Directory survey needs closer look

On the front page of The Lawyer last week was a picture of Chambers and The Legal 500 under the headline “Directories under fire for wasting firms' millions”. A sensational headline. But it bore little resemblance to the article and even less to the report on which the article was based.

Last June, Wheeler Associates was commissioned by a group of disgruntled law firm marketing departments fed up with the number of directories on the market. Wheelers surveyed 500 top UK companies. The report makes interesting reading.

Of greatest value is the survey data itself. Wheelers' interpretation of this data, unfortunately, is occasionally misleading. One major error is the inclusion of clients who simply re-use their old law firms. They don't need advice, but judge their existing firm on past performance.

Let's look, therefore, at the survey results for clients who choose a new firm. They show that 62 per cent went on personal recommendation, 24 per cent used beauty parades, and 22 per cent used legal directories.

But even this analysis is faulty. The report assumes that beauty parades exist in isolation. It ignores that firms are invited onto beauty parades via recommendation or legal directories. If you delete this pseudo-category of beauty parades, you find that those using directories to select firms rises to 30 per cent. And this is the unprompted response. When asked would they use directories to identify law firms, half said they would. This rises to 73per cent among larger companies.

The report also fails to distinguish between different genres of directories. Chambers and The Legal 500 are guides, as opposed to listings like Butterworths or The Law Society's Directory. Listings have a different function and are rarely used for selecting firms.

It is quite easy for casual readers to misunderstand the report if they simply look at the executive summary at the front. You need to study the data within. As law firm marketing departments fast approach a new directory season, they will need to assess which books give them value – which books give them a return on an investment of time and resources. On this point, the Wheeler report gives a clear answer.

Reena SenGupta is editor of Chambers Directory.