Law Firm Awards: Is Paying for an Award Worth it?

law-firm-awardsIf a person is looking for a law firm, where do they start? Imagine two firms in their area are similarly priced, provide comparable services, and offer the same level of experience and expertise, according to their websites.

But one of the firms won the XZY Law Firm of the Year award from a local industry publication last year and has also received business excellence awards from the Chamber of Commerce.

Who do you believe the person is going to call?

Credibility is a very persuasive currency for any business and industry awards allow you to build trust instantly with your potential customers.

For law firms, one way to establish credibility is by actively seeking such awards.



But:

  • How do you get one?
  • What are the pros and cons?
  • If they require payment, are they worth the outlay?
  • Which awards are worth going for?

All is revealed below.


1. The power of awards

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It’s not an exaggeration to say that when someone’s looking to hire a professional and they visit a new website to research a firm, their first thought is:

“Can I trust these people?”

It’s a natural defence mechanism that they need to overcome if they’re going to pick up the phone and call a law firm.

Awards, certificates, professional memberships, and other “trust badges” are hands-down the quickest way to do this.

Why?

Because they are:

  • An instant visual sign of credibility
  • Trusted as independent verification of your credentials
  • Great for PR and word-of-mouth marketing

The problem is that awards are handed out for practically everything now. A recent Forbes article claimed that the legal profession’s “award season is longer than baseball’s, and the list of award categories rivals the Oscars.”

It certainly is easier to lay your hands on an award now, if you know the buttons to press, the avenues to go down, and the people to approach.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t work.

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In fact, the power of awards is still very strong:

“Large award-winning companies experienced a 48% increase in operating income and a 37% growth in sales when compared to non-award winners.”

“Smaller award-winning companies were also shown to have experienced a 63% increase in operating income, and a 39% growth in sales when compared to non-winners.”

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“Three years after receiving an award, the 120 award-winning companies outperformed the comparison companies by an average of 17% for sales and 36% for share value.”

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“More than 600 quality corporate award winners had 37% more sales growth and 44% higher stock price return than their peers.”

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2. How do you win a law firm award?

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Even if you are the best firm in your practice area in the local area, getting your hands on an award to prove it is unlikely to simply happen. You may win a high-profile case and catch the attention of the media, editors, and industry bodies. This can propel you to an award nomination. But, for most law firms, it’s more likely that you need to get a little more “proactive” to receive your award.

You’ll need to check out which law firm awards are up for nominations and how you go about putting your name forward.

And here’s the thing: there may be an application fee.

This is where it can get a little complicated. After all, if you have to pay to be considered for the award.

The following questions are surely worth asking:

  • Does the application fee guarantee that you’ll win the award?
  • Who’s making the final decision?
  • What criteria are used to decide – statistics or the opinion of judges?
  • How credible is the firm doing the ‘awarding’?
  • How much will the award enhance your firm’s reputation and credibility?

3. Pros & cons of law firm awards

If we accept that winning awards has many advantages, we must also accept that it can raise questions.

So, it’s worth taking an objective view of the pros and cons of paying for a law firm award.

Pros

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  • Awards can position you as an industry leader: Reputable awards raise your credibility, reputation, and profile, and position you in customers’ minds as the leader in your industry. That’s very powerful in terms of competitive advantage.
  • They help you build trust: Nobody will do business with you if they don’t trust you. Awards are a way to build that all-important trust with potential customers.
  • You’ll get a backlink to your website: Backlinks from authority sites are pure gold for law firm SEO. The search engines place high stock on these links as a ranking indicator for your website.
  • They’re generally great for PR: Awards get people talking about you positively. You can send out press releases and include them in other marketing materials. This creates good PR and word-of-mouth marketing, generating more interest in your firm.
  • Brand awareness: Just entering your name into the hat for an award can help create more awareness of your business. Some firms enter award nominations for trade magazines and other high-profile publications just so that editors and journalists become aware of them.
  • They help you attract and retain talent: Raising your profile by winning awards can help you hit the radars of the best talent and also boosts morale of existing team members. From a recruitment and staff retention point of view, this is of huge value.
  • Even if you lose out, you learn: A less-considered benefit of entering your firm for an award is that, even if you don’t win, you’ll gain insight into where you need to improve. This can help you develop your firm.
  • The best law firm websites feature awards & recognition: Take a look at the Top 101 law firm websites. Most include ‘trust badges’ that relay instant credibility and some have awards or recognition sections.

