Legal award nominations: Are they worth it?

Ah, autumn. It’s the season when our thoughts turn to football, family-filled holidays and … legal award nominations. If there are three questions every law firm PR and marketing person dreads, they are: Why weren’t we nominated for this award? Why didn’t we win this award? And do you have time to write up one more award nomination … that’s due tomorrow?

Most large law firm marketing departments have a strong understanding of the burgeoning world of legal rankings and awards, but it can be overwhelming for small and mid-sized law firms. These firms frequently turn to us for help creating award calendars, assessing opportunities, identifying candidates and crafting compelling nominations.

Why do publications love awards? As the former managing editor of several legal magazines, I’m well qualified to answer that question. Among other things, it’s an easy way for the media to generate content. It also helps publications build relationships with potential sources. After all, once a publication has honored a lawyer, a reporter might have an easier time connecting with that lawyer for a quote. And, it provides free publicity for the media outlet. If your firm has gone to the trouble of applying for an award, then you’ll probably announce it to the world if you win. In some cases, they also generate ad revenue and award ceremony sponsorships.

But what’s the real value to the law firm award winners? Do they merely serve to boost lawyers’ egos? Can your firm’s lawyers derive any value from these accolades? The answer is a qualified “sometimes.”

An award is unlikely to result directly in new clients, but it may result in your firm or individual lawyers being added to a prospective client’s short list. Those who do a lot of work in the appellate arena, for example, can probably name several of the nation’s top Supreme Court lawyers. But a small company that suddenly finds itself embroiled in a case with thorny legal questions that could go all the way to the Supreme Court may not be well versed in the world of appellate law. Enter National Law Journals Appellate Hot List or Law360’s Appellate Practice Group of the Year. That company now has a short list of appellate lawyers to consider hiring.

But how would an award benefit your firm if the firm is already on the company’s short list? In those instances, certain awards may help validate a prospective client’s decision to hire you. Suppose the potential client has a bet-the-company case. A pro bono award, for example, is a bit meaningless in that context. But if the general counsel has to justify his or her selection of counsel to the company’s CEO, it never hurts to be able to mention, “And The American Lawyer has twice selected this firm as Litigation Department of the Year.”

While a pro bono award may not help land new clients, it can provide other value to your firm. Awards focusing on pro bono, diversity and the like help illustrate the firm’s culture and its values. Those can be a tremendously helpful way to differentiate one law firm from another when recruiting new associates and laterals. And clients such as non-profits and social enterprises may also take note.

In each of these cases, an award can be a valuable credential that is one factor among many in a hiring decision. Legal awards can also help boost the law firm’s overall marketing strategy.

When writing articles about law firm award winners, many media outlets link back to the winner’s website – be it the home page, the practice group landing page or the individual lawyer’s bio. Google and other search engines like inbound links from quality websites, so an award may provide a bit of an SEO boost. Many outlets also promote award winners on LinkedIn, Twitterand Facebook, which your social media team will appreciate.

Clearly, legal awards do have their benefits. Next week we’ll look at the trickier side of legal awards: Determining which law firm award submission are worth the effort, and which ones you should skip.

Jennifer King is a Content and Client Strategist at Infinite Global. She is based in Chicago.

10/24/2017