Many moons ago, when I was a junior level associate at a public relations firm, I learned that I could create an entire legal marketing career just in submitting survey and award nominations. Over the years, it seems as though “best of,” “top” and “super” lawyer contests have multiplied like Gremlins, leaving lawyers and legal marketers scrambling to not only make deadlines, but also to ensure the selection process for nominees doesn’t cross any of the firm’s political lines.

In both my former role as the local bar association’s Communications Director and in my current role as a law firm and bar association consultant, I have been asked many times which awards are the most impactful (i.e. when is the juice worth the squeeze).  My answer varies depending on who I am speaking to, what they are trying to accomplish, and the selection process used to determine who is the “best.”

In exploring a publication or organization’s methodology, you will find many obvious “pay to play” award opportunities, awards that are handed out like free toothbrushes at the dentist’s office in exchange for ad revenue, and awards evaluated by judges who are clearly not well-suited for the position (i.e. some of  the “ego accolades” Jordan Rothman refers to in his recent Above the Law article). Those are the opportunities to steer clear of, in my opinion, if you don’t want to risk your own credibility. My understanding, however, is that peer-to-peer evaluations, such as SuperLawyers and Best Lawyers, carry more weight with lawyers who are looking to refer their clients to other lawyers, both of which were deemed reputable by  consulting firm Firmwise on their comprehensive list of “spammy awards.”

For general law firm awards, your need to participate may depend on your client base. I believe that sophisticated global business clients with in-house legal departments may reference sources like Chambers, U.S. News and World Report, Martindale Hubbell, and others, while consumers may be more impressed with a Best Lawyers or SuperLawyers badge in their lawyer’s
e-mail signature.  Local “40 Under 40” and “Top Attorney” awards are only prestigious if those inside your legal community and outside of the legal community think they are relevant.

For larger firms, I sense a fear of being absent or omitted from some of the bigger lists, but the more I write award submissions and nominations, the more I realize that the true impact is what the marketing team does once you have received some recognition. Celebrating success via social media (and/or through your firm or bar’s newsletter) is a really simple way to highlight some of your superstars, get more mileage out of some good news, and potentially get some recognition or engagement from your target audience (see Kevin O’Keefe’s piece on the importance of using Twitter in this instance).  Of course, many of these lists also come with significant pay-to-play publicity opportunities, which should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

At the bar association, I often joked that I didn’t know whether or not we did good work or just submitted good award nominations.  I’ve come to believe that it was a bit of both. We successfully submitted nominations for a lot of awards – nationally for the National Association of Bar Executives, and locally with the press club and local Public Relations Society of America chapter.

Bar association staff, believe it or not, is often an underappreciated bar asset.  By winning awards and then publicizing them broadly, I could ensure that the “behind the scenes” bar team would receive some visibility, which was ultimately my end goal.  I wrote about my process for writing winning award entries here, and the Legal Marketing Association’s Southern California Chapter also offers some good guidance here.

With so many awards out there, which ones do you think are worth the effort?