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Ranking the Lawyer Ranking Services
Tuesday, November 15, 2022

With 2022 coming to an end, now is the time to finalize (or begin working on) your firm’s ranking and awards strategy for the new year. A law firm rankings and awards strategy should be a key component of an integrated marketing program to assist with benchmarking and  help create additional visibility. However, creating and executing a successful rankings program requires a commitment of time and resources to continuously identify, leverage and execute the various opportunities as a comprehensive strategy

The first step is sorting the opportunities. Which rankings will best serve the firm’s marketing goals?

It is important to note that not all rankings opportunities are created equal and not all law firms and attorneys have the same priorities. Depending on the goals and size of your firm, your rankings strategy should be tailored to fit the firm’s individual goals, which could vary among offices, practice areas or attorneys. Deadlines and editorial calendars for next year are being finalized and announced, so this is a perfect time to evaluate where you’re spending time and energy versus where the resources should be spent so you can prioritize practice areas and attorneys to focus on. 

To help you focus those resources more effectively, we offer an overview of different types of opportunities as a “tiered” system. While the tiers are numbered, that doesn’t necessarily mean one tier is better than the other — each firm should prioritize these based on their strengths and goals. 

Tier 1 — Legal Directories

Legal directories command the top tier in rankings. The most well-known players in this category are Chambers and Partners, The Legal 500 and Benchmark Litigation. These typically:

  • Are incredibly competitive, with intense research processes and extensive forms to populate (hence the mental tug of war when tackling the submissions).

  • Solicit client references, as well as firsthand feedback from the attorneys being considered.

  • Require substantial input and specifics, which means a lot of “persistent reminders” leading up to the deadline.

  • Rank firms and teams based on professional accomplishments and sustained track records of excellence — one exceptional year won’t land an attorney on these lists.

  • Have rolling deadlines based on location or practice area.

The value of these directories is that they are reputable and used by key decision-makers for evaluation when making legal hiring decisions. 

Tier 2 — National Legal Awards

The familiar names of national legal-focused publications comprise this category — this includes Law360 and the National Law Journal. These publications know the industry and the players in it, and frequently report on several of the matters that firms put forward in submissions. These lists typically:

  • Are highly competitive and can be more difficult to tap into, because they are singular lists of honorees rather than rated structures.

  • Base recognition on recent professional achievements.

  • Place an emphasis on cases and details that may be disclosed publicly.

  • Are fluid in composition — not the same names year after year.

  • Have rolling deadlines based on location or practice.

Often, these recognitions recognize outstanding accomplishments annually, but not necessarily cumulatively, which makes them valuable and unique. A particularly impressive year or matter that garnered national attention might earn inclusion, rather than an entire body of work.

Tier 3 — Regional and Business Publications

Regional and business publications publish a variety of lists for which law firm members can be good candidates, and not necessarily always in legal categories. Examples include local business journals or Crain’s. These lists typically:

  • Base eligibility for inclusion primarily on location, activity or industry leadership (diversity, pro bono work, family-owned business, banking, real estate, etc.) or attorney age (40 Under 40, Up-and-Coming, for instance).

  • Consider both professional and personal accomplishments, as well as community contributions and achievements.

  • Involve a narrative nomination and often a letter of support.

  • Have one deadline for each list.

The value of these lists is their regional appeal and visibility with targeted businesses, usually in the firm’s footprint. They often demonstrate a more personal side of attorneys and firms that can highlight culture and build connections within a community versus being solely based on legal-matter accomplishments.

Tier 4 — Trade Publications

Trade publications look internally to highlight professionals in their practice areas. These lists typically:

  • Are specific to the attorney’s industry of experience.

  • Consider both professional and personal accomplishments, as well as community contributions and achievements.

  • Evaluate professional, personal and community accomplishments.

  • Involve a narrative nomination and often a letter of support; sometimes require a membership to be considered if the publication is published by an organization.

  • Have one deadline for each list.

A rich base of current and potential clients often reads these publications, making them a solid opportunity to get the firm name out and showcase the great work the firm is doing. Examples of these awards include Managing IP-IP Stars and IAM Patent 1000 for an intellectual property practice. 

Tier 5 — Peer-Review and Voting-Based

This tier is also full of well-known publications focused on attorneys in private practice, but the submission processes are less demanding on attorneys and their marketing teams. Examples include Best Lawyers and Super Lawyers. These lists typically:

  • Rely heavily or solely on peer review nominations or voting.

  • Involve independent research and proprietary methodologies to compile their lists.

  • Have deadlines that vary by list.

  • Base eligibility on years in practice.

  • Base recognition on geography and then by area of practice.

  • Do not require matter submissions or narrative components.

These lists are a great way for firms and attorneys to build visibility. They capture the longstanding go-to firms and attorneys in their areas, as well as up-and-comers, so simply having a presence in them can be worth the any investment of time.

Tier 6 — Non-Reputable and Pay-to-Play

Legal marketers may have their own rankings preferences, but one thing everybody can agree on is a distaste for the scams that infiltrate their inboxes daily. Sometimes the red flags are glaring, but often, it takes a little digging to determine that the alleged opportunity is not reputable and solely pay-to-play. These lists:

  • Are total spam or scams.

  • Require payment for inclusion.

  • Involve paid memberships with little to no ROI.

  • Provide minimal methodology.

There is absolutely no value in these lists, so we always recommend steering clear unless you have an affinity for overpriced plaques and trophies.

Tips for creating a realistic rankings strategy

Based on the volume of legal ranking opportunities, it can seem completely overwhelming to evaluate and prioritize the best plan to help reach your firm’s goals. Start small and focus on attorneys and practice areas who:

  • Are more receptive to participating in marketing initiatives and therefor likely to be more willing to participate in rankings.

  • Have had a great deal of success in matters.

  • Focus on initiatives or projects that help make the firm stand out, such as DEI, mentorship or pro bono work.

It’s smart to diversify the types of recognitions that a firm is submitting for. Evaluating those results will allow you to pivot or edit your strategy based on success and feedback. Another highly recommended way to help with the submission process is matter-tracking. Many nominations require matter details, so actively matter-tracking throughout the year, rather than the week before a submission deadline, will save a lot of time to ensure you’re not scrambling for details under pressure. It is also a good idea to obtain client permission in advance regarding their matters, because several rankings opportunities do not allow for confidential matter submissions. 

We have a plan; how do we keep up with these recognitions?

Now that you understand the types of opportunities available for the firm and its attorneys, how do you keep up with website updates? Compliance with ethics guidelines and advertising rules is enough to discourage any firm from being excited about creating a robust rankings strategy. Credible opportunities will have defined methodologies, and most will have advertising/publishing guidelines. Completing a website audit to ensure your listed recognitions comply with those guidelines is an excellent exercise. Once a firm has done that, it is much easier to manage maintaining and updating years or adding additional recognitions as you receive them. 

Another tool we highly recommend is creating a methodology page on your firm’s website. This can be added to your disclaimer page or be a standalone. Our recommendation is to include and link the methodology to each publication and recognition that has been awarded to your firm or attorneys. Being proactive rather than reactive is always an excellent idea. 

Do I really need to submit for rankings and awards?

The time and attention needed to create and execute an effective rankings strategy may seem daunting, but rankings will always remain important to current clients, potential clients, prospective hires and your opposing counsel. The end of year offers an opportunity develop the ranking strategy that is right for your firm, practices and attorneys.

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