Cons

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  • They can be expensive: If you ‘pay to play’ for a law firm award, it may set you back thousands of dollars – and there’s no guarantee you’ll win.
  • They become outdated quickly: The award probably only lasts a year, which means that it soon looks out of date – unless you pay again for the current year, which gets even more expensive.
  • It takes considerable time to apply: In order to prove your worth for an award, you’ll likely have to compile evidence, statistics and customer testimonials. Then you’ll need to prepare documentation for the lengthy application process. Most lawyers are already busy with case work. Do you have the time to provide what’s needed?
  • There’s no guarantee you’ll win: Not getting the recognition you feel you deserve can be de-motivational. What happens if you apply for the award but don’t win?
  • Which one(s) do you apply for?: The process of evaluating awards can be confusing and time-consuming. Which are the best ones that you have a chance of winning? Are the awards from credible authorities? It takes time and resources to research.
  • Paying for an award carries a stigma: There can be a stigma associated with paying for a law firm award. Is it ethical if paying for it guarantees that you win? Could customers even count it against you if they know you paid for it?
  • The ROI might be higher through other marketing channels: You may find out that you get a better return on investment from other law firm marketing strategies – like Google AdWords or other paid advertising like billboards.

It’s important to do the math.


4. Top lawyer awards on the web

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Lawyer awards vary greatly in terms of prestige and trustworthiness.

It’s a good idea to check the following:

  • The credibility of the organization offering the award
  • The categories of award to ensure they make sense
  • Previous winners to make sure you want to be associated with these firms

Let’s look at a few of the top lawyer awards in North America from the web, beginning with plenty of good, wholesome unpaid awards.


5. Top free awards

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These are a few of the best unpaid awards that should give you an idea of what to aim for.

  • FT North America Innovative Lawyer Awards: The FT North America Innovative Lawyer Awards recognizes innovators in the legal business each year, with awards for areas such as Innovation in the Business of Law.
  • Law Firms Global Elite: The Lawyers Global runs annual Legal Awards that include categories such as: Global Winner (one firm), Global Outstanding (30 law firms), Winner North America (one firm), Outstanding North America (10 firms)
  • American Bar Association (ABA): The American Bar association runs a Top 40 Young Lawyers Award each year for licensed attorneys in the U.S. or one of its territories. Nominations are made online and reviewed by a selection committee.
  • Canadian Bar Association (CBA) National Awards: The Canadian bar Association runs awards in multiple categories including: Charity and Not for Profit Law, Equality, General, Human Rights, Immigration Law, Legal Aid, Literature, Public Sector Law, Staff Achievement, Student Fellowships & Awards, Women
  • Canadian Lawyer – Reader’s Choice Awards: The Canadian Lawyer Reader’s Choice awards are an annual event, recognizing multiple leading law firms around Canada in the following categories: ADR & Mediation Chambers, Financial Services & Consulting, Legal Research, Legal Technology, Litigation Support & Consulting, Real Estate and Recruiting, Staffing & Outsourcing
  • Consumer Choice Award – Business Excellence: The Consumer Choice Award for Business Excellence is not solely for lawyers; in fact, any Canadian business can win an award.
  • Lexpert Zenith Awards: LExpert Zenith Awards includes two main award categories:
    • Change Agents in Law, which celebrates lawyers who have made changes to the legal profession and to thought leadership.
    • Rising Stars, which honors Canada’s leading lawyers under the age of 40: the rising stars of the legal community.
  • Law Firm 500 Awards: The Law Firm 500 Awards honor the 500 fastest growing law firms in the US. They’re ranked in order, based on gross revenues of the previous three years. Here’s a sample of the results for 2018 from their website:
  • Acritas Stars: Acritas Stars is a relative newcomer to the award field, just four years old. It is a database of over 10,000 stand-out lawyers in private practice around the world.  They are client-nominated, with senior in-house counsel in large organizations providing the names.
  • IFLR 1000: The IFLR1000 is one of the more established unpaid awards and is exclusively for law firms and lawyers in the financial and corporate sector. It’s the only international legal directory dedicated to ranking lawyers and law firms like this and there is no paid element to being included.
  • Lawyer Legion: This is essentially a directory of attorneys in the U.S. Listings are free and verified with the ABA. Unlike many of the legal directories out there, there are no pay-to-play options or paid-for awards. It does, however, list real awards and board certifications approved by the ABA.
  • The Legal 500: The Legal 500 listings cover the entire globe, generally listing teams of lawyers rather than individuals. The US edition is now in its 12th year and firms are included on the basis of in-depth market by a team of experienced researchers (qualified journalists and lawyers).
  • S&P Global market Intelligence M&A League Table: This one is specifically for business law firms in North America and includes league tables in the following categories: Banking, Financial services, Insurance, Real estate, Media, Utilities

6. Top paid/unpaid awards

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These are largely unpaid awards but there might be a few catches to bear in mind.

