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Legal Nominations: Are they Worth It? [WEBINAR]
Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The number of legal rankings has grown exponentially over the years, and in turn, so has the time, energy and resources you devote to them — but are they even worth it? And how do you determine which ones to pursue? Berbay Marketing & PR Principal Megan Braverman answers these questions and more in Berbay’s latest webinar. Read the transcript below.

Megan Braverman:  

Hello, everyone. Thank you again for listening. We are talking about the very interesting subject of nominations and rankings which I think makes us all crazy. Rankings and legal nominations, they are so time-consuming; it’s such an extensive process. You have to do it year after year. It really gets annoying. Plus, on top of it, with the really competitive ones, you have to bug your clients year after year. They’re highly competitive and then on top of it, you have these hurt feelings when you don’t even make the list. So, that’s what we’re here to talk about today. Are they worth it? Should you even do it? 

Before we get started, I’m Megan Braverman. My company is Berbay Marketing & Public Relations. Here is my lovely team of women. We are a small firm in California. We work with law firms, real estate companies and financial service firms, and we manage their marketing and public relations campaigns. Thanks again for listening.

There are a flurry of lawyer rankings and when I first started in this business, I think there are about half of what there is now. We have something called our “lists of lists.” We manage every single legal award. There are well over 200 now. There’s just so many that it’s hard to keep track. In fact, I like to compare it to walking into a department store. For those of you who are shoppers, I have a store called Dillard’s where I grew up in Cleveland. I don’t think Dillard’s is in California. It’s a great place to shop, but it’s always a mess and it’s like when you walk into the department store that’s a mess, there are three kinds of people: one person that will walk in and find the gems, and the other kinds of people will walk in and walk right out because they can’t deal with it, and the third type of people is you walk in and you just walk around aimlessly, and that’s kind of how I feel with lawyer rankings. There are so many that people don’t even know what to do with them and some just decide to tap out because there are too many. You have to sift through the clutter. We’re going to talk a little bit about which ones to pursue and which ones to not pursue. 

Sadly, there are a lot of not legitimate nominations and awards out there. As a rule of thumb, we always avoid pay-to-play. If there are a few things you can take away of which ones you shouldn’t pursue, avoid pay-to-play. If there is a fee to submit yourself, there’s a reason for that fee. It’s probably not legitimate. If you never nominated yourself for an award, but you got an email and they said you were ranked, it’s probably not legitimate. There are a few red flags that you can look out for, but regardless, how do you sift through the good ones? And just so you know, there is this statistic that law firms on average spend $150,000 annually in employee time and expenses each year to complete awards. It’s clearly a big expense. 

At the start of the presentation, I talked about reasons that you shouldn’t pursue. I mean I had talked about how time-consuming it is, the extensive process, the fact that you may not get ranked, you have to do it year after year, but let’s talk about why you should pursue nominations.

One reason to consider legal nominations and rankings is the visibility that it gets. So, get your name out there. Very simply, it helps you build recognition and it’s a third party who is ranking you, so it gives you that third-party credibility. The second piece is if you’re a smaller firm, it helps level the playing field with big firms. Lately, there has been more and more room for smaller firms to get on the list when it was predominantly you would see a lot of big firms, a lot of big names. Smaller firms, boutique firms are starting to make the list.

It also extends the shelf life of your successes. For example, if you have a great case or a success, it gets you that coverage on your case and success.

The fourth is that it’s a business development opportunity. People are looking at these rankings. In fact, some people who don’t care about the rankings or know nothing about the rankings, they see that badge on your website as a badge of credibility. So, unbeknownst to the person that’s hiring you, it may just show them when they see a top lawyer or a top IP attorney, it gives you that extra credibility and helps you get your foot in the door even more, and it’s a great way to find you online. As you all know, being found online is incredibly important. When you’re listed on these rankings, a lot of those come very high on Google, so you’re found more easily.

Now let’s talk about what the big million-dollar question is, what does in-house counsel say? I get asked this all the time because people want to know, do in-house counsel care? I’ll tell you what I know. So, really the verdict is still out and I have to say—and I’m sure some of you who are listening on this could have been at this conference that I was at—we have panels of in-house counsel and oftentimes the question that comes up is, do you care about nominations, and it’s really a split. I’ll never forget when at one conference, a senior in-house counsel said he could care less and literally the entire crowd started cheering. So, it’s very clear that people are tired of lists. A couple of things that I’ve heard at these conferences over and over and over again is a lot of in-house counsel say they use it to find local counsel or they use it to find a certain area of law that they might not know an attorney in. For example, if in-house counsel is looking for a California local counsel, they might use it or if they’re looking for lawyer that does something very specialized. Again, I talked about the badge of credibility and thirdly it’s kind of a baseline. It’s like keeping up with the Joneses. A lot of people are doing it. Your competitors are doing it. So, a lot of times people decide to pursue these nominations just because their competitors are in it. 

