The Rise of Legal Award Nominations: Are They Worth It?

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There are currently an estimated 1,200 legal rankings and awards globally—up from 700 just a decade ago, according to The Wall Street Journal. As a law firm or legal marketer, that number makes your head spin as you think about vetting each ranking and determining which to pursue. Even if you only submit to a handful, there is a tremendous amount of time that has to be dedicated to compiling information, drafting the submission and seeing everything through to publication.

To help guide you through the complex nominations’ world, we examine if submitting to legal rankings is worth it, and how to identify the ones that will give you a return on your time investment.

Types of Law Firm Rankings

There are four categories of law firm awards and rankings you may consider pursuing based on the size and location of your firm:

  1. Global:

    Highly competitive and sought after. Consider these an ongoing effort because you need to submit annually. Making the list one year does not guarantee you’ll be ranked the next. The researchers want to see practice growth, successes, etc. in the past year. Examples include Chambers and Partners and Legal 500.

  1. Vote-based:

    These require other attorneys to vote for you in order for you to be ranked, however, most have a no-solicitation policy so it’s important to vote for colleagues, participate in surveys and related research that aids in the final rankings. The process is typically several months long. Examples include Best Lawyers and Super Lawyers.

  1. National:

    These are usually legal outlets that publish their own rankings. There are a variety of categories based on practice type and size of firm. Examples include Law360, American Lawyer and National Law Journal.

  2. Local:

    Similar to “National,” these are state or regional publications that publish rankings. The outlets are selecting firms and lawyers that have worked on precedent-setting cases or interesting matters over the past year. Examples for Los Angeles include Daily Journal and Los Angeles Business Journal.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Where to Submit

  • Read the criteria.

    This may seem obvious, but each outlet has different awards, and they have very specific criteria of who and how they’re ranking. If you’re not looking at each closely to determine if you qualify, you could waste time on a nomination that won’t get reviewed. Sometimes the size of the firm or practice group matters. Age can be a factor for the “Rising Stars” lists. Some nominations allow attorneys or firms to be ranked in consecutive years and some do not. Do the matters submitted need to be publishable? If your cases are confidential, you shouldn’t put forth a submission. Similarly, rankings such as Chambers and Partners, Benchmark Litigation and Legal 500 ask for client references. If you’re not comfortable with researchers contacting your clients, these nominations aren’t a fit.

  • Have realistic expectations.

    Law firms or attorneys can have slower years, and some don’t warrant a submission. Assess the past twelve months and determine whether it’s a good representation of your practice before drafting the nomination. You should also look at lists from prior years to see who is being ranked. This is a great way to set realistic expectations because you can see the type of law firms or lawyers selected. Even though the submission criteria may not state it, you can see if certain lists favor larger firms versus smaller firms, for example. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go after the award, but you need to be aware that if you’re a boutique law firm and they’re predominantly ranking large law firms, your chances may be lower.

Know that it can take a few years for you or your firm to be ranked. If you’re not a household name and it’s your first time submitting, it may take time to build familiarity with the researchers. This isn’t set in stone—firms can often be ranked the first time around, but it’s something to keep in mind if you don’t make the list.

  • Are there red flags?

    If you receive a solicitation or email from a ranking, you’ve never heard of, and it says, “Congratulations, John Doe, you’ve been ranked as an XYZ lawyer in this practice area,” chances are, it’s not legitimate. If you didn’t submit anything to the organization, but you got ranked, that’s usually the first red flag. Very rarely will you get named to a list if you didn’t provide a nomination or participate in voting.

The other red flag is pay-to-play. There are a few pay-to-play rankings that are worth considering, but they’re the exception, not the rule. Typically, when you receive a message “You’ve been ranked,” it requires a membership fee, or you have to pay to get on the list. These rankings are deemed to be less credible than others because they’re not necessarily based on your expertise and successes.

Why You Should Be Submitting

  • Rankings give you recognition.

    Being named to a list offers visibility among prospective clients and referral sources that read the publication. It creates top-of-mind awareness and is a badge of credibility. Being included also increases the likelihood that someone finds you online.

  • Rankings level the playing field.

    If you’re a smaller firm or perhaps even a newer firm, getting recognized on a list puts you in the same category as your competitors. As rankings have expanded and evolved, a greater number of small and boutique firms are being named to these lists.

  • Rankings extend the shelf-life of your successes.

    The real value in getting ranked is being able to leverage the recognition. For example, once you’re ranked, put it on your website, your bio and on the firm’s news page as an announcement. Share the announcement to your social media pages and include in your next firm e-newsletter. Also consider including it in your e-mail signature for a period of time, “Recently ranked on XYZ list.” Most awards offer a badge you can purchase for your website and email signature. Add the badge to marketing materials that you use for prospects. There are numerous ways to maximize a ranking and leveraging it is one of the most important pieces.

Downsides to Submitting

  • Rankings are time consuming.

    If you are submitting to numerous awards each year, they require input from multiple lawyers which means time spent on the nomination and not billable hours. Your marketing team is also dedicating countless hours to compiling the information and finalizing for submission.

  • Rankings may require client involvement.

    For many lists, you have to provide up to twenty clients who can speak to the caliber of your work, which means every year, researchers are contacting your clients. If you want to maintain your rankings, it’s necessary to ask clients for this favor. This can be a sensitive situation for many lawyers who don’t want to bother their clients with this type of request.

  • Rankings may not recognize your firm.

    Your firm may not get included every year so it can feel disappointing to put forth that much time and energy to the submission without getting a positive result. It can be frustrating to look at a list and think, “I’m just as good as any of these lawyers ranked,” but this is the cometitive nature of these awards.

Legal Ranking Don’ts

  • Don’t go after every single ranking.

    Firms need to determine the right mix, and this will vary from firm to firm. Think about your marketing and business development goals. As a boutique firm primarily working in Southern California, does it make sense to go after a national list? If you’re just starting out in the legal ranking world, consider targeting state and regional lists first.

  • Don’t submit every attorney.

    This ties back to having realistic expectations. It’s unlikely an award is going to recognize more than one or two attorneys from a firm (there are exceptions to this), so be judicious in who you submit. There may be politics involved in terms of who your firm needs to submit but have a strategy behind your submissions rather than saying, “We’ll nominate everyone and hope for the best.”

  • Don’t rush the nomination.

    Submissions such as Chambers and Partners really require all hands-on deck to complete. They are comprehensive and should be started several months before the deadline. You also don’t want to find yourself in a situation where several key partners are in the middle of a case and can’t dedicate time to the nomination a week before it’s due.

  • Don’t get discouraged.

    If you continue to be overlooked, but the award is important to you, stick with it. After rankings are announced, follow up with the publisher to obtain feedback on why you weren’t chosen or ask if they have guidance for strengthening next year’s submission. Chambers and Partners is one ranking that provides feedback and offers a report your firm can purchase. Use this information as an internal audit – what is your firm doing well; what could you be doing differently; how are you perceived to the public and media.

View our webinar on legal rankings here.

Listen to our podcast on legal rankings here.

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