Legal award nominations: Which ones are worth it?

In last week’s blog post, we looked at how legal awards can benefit a firm and its lawyers. But deciding to pursue legal awards is a bit like opening Pandora’s box.

How do you determine which law firm awards to shoot for? And how do you manage expectations once you’ve started applying for awards? There is not a one-size-fits-all answer. Instead, each firm should conduct a subjective assessment.

Give thought to the firm’s reasons for seeking awards. Consider how your law firm will leverage an award – if you’re fortunate enough to win. Are you trying to raise the profile of a practice? Attract lateral hires? Help validate the expertise of an up-and-coming partner? Once you’ve identified your end goals, you’ll be able to focus your efforts on award categories that better help accomplish those goals.

See what other law firms are doing. For each lawyer or practice who might be put forward for an award, look at what awards your competitors are winning. You’re likely to see some award names crop up time and time again. Next, look at the firms and lawyers your firm aspires to compete with. What kinds of awards are they touting? And finally, look at law firms and lawyers in lower market tiers. If they’re promoting specific awards that you’re not seeing mentioned among higher echelon law firms, then you may want to avoid those.

Determine whether you actually have a shot. Once you’ve identified the awards worth considering, the tough and politically delicate work begins. You need to assess the likelihood of winning a particular award – because 95 percent of the time you should not compete for awards you’re unlikely to win. (More on that later.)

Read up on as many past legal award winners as possible. Get a good sense of what types of experience, skills, programs and/or matters are needed to legitimately compete for an award. And start gathering internal intelligence. Look at past RFPs and internal communications about big firm wins, reread Chambers submissions (if your firm prepares them), and talk to people in firm leadership – the management committee, office managing partners and practice group leaders – as well as business development and/or marketing staff who are aligned with various practices. Let them know what it takes to win an award, and ask for their candid assessment of whether the firm can truly compete.

Assess your own resources. Winning law firm award submissions take significant time to prepare. While some may come together in a matter of hours, the process more often takes days or weeks. You need to gather background materials, determine which matters should be included and whether the firm has the client’s permission to discuss specific matters, interview key stakeholders, draft the nomination and then run it through the internal review process.

While some of these individual steps may not take long, anyone who’s spent much time in a law firm marketing or communications department can immediately spot where bottlenecks might occur. Now multiply that effort by 5 or 15 or 50 award nominations, and it’s clear that awards nominations are not a casual undertaking. If there is a silver lining, it’s this: If you are nominating a lawyer or a practice for several similar awards, you may be able to repurpose some of that work.

If you can’t compete, don’t submit. While there may be pressure from individuals or groups within a firm to submit for a particular award, it’s a waste of resources to prepare a nomination that has no chance of winning. Better to bite the bullet and have a tough conversation upfront than waste time and money on a losing proposition, and face disappointed parties later. You also run the risk of annoying the editors or award committees who are reviewing award nominations. They assume you’ve done your homework, and will wonder why you’re submitting a non-contender. On a personal level it also helps to be candid. At performance review time, it’s better to discuss the five awards you won than why you struck out on 43 of 48 submissions.

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

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