Are legal awards all they’re cracked up to be?

Legal Awards
20 Jun 2017

What is the true value of Legal Awards programs for law firms? Should they enter or avoid them?  A long debated topic in the legal industry, there are many variables and conflicting opinions.

“I’ve been lucky enough to work with law firms on 4 continents and every year the Legal Awards season is extremely popular from a marketing perspective. It’s nice for firms to be recognised and it is good for them to have their Associates and Partners acknowledged for the hard work they have put in through the year. It’s also usually a great evening out, where you get to meet and mix with your peers (and competitors) over a few cocktails,” says Rob Green, Group MD of GRM Search.

“The true value of winning an award is up for discussion though, given that most of the firms that are recognised are already leaders in their field. They are usually very recognisable brands so its value from a marketing perspective is questionable. There is no doubt that if you are a small to medium sized firm and you win something like this, it could really put you on the map, but the value to the big firms is up for debate”.

Are Awards truly a reflection of the best?

Which begs the question, are smaller firms getting enough recognition for the work they are doing? Being recognised as a smaller firm is sometimes difficult. Larger firms have the ability time-wise to ensure their admissions are of the highest quality and are also able to hire people to manage the process, making their advantage clear. They are also generally involved in the larger deals taking place across the continent. Smaller or medium size firms may not be able to afford the luxury of excessive time spent on submissions and are not exposed to deals of this magnitude. So does this mean the winners are predominantly controlled by size of deal and marketing budget?

Some feel that while they definitely showcase some incredible work being done by the large firms, which should be acknowledged, further diverse awards should reveal the exceptional work being done by mid-size firms or even small firms – and certainly enable these firms to reach a higher tier status.

More valuable for the firm or the individual?

What is beneficial is where noteworthy individuals who have won legal awards while employed by the larger firms are able to continue being recognised after leaving, as they should. “Having been cited for the Best Lawyers Awards, I have seen the credibility this has given me with my clients, especially as a practitioner in a boutique firm, where my clients feel confident that they have made a good choice of lawyer,” says Shelley Mackay-Davidson, founding partner of Brevity Law, opened in 2013 after Mackay-Davidson left ENS where she also gained much recognition in her field.

Perhaps, anyway, more long-term value is felt by individuals who win awards rather than firms as a whole.  A firm needs to maintain its brand value, but does spending time and budget entering alter perception if you are already considered one of the top 5?  “The upshot is that awards of any kind are always nice, but its true value as a marketing tool is debatable if you are already recognised as one of the top brands in the market,” offers Green. After all, lawyers move firms all the time and the value of being acknowledged in their field remains with them as individuals.

Many feel that more recognition should be given to individual rising stars. While some awards certainly acknowledge potential future leaders, not enough is done to give exposure to exceptional, more junior lawyers who are in the process of developing a successful practice. This would certainly help them on their career path by giving them the acknowledgment they need to really get ahead.

Don’t stop the momentum

The importance of maintaining your award success is also important. Once you have entered and won any legal award, it is hard to not keep on entering. Missing a year or two makes it extremely difficult to remain or achieve Top Tier in your specific area.  “It feels sometimes like a bit of a vicious cycle if you enter and win every year, and then don’t enter one year, people might ask why you no longer win? So you almost feel compelled to enter” concludes Green.

Let’s face it, we all want recognition for the hard work we do, but maybe the solution here is to have awards that are more diverse, that offer opportunities on different levels, and that truly help firms and individuals alike, no matter the size of firm. After all, these legal awards programs are set to continue and will certainly help many receive the acknowledgement they deserve. Perhaps though, it is simply that they are currently not a reflection of the total sum of the best but rather include some of those that are without a doubt worth noting.

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)

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