Lawyers are no strangers to rankings. From finding out your LSAT percentile to near-constant anxiety over whether your class ranking would be enough to land you summer positions, the idea of being compared to your peers isn’t new for lawyers.

Maybe you thought you’d be free of ranking systems after you graduated law school, but the rise of regional and national lawyer awards could prove you wrong.

Having a few awards on your lawyer website sends some minor trust signals to potential clients. A handful of awards on your law firm’s website may help build trust with referral partners.

But most attorney awards exist for vanity purposes or to make money off well-meaning lawyers who want their firm to be perceived as credible and top-tier.

You should not invest time and money into lawyer awards without collecting and sharing much more valuable trust signals like testimonials, Google My Business reviews, and case studies. These are much more likely to put your law office on the map.

Some Awards are More About Money than Merit

Not all lawyer awards are created equal. Many are pay-to-play, cashing in on your willingness to get the recognition and badge posted on your website.

While it’s disappointing to realize that it’s more about your money than your attorney accomplishments, this might free you up from applying for these awards in the future.

Most lawyers don’t even know the entire methodology of these lawyer awards. Without transparency, it’s hard to compare one lawyer to another based on awards alone.

Much like social media vanity metrics, most attorney awards are one aspect of overhyped lawyer marketing. A client may be concerned if you have no awards listed on your website, but you don’t need to worry about getting recognized by every publication and company out there.

Some companies have realized that lawyers are willing and able to invest in these vanity tokens, and that’s why more lawyer awards are available than ever before.

Here are some of the flaws with lawyer awards:

  • Many require votes from other lawyers, mirroring a popularity contest
  • Many awards are unclear about the voting criteria
  • Even if you win the award, you’ll likely pay a big fee to share that news or post the badge
  • Not all awards have the same value and come across as marketing ploys

Even the FTC has shared details about the dangers of low-value awards in attorney marketing.

Before throwing your hat in the ring for these awards, consider whether or not winning it is valuable by looking at these details:

  • How many of these are awarded each year? How many nominees submit?
  • Do they claim to factor client reviews into selection, and if so, how do they get that data?
  • How much is the cost to promote the award once you receive it?
  • How old and established is the award?
  • What company or organization is giving the award?
  • Are lawyers or non-attorneys involved in selecting the winners?

Here’s a good guideline to keep in mind when applying for or sharing lawyer awards: if your client researched this achievement, what would they think?

If you simply filled out a form and paid $1,000 to get listed, that’s meaningless to a client, and they might even question your integrity. An award from the American Bar Association certainly holds more merit than one from Joe Johnson Marketing Company.

Awards Meet Client’s Expectations Instead of Exceeding Them

Clients expect to see awards on lawyer websites. In this way, awards are a small trust signal, but having a handful you can reference is still valuable. Clients do not have enough context to evaluate the awards, and they’re unlikely to take the time to figure it out.

Not having any awards on your website is a red flag, even though many of these awards are pay-to-play. The market standard is that attorneys have at least a few awards, so invest in some high-profile ones and pay the yearly fee for the badge to place them on your site.

If every law firm in your area is recognized by Best Lawyers, Super Lawyers, and Martindale-Hubbell, having the award doesn’t help you distinguish yourself, but it does avoid a client wondering why you’re the only one in the area without any listings.

The exception here is highly specialized awards that strongly support your practice areas.

If you practice civil rights, employment law, or disabilities education law, an award from a regional or national association for your advocacy efforts in diversity, equity, and inclusion is meaningful. It showcases that you’re recognized as a leader and one of the best in your field.

Similarly, a criminal defense lawyer representing the underserved might apply for a criminal justice award. If you are recognized for something like this, be proud to share that information with potential clients and others in the legal profession.

Awards May Impact Referrals More than Other Leads

More than attracting new clients, certain awards could sway a potential referral partner to contact you. Consider that many other lawyers know which legal awards mean something and which ones are primarily marketing tools.

If a potential referral partner comes to your website and spots only low-value awards, they’re less likely to send you one case, much less work with you regularly.

Awards are only one way to highlight credibility and industry experience. There’s no point listing awards on your site if your Google My Business review average is 3.4 out of 5 and you have no case results on your website.

Think about awards as a way to bolster these more personalized trust signals rather than replacing them. Word of mouth and referrals are also powerful ways to build your law firm and get more clients, so don’t forget to factor these into your attorney marketing plan.

Which Awards are Actually Worth It?

The only awards worth submitting for are those that are based on tangible accomplishments in your practice and community. Here are some examples.

ABA Top 40 Young Lawyer Awards

Due to the small pool of recipients from a big nominee pool, this is definitely a lawyer award worth considering. If you’re a young lawyer getting traction in your field and achieving at a high level, this is one you should be proud to celebrate.

ABA Pro Bono Publica Awards

Do you do a lot of pro bono work? Giving back to your community and helping those in need says a lot about your character and helps diffuse some of the traditional client fears about lawyers. Individual lawyers are eligible.

If you spend many hours helping those who can’t afford legal services, look into the Jean Crowe Pro Bono Award, too.

National Law Journal Legal Awards

Be recognized as one of the top in the country for legal excellence by submitting your name for consideration for these awards. Only a handful of honorees get selected each year, making it a very competitive one.

Super Lawyers

Only attorneys can nominate someone else for Super Lawyers; you can’t nominate yourself. While this can get tricky if you don’t have many peers inside your law firm, building solid referral relationships with other attorneys could help you receive this recognition.

This is a good one to consider if you’re going for a solid general award listing on your website.

State Bar Awards

Being recognized within your own state has a lot of merits, especially if the award is only given to one firm or attorney each year. Do your research to see if you’re eligible for certain state bar honors.

If there’s a lawyer of the year, lifetime achievement award, or other similar awards in the legal community, this could be a powerful way to market your law firm.

Public Service or Non-Profit Awards

These are solid awards if you also contribute to public service or support a non-profit through pro bono, paid legal services, or special community efforts.

They may or may not be specific to your legal services, but they could establish you as a pillar of a professional or local community.

Other Marketing Assets Have Greater Impact than Awards

When someone chooses a lawyer, they likely start their search online. This means you need to make a compelling case to hire you that gets the message across quickly and effectively.

Although your clients may not be swayed to hire you by awards alone, multiple trust signals on your website strengthen your case for being a top legal services provider.

Other assets can have a strong impact on your client base, however. Some examples include:

  • Case studies
  • Testimonials
  • Video testimonials
  • Positive reviews (Avvo, Google My Business, Yelp)
  • Results pages

Clients have many choices when selecting an attorney. To stand out from the crowd, it’s not enough to submit yourself and your firm for typical lawyer awards. A handful listed on your website is sufficient, but only when you’ve also put in the work to showcase multiple sources of your reputation.

Creating a great lawyer website that shares all your best marketing assets is about so much more than a one-time build with a designer. It’s also about how you leverage that website going forward with an SEO campaign. If you’re ready to invest in your SEO strategy, is here to help you create a winning plan.