Before we go into whether nominations are actually worth it, I want to explain that there are four types of rankings. One is global rankings and I’m going to give you some examples of these, but as you can see with some of the logos—Chambers and Partners, Legal 500—these are the global rankings. They’re ranking everyone across the globe. The second type of ranking is voting-based. This is where your peers have to vote for you. Examples of this are Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers. Third is national. So, National Law Journal, Law360; these are national publications that are publishing rankings. They rank firms on a national basis, and fourth is local and I’ve given examples of local nominations within California—Daily Journal, Los Angeles Business Journal—but most likely in your local or regional area, they’re going to have local ones where outlets have local rankings.

I want to talk a little bit about each. The global rankings like Chambers and Partners and the Legal 500, they are highly competitive. They are very difficult lists to get on. They are very time-consuming. Chambers and Partners, their nomination is 20 pages long and I’m sure if anyone on this call has done Chambers, you can understand the time that it takes. The issue with these rankings specifically is it requires your client’s time. With Chambers and Legal 500, you have to list clients that they can contact and talk with about the caliber of your work. The frustrating part about this is you have to do it year after year. That’s why I put here a forever effort and you usually don’t get ranked the first year, second year, sometimes third year. It takes a really long time to get noticed by these rankings and so the global rankings are the toughest ones.

The voting-based rankings, the challenge here is that there’s a no solicitation policy. If you want to get ranked on Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers, as I had mentioned, you have to have your peers vote for you. These two specific lists, if you’re a Super Lawyes or a Best Lawyer, you can vote. So, you have get to Super Lawyers or Best Lawyers-ranked attorneys to vote for you and it’s by region, and so because they have no solicitation calls, you really can go ahead and email your database and find out who of those people are ranked and say, “Please vote for me” and they look at back-scratching and they look at a lot of different things that work against you. The other thing with these is that you have to participate in a several-month process. There’s a lot of research; there’s a voting period; there’s a period where you have to really update your information online. It really sometimes can be a six-month process.

The last two, national rankings are also very competitive. National Law Journal, for example, they have a “Litigation Trailblazers” list. Every litigator in the nation can submit and potentially be eligible for this list. These list specifically, your matters, meaning each nomination is going to ask you in the last twelve months what you did, why should they rank you, what were your successes in the last twelve months. It’s really important to have good cases to showcase the caliber of your work and what you’ve done over the last year, and they’re typically essay form. Sometimes it’s, tell us why you should be ranked in 300 words. Sometimes it’s, fill out these specific matters and tell us about them. Local rankings, also operate similarly, but these are state or regional rankings. Your matter still matters. They are ranking lawyers and law firms based on your successes over the past twelve months and these are also typically essay form.

I want to talk a little bit about what not to do with legal rankings. I can’t express this enough and if you walk away with anything from this presentation, I think this would be it. You cannot go after every single nomination. If you are, you’re wasting your time. You have to determine the right mix and those really should align with your business and marketing goals. For example, if you’re really trying to get more attention on a particular practice area—let’s say your renewable energy practice area or your IP practice area—then maybe you should go after the ones that are highlighting those practices. The other thing is if you’re not marketing nationally—let’s say you only represent people in California; you only represent folks in New York—then maybe think about not going after the national ones. The national ones are harder to get on; they are more time-consuming. Consider starting with the local and regional first. That’s what I always recommend. If you’ve never done this before, start small, do the state or regional, then work your way up to national. 

You also want to think about what your clients care about. For example, many of your clients might not know anything about rankings and that’s fine, but think about what your clients might be reading. Maybe they’re reading Law360 and that’s what you want to get in front of. Maybe they’re reading trade outlets and you want to see if any of the trade publications have these kinds of rankings. Think about what your clients would actually care about. I’ll give you an example: If you are a plaintiff law firm and you’re representing consumers, consider doing Best Lawyers and Super Lawyers because that’s really a lot of what the consumers see, and it’s got a great public perception. You don’t need to go after Chambers and Partners if you’re a plaintiff law firm. If you’re a family law firm, same kind of thing you want to consider. Maybe start with the state or the regional and look at national next. 

