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Our Best Advice on "Best Lawyer" Lists

By Mark Annick
Androvett Legal Media & Marketing ©

Ubiquitous is the only word to describe the various “best lawyer” and law firm listings these days. What was once an occasional ranking has become a year-round gauntlet of surveys and nomination processes. Can anyone blame attorneys and law firm marketing directors who say they are overwhelmed by the various lawyer and law firm rankings?

It might be tempting to simply boycott the whole system, but it’s not advisable because many potential clients put some stock in “best” lists. A lawyer’s or a law firm’s presence on such a list can help validate a referral and provide confirmation that the lawyer or law firm is highly regarded in the legal community. Whether the clients you seek are the general counsel of a major company or an individual looking to hire a divorce lawyer, having a “top lawyer” stamp can help legal consumers narrow the list of potential contenders or validate a selection they already have made.

Nor is it a good idea to seek out a spot on every list. The only lawyers who have the time and energy to do that are those who don’t have enough legal work. It’s essential to prioritize and pursue only those opportunities that make sense for your firm and its clientele.

This Androvett Legal Media & Marketing white paper will discuss what to do if you or your law firm has been included in a “best” list as well as what to do when you aren’t listed but wish you were.

If You've Been Named to a "Best" List

If you or your firm has made a “best” list, there’s no downside to letting people know. Depending on the stature of the list, it may be worth purchasing an advertisement or profile in the accompanying publication (and there’s almost always an ad-purchasing opportunity). But there are many lower-cost ways to spread the word.

  • Distribute a news release: Create a news release, post it on your firm’s website and distribute it through one or more of the free press release distribution services on the Internet. Send it to your alumni publications as well. If you’re from a small town, send it to your hometown newspaper. Don’t expect other media to pick it up, though. You’re not really after that anyway. You’re looking to populate the web with good news about you and your firm, and this definitely counts.
  • Update your law firm web bio and any online profiles: Remember to include your honor on web profiles such as LinkedIn, Super Lawyers, Avvo, etc. While you’re at it, evaluate the rest of the copy and make sure it accurately reflects the latest information about you and your work. Your web bio often is the first place a potential client will go to learn more about you.
  • Purchase a badge or icon for your website if it’s offered: A handful of lists offer these online additions for your website, and they can be an eye-catching, visual seal of approval from a third party.
  • Add the honor to your email signature: You wouldn’t want to have a long list of accolades under your name and contact information, but if you have an award or ranking that is particularly significant, include it in your signature line. If your honor includes an online profile, include that link.
  • Spread the word with an e-announcement/mailer/print ad: This should be reserved for the “Very Big Deal” rankings, and those criteria are different for every lawyer and law firm. If you go the e-announcement route, you can email the news to your personal contact list or use a third-party vendor to target a much larger list of lawyers and legal consumers. Whether it makes sense to purchase an ad depends on the audience for a particular publication and whether the ad will be seen by your potential clients. If potential clients read the publication, and the price is within your budget, then buying an ad might be a good move.
  • Make the honor part of your marketing: Again, depending on the ranking, you might want to include the honor in your firm’s “boilerplate,” the paragraph about your firm that appears at the bottom of your news releases or website home page. When making a presentation, include the honor in the bio you provide to the sponsoring organization (both the written version and the one used to introduce you).
  • Update your social media outlets: Include the news on your blog, Twitter feed, Facebook and other social media hotspots.
  • Issue an internal memo: Depending on the size of your firm, an internal “pat on the back” to the whole firm or the individual lawyers named to the list can be great for morale.
  • Let office visitors know: In addition to making sure your clients receive any of the above efforts, it’s also worth making sure that any visitors to your firm lobby see a plaque or other display touting the good news.

If You're Not on a "Best" List

If a list has been published and you’re not on it but wanted to be, it’s time for a plan of action to help get you included on the next one. One word of caution: There are no guarantees that you’ll make any lists, and anybody who says they can ensure you’ll make a particular list is not being honest. In our experience, there are no legitimate lists that you can buy your way onto. So don’t purchase an ad in the publication with the idea that you’ll be guaranteed a spot on the list. Any publication that is selling you ad space because you’ve made the list won’t take your name off the list if you don’t buy an ad at least, no publication we’ve ever encountered.

Here are some tips for being included in “best of” lists:

  • Create a short list of the lists you care about. There are too many lists out there to rank them all equally. You will use up all of your marketing time, budget and energy chasing “top lawyer” lists if you don’t cull it to a reasonable number. Be realistic, but include a few aspirational lists as well. Again, this is different for every firm. What is a “must have” ranking for one lawyer or firm might be a “so so” ranking for another.
  • Once you have a short list of rankings, identify the selection criteria/process and deadlines. Some publications keep their selection processes under wraps, but others are open about their criteria, even posting it on their websites. Be willing to do some digging and go find it.
  • Update your law firm web bio, LinkedIn profile and any other publicly available web page you control. Your online presence is one of the ways the list-makers research possible honorees, so make sure your biggest and most recent accomplishments are on display. Also include recent presentations, published works and other notable achievements. Build “update bio” into your marketing routine. You should be doing this regularly, even if you’re not interested in the lists.
  • Google yourself. If you don’t see any good news about yourself when you search your name on Google or other search engines, then it’s time to start publicizing your good works, including verdicts, settlements, deals, speaking engagements and pro bono and community work. Put the word out there (use the free press release sites if you don’t want to spend big money) and help good news about you and your firm populate the Internet.
  • Participate in the process: Certain “top lawyer” lists include a nominations component. If the list you want to be on accepts nominations, then don’t be shy about asking clients or fellow attorneys to consider you. HOWEVER, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this.
    • The Wrong Way: Sending an email blast to your entire contact list with a link to the nominations page; offering to nominate your nominator if he/she will nominate you.
    • The Right Way: Approaching a few, select potential nominators people who know you and your work and telling them that you are interested in making XYZ’s list and “if you think my work merits that sort of honor, I’d appreciate your nomination,” or something to that effect.
  • Take a broad approach: When it comes to “best of” lists, it’s important to note that even in those rankings that have a nominations process, the nominations aren’t the “be all, end all.” Most reputable rankings have a subjective process to whittle the nominations and come up with a final list, so it’s important to make sure that the impression you make online is a good one. (See the third and fourth bullet points in this section.)

Lawyer and law firm rankings are here to stay. Readers seem to love them, lawyers use them for marketing, and publications make money from them. Regardless of the frustrations, they’re not going anywhere. The lists might seem overwhelming, but when used judiciously and sought out strategically, they can provide an important boost to a lawyer’s or a firm’s overall marketing efforts.