The best of the best
“A subjective overview based on systematic research,” goes the summary written by the editors in the introduction of the 2013 copy of the Legal 500, a guide ranking law firms from all over the world. The publication, along with peers such as Chambers and Partners and IFLR1000, gathers information from clients and rival lawyers to rank law firms. Below is the list of international law firms operating in Hungary that has been recommended in the most areas of legal act ivities in 2013 (in top categories of various ranking bodies, e.g. Band 1 with Chambers Europe and Chambers Global, and Tier 1 with Legal 500).
These sturdy books (and their online versions) come with sections equivalent to major practice fields like M&A, competition or IT. Firms are placed according to the number and value of deals done, the efficiency and speed of handling assignments and the quality of service provided. Editors makes interviews, review court records, watch deal news and trawl through press reports. The research results in descriptions such as “a go-to firm for tax advice”, or quotes from clients like “aggressive, client-oriented and driven by success”. The guides also mention significant new hires, new client relationships, and areas of key expertise.
It is not always clear how companies on a lookout for legal representation interpret a description like a “strong, big and capable firm” or a Tier 2 position. According to series IFLR1000 EMEA editor Sam Duke, it is up to them. “I think it’s fair to say that no-one would make a mandate decision based solely on a ranking, but it gives good guidance as to the group of firms they might wish to employ.”
Indeed, rankings are used more as a starting point, helping clients orientate themselves in jurisdictions they are unfamiliar with. “The Legal 500 surveyed clients to find out how they use our rankings,” said Mike Nash, the guide’s EMEA editor. “From 1,600 corporate/legal decision-maker respondents, 68% said they used the Legal 500 for initial research (e.g. to get ideas about which law firms to approach), and 32% used it to validate the opinions of others.” Though not common, ranking as a criterion may appear in a call for a tender, but relevant experience in the field and referrals probably weigh more. Guides can be helpful to see if the counsel the company used previously is still performing in the market.
For firms, the significance of rankings depends on how competitive the market is. “In certain jurisdictions where competition is fierce and the market is growing, a ranking gains more importance,” Duke noted. It also varies by location. In neighboring Austria, law firms and attorneys in general tend to take it more seriously. There, the career path toward partnership is better defined so it counts more how lawyers and their firms place. “Large international firms are happy to participate in the research, they tend to be more enthusiastic in the emerging markets where they are still forging reputations.”
No matter how thorough they claim they are with research, ranking guides’ results often disappoint law firms who believe they should be better placed.
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