While the number of directories and distinctions for law firms and lawyers have proliferated over the past few decades, the number of outside advisors providing effective assistance in this nuanced area has remained narrow. Sitting atop the field is Kidd Aitken, which has been devoted to helping lawyers and firms improve their recognitions since its 2015 founding by Daniel Kidd and Jacob Aitken. As Aitken explains, experience matters when advising firms on submissions to avoid pitfalls – such as pushing too many partners for an award, and either including too much information or too little of the key details. Kidd Aitken advises firms operating in a wide range of global regions and is equally adept at assisting perennial participants in awards processes as well as newcomers.

Lawdragon: Can you tell our readers about what Kidd Aitken does?

Jacob Aitken: Kidd Aitken is the world’s largest legal directories and awards consultancy. We believe that appearing in the top tiers of legal directory rankings is the best form of marketing any law firm can have. We consult on or undertake the entire legal directory submission process. From writing submissions for multiple partners and practice areas, managing the post-submission client feedback process with our team of coordinators to developing strategies for their submissions in the short, medium and long terms.

Kidd Aitken is proud to deliver both first-time and improved rankings for firms of all sizes and sectors in all major directories.

LD: How did you become interested in this type of work?

JA: After graduating from university, I joined Chambers and Partners. I spent two years as a researcher and a subsequent three as the first Editor of the Chambers Latin America guide. I launched the first edition of this guide in 2008, and went on to edit the subsequent two editions, responsible for every ranking table within. This involved reviewing thousands of submissions and coordinating the work of a team of 15 researchers.

Through my experience with Chambers and knowledge of how law firms undertake the legal directory submissions process, I realized that there was an opportunity to support law firms with their submissions strategy and rankings aspirations. I launched my own consultancy, JD Aitken Consulting, in 2010, before joining forces with Daniel Kidd, a long-time friend and colleague who followed a similar career path. We realized we were stronger together, so in 2015 we founded Kidd Aitken.

LD: Can you tell us about a client experience or relationship that exemplifies the firm’s services?

JA: We’re particularly proud of our relationship with a large Australian firm client who had been submitting to The Legal 500 and Chambers for many years. However, their rankings were not reflective of the experience and performance of their partners. They were ranking low in both firm and individual rankings, even though they were a leading firm in a number of key practice areas including capital markets, competition, dispute resolution, intellectual property and M&A.

The firm felt they faced difficulty in competing with other firms as they did not have an international network of offices. We encounter many firms who feel this way. In our experience, we know this is about positioning and highlighting how a firm provides cross-border services and the relationships they have with other firms.

LD: What were some of the challenges of helping in this process?

JA: We were consulted to address these challenges and quickly implemented a number of initiatives to improve their submissions process.

It was clear our client put a lot of work into their submissions, but the level of detail they included in them was actually working against them. Legal directory researchers often don’t have the time to read and digest lengthy submissions. We worked with the internal marketing team to edit their submissions to make the messaging punchier and reduce their length by at least 50 percent. Each submission became much more focussed on what the Chambers researchers would be interested to read and presented the information in a clear format. Small changes such as these can be immensely impactful when aiming for the top tiers of legal directories.

The client’s previous levels of referee feedback were very low. We helped them select the most helpful clients to give the references. We managed this process for them and monitored the rates of feedback. In the end, we doubled the rates of feedback for a number of key practices.

LD: What is the impact on the client?

JA: At the beginning of the process, the firm set two targets. First, to raise their rankings across the board, for both the firm and the partners’ individual standings. Secondly was for our client to be ranked in Band 1 for the newly established Life Sciences practice area, in which they were a market leader.

We were proud to help them gain their largest ever improvement in their rankings across three directories. Since we have been working with them, the firm has received six new Band 1 firm rankings, and 18 improved rankings. In individual guides, 54 partners in the firm have received improved rankings or were ranked for the first time. And yes, they reached Band 1 for the Life Sciences practice.

However, reaching the top tiers of legal directories wasn’t their only achievement. They also won the Firm of the Year award at the Chambers Annual Awards for their jurisdiction.

These results were just the beginning of our relationship with this client. We’re now entering our fifth year of working together and are focusing on their long-term legal directories strategy. We’re excited to see what we can achieve together in the coming years.

LD: What advice would you give potential clients in terms of how to most productively work with an outside advisor?”

JA: Trust and transparency with any external consultant are of the utmost importance. This enables us to fully understand what the law firm is trying to achieve with their rankings and ensure that the firm maximizes the results from the process. We would be unable to produce the stellar rankings that we know our clients deserve without full collaboration to receive the required information for submissions. Such as key details for work highlights, biographies and narrative pitches.

It also goes both ways. Frequently, we advise firms to reduce the number of partners put forward for ranking. Some firms submit a high number of lawyers in order to maximize their chance of being ranked but this can actually backfire. Without sufficient evidence, this can result in the pitch being spread too thin, ultimately reducing everyone’s chances of achieving a ranking. Whilst it is a tricky conversation to have, the firm has to trust that we will make these difficult calls for the good of the firm and, ultimately, their chances of new or improved rankings.

LD: In what ways does innovation characterize what you do?

JA: Pursuing a ranking in a legal directory can be a time-consuming and resource-intensive process. In fact, in a recent webinar we held for legal professionals, 43% of attendees said that their teams spend between 30%-50% of their time and resources on legal directories. I know first-hand how exhausting firms can find this process and understand why. Especially when the chances of improved or new rankings are hard to achieve – particularly for firms who have never submitted before.

We relieve the burden on firms, allowing their in-house marketing teams and partners to redirect their time and resources to other projects. Our international team comprises former editors and researchers from Chambers, Legal 500 and other major legal directories who operate across both U.S. and UK time zones. Collectively, they have reviewed tens of thousands of submissions through their careers and know what to look for in a high-quality submission.

Plus, we’re the only legal directory consultancy based in the UK to work across U.S. time zones, through our recently opened office in Mexico. Staying close to the London-based legal directories, while working to a firm’s busy schedule.

LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?

JA: In the rare moments when I’m not supporting law firms with their legal marketing strategies, you will find me on the banks of a river or lake pursuing my love of angling. Whether that be chasing an elusive, large carp or casting a fly to unsuspecting salmon or trout, being by the water and following my childhood dreams of catching large fish around the world is where I find time to reflect and recharge my batteries.