Congratulations! You’ve been selected for the Attorney Congeniality Award.
Okay, this is a made-up award but many of the honors, awards, and recognition claims in the legal world are just as meaningless. Unfortunately, many attorneys make the mistake or perhaps intentionally turn a blind eye, to the true legitimacy of these so-called honors.
From a marketing perspective, there is certainly value in displaying a nicely designed badge on the attorney’s website denoting achievement, accomplishment, and/or professional experience. These digital trophies serve as a mental check-mark to clients and prospective clients of some type of industry recognition. It feels good to hire an attorney who has been recognized as a “Super Lawyer” or the “Top Divorce Lawyer in Boston”.
But here’s the reality. The vast majority of award companies in the legal space, including some of the most recognized ones, are less interested in vetting the best of the best, and are more interested in establishing a profitable and recurring revenue stream for their business. Yes, most of those digital trophies are no more than a participation award, whereby the attorney participates with their credit card.
The Selection Process
Most recipients of these awards do not care to scrutinize the well-crafted language explaining the “selection process” and would rather believe that somehow, countless unknown colleagues have appreciated their legal work so much that they have taken the time and “voted” for them to be duly recognized.
Here is a common LinkedIn announcement you may come across from an attorney:
“I’m very honored and humbled to have been selected for both Super Lawyer and Boston Magazine Top Lawyers Awards! I’m not part of a big firm where all the lawyers vote for each other, so this recognition comes from all my fellow colleagues in the Bar who voted for me. So thank you very much!!!!”
The selection process for these awards never, ever come solely from peer votes or a thorough scientific methodology, as some industry claims suggest. In truth, an insignificant number of attorneys take their valuable time to complete the process of “voting” or “nominating” another lawyer.
Explanations of the selection process are intentionally vague and sometimes downright misleading. Few people, including attorneys, understand how honorees are actually selected.
Even though the most well-known companies claim only a select percent of attorneys are chosen, there is no way to verify this information nor is there a sound and scientific formula to identify and select the best. We all know this.
The Attorney Award Business Is Making Big Profits
From more reputable sources to purely pay to play solicitations, these awarding outlets all have one thing in common: their primary objective is to make a profit.
With 45,000+ active attorneys in Massachusetts, minimal participation is needed for an award company to make a very healthy profit. For example, say the company offers their award to 2,000 Massachusetts attorneys. That’s about 5% of all the attorneys in Massachusetts and becomes the grabber headline for the award, “Just 5% of attorneys have been selected”. Now, with a red-hot pipeline of 2,000 attorneys who have just been informed they are among the few “selected”, the company goes to work selling enhanced profiles, wall plaques, advertisements in magazine supplements, and more.
If the award company is able to convert just 25% of their pipeline of prospects, that’s 500 attorneys, at an average sale of $2,000. they will have grossed over $1 million. And that is just from attorneys who practice in Massachusetts.
Ethical and Responsible Marketing For Attorneys
There was a time when even some of today’s seasoned attorneys remember when lawyers were not permitted to advertise or market their services to the general public. The legal industry evolved with the Yellow Pages and the Internet. Advertising and marketing rules were established by the American Bar Association as a means to guide lawyers in promoting their legal services ethically and responsibly. However, the internet marketplace moves fast and the legal industry’s authority to regulate and provide oversight simply can’t keep up.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken notice, warning consumers to look beyond seals and badges when hiring a lawyer. In an FTC blog post titled Look beyond the award when you hire a lawyer, clients are urged to look for “actual accomplishments and past work experience”, and to “check the state bar association”, and finally, “ask for recommendations from people you trust” .
Attorneys are permitted to market and advertise their legal services. It is okay for attorneys to display certain seals and badges on their website for all to see and to grab the attention of a potential client. This is an important part of marketing. However, for the sake of professional integrity, it is best to keep these “honors” in perspective and to clearly understand that ultimately case results, client reviews and testimonials, and colleague referrals will always be the attorney’s ultimate measurement of success.