from another firm.

Sending submissions when all the work is being led out of another jurisdiction. We appreciate that work is increasingly cross-border and cross-office in nature but our focus is on where the team is based, we would expect a significant portion of the work to be led from lawyers based in Hong Kong in order to eligible for the Hong Kong rankings, for example.

Listing rankings and awards given by other publications. We do not take awards into account when ranking as it is hard for us to judge credibility of such accolades, we also do not know the factors that were taken into account in order to achieve the award. With regards to rankings of other directories, we tend to take a look at these anyway, so it's not necessary to include these in the submission.

Firms submitting when they shouldn't. We always advise you to start by looking at our current bottom tier before submitting. If they can honestly say that you are on a par with those currently ranked, then by all means do submit. But you aren't, then don't.

Not asking for feedback. If you have been trying and failing to get ranked, then why not ask the question?

Including referees in the submission. This takes up unnecessary space. The referees should be submitted in an Excel spreadsheet using the template provided here: www.legal500.com/assets/pages/about-us/get-involved.html

Some FAQs

Q: Can firms include the same work highlight in two submissions for different practice areas?

A: Yes, there will always be instances where a matter straddles two (sometimes three) practice areas.

Q: If a the firm has launched a new practice group following lateral hire(s), how long should the firm wait until it submits for a ranking?

A: We need to have evidence of track record in the area, and cannot rely on work carried out by lawyers at their previous firm so we would normally wait for a year of experience at the new firm in this instance.

Q: Do researchers look at lawyers’ online profiles?

A: Yes, on firm websites and LinkedIn, so ensure they are keeping these up to date. We would expect all partners mentioned on a submission to have that practice area mentioned prominently on their online profile.

Q: Do a firm’s referees have to be involved in the matters in the submissions?

A: No, as long as the individual has worked with the firm in the past 18 months and can comment on their strengths and qualities.


Who can be a referee?

In-house counsel


Other law firms

How we contact referees

All referees provided before the deadline, in the correct format, will be contacted by email.

It is important that the referees are sent to us in the correct spreadsheet format (using the template here: www.legal500.com/assets/pages/about-us/get-involved.html). Referees are contacted using an automated system that (a) extracts data from correctly completed Excel spreadsheets only, and (b) sends feedback request emails from the researchers’ Legal 500 email addresses. In 2017, the system contacted almost 300,000 referees globally.

The email asks referees five questions and normally gives a two-week deadline for responses.

What are the questions?

  1. How long have you used the firm in this area/these areas, and on what type/value of work do you instruct it?
  2. How would you assess the overall level of service? (Factors may include response times, business acumen/industry knowledge, appropriateness of advice, strength-in-depth of team, and value for money).
  3. Which partners would you single out as being particularly good? What do you see as their strengths and qualities?
  4. Which associates or lawyers at pre-partner level would you single out as being particularly good? What do you see as their strengths and qualities?
  5. How does the firm compare to any others of which you have experience in this area? Would you recommend any other firms/lawyers?

We will only email referees once during the research period. They will then receive an email in November, stating that the Legal 500 rankings are available to view online, free of charge. Referees will not be put on any marketing lists.

We have found that emailing referees is the most efficient way of gaining feedback. However, we are happy to speak to referees over the phone instead, if they respond to our email requesting a call.

How to improve response rates

Provide as many as possible! There is no limit to how many referees a firm can put forward, a minimum of 15 per practice area is recommended.

Put forward referees who are more likely to respond (bearing in mind that senior figures are generally busier).

Sometimes firms focus too heavily on referees that are likely to impress us, but we find it more effective to measure the number of responses rather than the profile/seniority of those responding.

Send them to us on time, by the deadline.

Make referees aware that we will be contacting them via email. As a rough guide, referees sent on time will normally be emailed around six weeks after the referee deadline.

Ensure that referees realise it normally only takes around two minutes to reply to our emails. We don’t send lengthy questionnaires that can only be accessed through links and will ask a maximum of five simple questions.

Put forward referees who have worked with the firm in the past year (or at the very most, two years). Referees who worked with the firm over two years ago will be less inclined to respond. Greater weight will be placed on recent references.

When selecting referees, think about those who have a good relationship with firm (rather than just one partner). That way, they can also provide quotes on service from the firm as a whole, as well as other lawyers in the firm that they have had dealings with


How we conduct interviews

Researchers will carry out a series of telephone and face-to-face interviews where appropriate.

We will typically ask firms to choose up to three practice areas they would like an interview for. Our research period is only two months in length and therefore the researchers cannot interview every firm on every area they have submitted for. Firms should nominate practice areas for interview by choosing those that (a) they feel are under-ranked, or (b) where there have been significant developments over the past 12 months.

Interviews are not conducive to rankings. They are the chance for firms to put their case across in their own words.

How to secure an interview

Get in touch early on in the research process (at the start of June). Don’t wait for the researcher to contact you, as by then it may be too late. The researcher contact details are available to view here: www.legal500.com/assets/pages/about-us/get-involved.html

Law firm visits are allocated based on the following:

  • Whether or not the firm had the opportunity to meet the researcher last year
  • How many practice areas the firm has submitted for that are relevant to the researcher allocations
  • Developments over the past year

The rankings: Factors we consider


Work highlights

Referee feedback

Size and collective strength of the team

Calibre of clients

Scope of practice

Track record in the area

It is also worth noting that, although the importance of these factors does vary by practice area, the two single most important factors are (a) credible recent work highlights and (b) referee feedback.

In interviews, researchers will ask about the rankings and other firms, but peer feedback is not a factor we take into account for the rankings; it’s asked in order to give the researcher a steer on partner moves/developments at other firms that they may not be aware of yet.

Leading individuals and Next generation lawyers

Referee feedback/general reputation in the market

Degree of specialisation and track record in the practice area

Role in the work highlights – it is important that leading individuals and next generation lawyers feature prominently on the submission and remain active in standout deal.

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The Legal 500 Asia Pacific Editor: John van der Luit-Drummond




This Insight is related to the event ICON Singapore: The Legal 500 Best Practice, held on 6 March 2018. The full content can also be found on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-maximise-your-coverage-legal-500-guide-jodi-rabinowitz/
For more details on this event, please click here.

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