The other thing is you don’t want to submit is your whole firm. This really deals with some of the political aspects within a firm. Sometimes we work with firms and they’ve been doing rankings before and they’re submitting ten of their attorneys for one list. Those attorneys are really competing against themselves. Oftentimes, you’ll see with a ranking they may rank two lawyers from a law firm. It does happen. Sometimes, with the larger lists, you’ll see that, but oftentimes with the state or regional ones or even national ones, they really don’t like to rank two attorneys from the same law firm. You have to be strategic. I know sometimes this is difficult because you want to support some people and you want to make sure that they feel special and that they’ve got marketing support. You have to be realistic and of course, think of your long-term goals. If it’s an associate for example, go after the rising stars list versus trying to submit them to a national or a state list where they might have less of a chance of getting on. 

Here are some of the things that you should do, and I think this is equally important. You have to read the criteria. I can’t tell you enough. We’ve worked with firms where I always question—I was thinking why in the heck were they going after these submissions. They’re not a fit. So, as I kept saying before, your matters matter. The kind of matters—you have to read everything. So sometimes they want a bench or a jury trial. Sometimes, it’s based on the number of attorneys. You won’t even qualify unless you have 50 lawyers. Sometimes it’s age, like a lot of the younger ones are under 40. You have to look at these things first because if you’re trying to cross those lines, “Oh well, I’m not quite there, but I’ll just submit anyway,” it doesn’t make sense. It’s not worth your time. Another thing is check to see if they rank consecutively. I’ll give you an example: Daily Journal, which is a local publication in California, there are some of their lists where they will not rank consecutively, meaning, if you were on last year’s list, you are not eligible for the next year’s list. They want to spread the love. Also, check about client references. If you’re not going to submit client references and that’s what they want, you’re probably not going to get ranked. You really have to read the criteria over and over and over again.

The item to think about is you have to set realistic expectations. Every list that we work with is looking at the last 12 months of successes. You can stretch that a little bit, maybe 13, maybe 14 months, but really the last year. If you had a bad year; if you just didn’t have a lot of successes or maybe they weren’t noteworthy enough or precedent-setting, think about skipping this year. You might want to invest your time in another marketing initiative that’s as worthwhile.

The other thing too, is you want to look at previous lists. This is really, really, really important. I can’t tell you how many times we will scour through previous lists to see what the outlets are focusing on. Maybe it is predominantly big firms and if you’re a small firm, it might not make sense to go after them. If you feel like the successes that they’re highlighting in these lists are monumental precedent-setting cases and yours isn’t, then you may want to consider passing. Let’s say you had a bad year or a decent year, there are some times when you submit that you’re not going to get ranked, but it creates a familiarity with your name and that of the publication. Sometimes, especially with the global rankings like Chambers and Partners and Legal 500, if they’ve never heard of you or your firm before, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to get ranked unless you have some really great matters and successes to show for it. There are some times when you’ve had a bad year or decent year that you still submit, but really consider that and really scour the lists. It’s incredibly important.

If you decide to spend time and effort on these rankings, I want to stress that if you get ranked, you really have to market the heck out of it. If you’re just going to get ranked and leave it at that , I actually don’t think it’s worth pursuing at all. I think that the power of the rankings comes from leveraging them. You want to pursue the badge and put it on your website or possibly in your email signature. You want to make sure it goes on your website bio, your LinkedIn. You want to make sure that you post on social media, get it to other eyeballs. You want to maybe add it as a badge to your marketing material, and here are some examples just to the right of a few firms that we’ve done this with. You want to put it in an email newsletter if your firm is sending out an email newsletter. You just want to get more eyeballs on it because it’s really important. I always think of it as, it’s great that you’re in a publication, but it’s birdcage liner the next day. It’s all about what you do with it. Determine your right mix, think about your last year of successes and then decide what’s important to you, your firm and your clients. 

Thank you so much for listening. I hope that you got a few nuggets, a few pearls of wisdom from this. Please stay tuned. Berbay hosts all kinds of webinars. We like to keep it short and sweet and we post these recordings later to our site if you’d like to share them with your team. Thank you very much.


Listen to our Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast episode: Legal Rankings – To Submit or Not to Submit.

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