  • Who’s Who Legal Awards: Who’s Who legal Awards consist of two different awards in multiple practice areas. Each practice area includes a Firm of the Year award and a Lawyer of the Year award.
  • Martindale-Hubbell: One of the longest-standing service providers for the legal industry, Martindale is responsible for both Avvo and lawyers.com, as well as Martindale-Nolo. For any law firm listed on these sites, as soon as you receive an average score of 4.0 across three reviews, you receive a Silver Client Champion award, signified by a badge against your listing.
  • Best Lawyers: Best Lawyers select multiple lawyers in their Lawyer of the Year category. There are 240 lawyers honored in North America for 2020. Recognition for these lawyers has been based on peer review for the past 30 years. However, there is payment required for profiles, badges, and to show up in search results unless you’ve subscribed.
  • Super Lawyers: Super Lawyers is a Thomson Reuters site that published the Super Lawyers Magazine. All attorneys in the state can submit a ballot listing ten in-firm attorneys, ten out-of-firm attorneys and ten young “Rising Stars.”
  • Lawdragon: Lawdragon is a legal publication that also published annual guides that list the “leading lawyers in the United States and beyond”. The 2019 guides include listings for:
    • Lawdragon 500 Leading Lawyers in America
    • The Most Powerful Corporate Employment Lawyers
    • The Lawdragon 500 Leading Plaintiff Employment Lawyers
    • The Lawdragon 100 Leading Legal Consultants & Strategists
  • Benchmark Litigation: Benchmark Litigation includes a list of the top lawyers in the U.S. and Canada.
  • Chambers Guide: The Chambers USA guide covers all the states, ranking the leading law firms in a minimum of four areas of law: Corporate/Commercial, Labor & Employment, Litigation, Real Estate. In most states more than four areas of law are covered, with over 50 different practice areas included in total.
  • iam 1000: This one is for law firms specializing in patents. The iam 1000 patent rankings is a guide that lists the top law firms providing private practice patent expertise and leading expert witness services in the U.S. While inclusion in the guide is not dependent upon it, all firms selected are offered the opportunity to publish a profile for a fee.

7. Top paid awards

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These are awards where there is little pretense involved: you pay for the badge of honor you get.

  • American Law Society: To be listed on the self-professed “home of America’s top lawyers” and earn one of their badges to prove it, you need to pay to become a member.
  • Forbes Legal Council: Forbes Legal Council is an invitation-only, fee-based organization for partners of prestigious law firms and experienced chief legal executives. You basically pay $1,200 per year for the privilege of being associated with the Forbes name. It’s possible to get articles published on the Forbes platform.
  • Modern Counsel Magazine: Modern Counsel Magazine brands itself as “a network of today’s most influential legal minds, including in-house counsel, outside counsel, and legal strategists spanning industries and functions.” It essentially writes stories about prominent U.S. lawyers and then sells expensive advertising space around it.
  • The National Advocates: The National Advocates has two main categories: Top 100, Top 40 under 40. These are further sub-divided into multiple practice areas with Top 10s, 20s, 30s, and so on. To be included in any of these, you need to pay.

8. Smaller local, regional or niche awards

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It’s not just prestigious national awards or awards from major publications.

There are also interesting local and ‘niche’ awards, depending on your main practice areas, your working environment, and even the content you create.

A few examples include:


9. A word of warning about other awards

There is another batch of awards that are seen as spammy and not worth associating your law firm with.

Either they are operating under false pretenses, hide the fact that they’re paid, or they have a name that can easily be confused with a more reputable award.

A few names include:

  • Best Attorneys of America
  • America’s Top 100 Attorneys
  • American Institute of Legal Counsel

You can save yourself time and money by checking out this list of law firm awards, complied by Igor Ilyinsky, where the spammiest awards in North America are identified.


10. So, is it worth it?

If your service is not up to scratch, paying for an award won’t save you.

And it’s better to be awarded recognition and honor than to purchase it.

However, if you’re doing a great job but struggling to establish recognition and credibility online, a business award, a nomination, or even a “badge of honor” to display next to your name may help.

Credibility, trust, and reputation are high-value commodities for any law firm. Awards can help and may even enhance SEO.

But bear in mind that, if you have to ‘pay to play’, others may not view the award as favorably as you do.

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