This article is part of the Attorney Career Advancement series, monthly articles from attorney business development coach Lana Manganiello offering insights and advice on practical approaches to attorney growth and practice development.
Nearly everyone enjoys receiving acknowledgment of a job well done and excellence in their work, and certainly lawyers are no exception. The number of companies offering awards and recognitions to attorneys and law firms is growing every day, and they are often money-making endeavors. My lawyer clients are solicited regularly with suggestions they are a “Top,” “Best,” “Most,” “Leading,” or “Super” attorney in their area of practice—but greatness often comes with a price. To be listed, one is encouraged to take out congratulatory advertising, or purchase a plaque or badge that can be posted to the attorney’s website profile or included in one’s email signature. For most attorneys, it can be challenging to know which of these opportunities matter and are legitimate, and which are spam.
Do recognitions even matter?
If you can basically buy yourself endless awards, do they have any value? It really depends on your objective. If you are growing a practice, then you need to think about the professionals that matter to you and what matters to them. Some considerations for pursuing awards include:
Tipping the scales: When a client or prospect is considering hiring you versus a competitor who appears equal in all areas (pedigree, experience, education), and you have a long list of awards and recognitions from organizations the client or prospect has heard of, or think they have heard of, and your competition doesn’t, that could be the thing that pushes them to hire you. This is also relevant when you are being considered by future employers. Note that non-lawyers typically do not have as many opportunities for public recognition and awards as lawyers do, so when people outside of the legal profession see your accolades, they may be more likely to be impressed.
Building credibility: Having industry honors and awards can build your perceived credibility. Most audiences understand these types of recognitions as a form of social proof, especially when the award is specific in highlighting a nuance, niche, or differentiator about you and your practice (e.g., a securities litigator recognized for working in cryptocurrency and blockchain). The people referring your work and those responsible for hiring you could feel validated when seeing you receive consistent recognitions. Attorneys you want to work with (whether senior or junior to you) may see honors and recognitions as an affirmation of expertise in your field, which may help persuade them to work with you.
Staying top of mind: Regularly reminding your network of your expertise is key to growing your reputation and leads to new opportunities. For law firms, publicly acknowledging a recognition received by one of their attorneys is a nice way to improve their visibility as well as highlight practice areas and expertise within a firm. Lawyers can use the opportunity to share an award won with their network to highlight the type of work that led to the honor.
Which awards/lists should you submit to?
Certainly not all awards and honors are equal. There are plenty of recognitions for lawyers that do not require a fee, so I generally advise attorney clients to avoid those that are purely pay-to-play. To make the biggest impact on your practice, focus on awards and recognitions given by organizations that your target contacts might have heard of. Also look for awards that help you build the professional reputation you are interested in. It may sound obvious, but if you are pivoting your bankruptcy practice to focus on finance work with venture capital firms, do not pursue awards for bankruptcy attorneys.
How to improve your chances of selection?
The submission process for lawyer awards is often very similar from one recognition to the next, so though it may seem like a lot of work to prepare a nomination, you can usually use the information again and again.
List of Matters: Submissions typically ask for recent representative matters. To make submitting for awards easy, keep an up-to-date list of the matters you have handled and those you would like more of. It’s best to write about the matter in a way that highlights what your work meant for the client along with some of the more significant details. Legal organizations will sometimes require case numbers, client names, and a contact to verify the matter, so you may want to include that in your list as well. (This information is typically kept confidential.)
Biography: You will likely need to include a biography, so it is good practice to always keep your firm website bio updated, reviewing it at least every six months. Your bio should make clear exactly what you do and for whom, in the most specific terms. This is not the place to list everything you are capable of; an effective bio will only mention experience and activities that are relevant to your target audience and relate to the work you want more of.
Extracurriculars: Most organizations want to know about your activities outside of work. Your work in the community and in your profession (participation in associations, on charitable boards, volunteering, etc.) is often a key differentiator that will lead to your selection. I encourage professionals to get involved in organizations for a multitude of reasons, and increasing your chances of selection for awards and honors is certainly one benefit.
Stay prepared: Most awards are given out annually and have a specific window of time in which they will accept nominations. Do some research on the organizations that matter to you and to your target professional contacts, and create a list of awards you are interested in being considered for, noting submission deadlines. If you work at a firm with a marketing department or outside resource, they likely have a “master calendar” of industry awards. You will want to make sure you share your business development goals with the marketing department and let them know of any specific awards you want to be considered for. Also, be sure they have your most recent information so that they can easily submit on your behalf. Note that your chances for selection improve every year you submit a nomination, so do not give up because you aren’t selected for an award on the first attempt.
How to maximize your recognitions
It takes years of hard work to be eligible for an industry award, plus additional effort and intentionality to be selected. Make sure you make the most out of your recognition. Below are some ways to leverage your honors.
- Update your website profile to include your all your accolades. You can do this in the biography narrative and can also include some variation of an “Honors” or “Awards & Recognitions” section where you list them in bulleted form.
- Post to social media with a note on how the recognition relates to your clients.
- Ask your firm to include mention of your recognition on the firm website, social media platforms, and newsletter.
- Put out a press release announcing the recognition. Include information (about the award, about recent cases, about your practice/firm) that your key contacts would be interested in. Note that alumni organizations will often post about alumni in their news bulletins, so it is a good idea to mention where you went to school in your press releases.
Remember, to effectively market and grow your ideal practice, you need to prioritize your client’s thinking and mindset. Some of the attorneys I work with felt like industry awards were a sham until they were awarded one and received unexpected favorable attention from clients, prospects, and referral partners as a result. If you have a clear vision of exactly who you want to work with and what ideal work looks like for you, you can create a successful marketing strategy that feels meaningful… even with the inclusion of awards and recognitions.