Awards/Rankings, Public Relations

Winning Is Just One Thing

The legal industry bestows more honors than a kindergarten graduation: Practice Group of the Year, Litigation Department of the Year, Top Plaintiff Win,  Super Lawyers, top firms for client service, best, well, best, everything, and so on. As a consequence, law firm public relations professionals are inundated with lists, of which many have no real value nor do they tell the story that will accomplish the ultimate PR goal: getting the clients attention and making them interested in working with a lawyer or firm.

The awards and recognition simply do not mean all that much. They certainly don’t mean as much as you might think from the breathless announcements in the trade press. Of course clients want to work with lawyers who are skilled, knowledgeable, empathetic, hard-working, business-oriented and the other accolades that are given to the “winning” attorneys. But those adjectives describe thousands of lawyers, not just those that are selected by a razor thin margin over their equally deserving peers in any given year.

Moreover, it is easy to observe that the largest firms often win these awards, and corporate counsel generally don’t care how big a firm is, and often have negative biases against large law firms, often viewing the larger size as a guarantee they are more expensive. They don’t assume that it has better lawyers. They know that a small specialty firm can be among the best in its field nationwide but doesn’t necessarily receive recognition simply because of their size.

So a law firm that wants to have good press and good clients probably will do better to try to tell its unique story than to enter the abyss of standing out from the crowed of endless contests and rankings. Often, as I see it, the lists are based on reputations that firms have accumulated over decades – reputations that don’t speak to what the firm is doing today and is planning to do for its clients in the future.

Of course, a firm of 2,000 lawyers can have a great story, but so can a firm of 60 lawyers. A story can reflect a unique approach to a legal problem, a partner’s specific experience in a key government agency, a way of collaborating with a client, or a commitment to diversity that is real and not just window dressing. A story doesn’t come out of a ranking or a list; it comes from people and their experiences.

 Also, PR is at its best when it tells a story. Your PR professional would much rather tell a reporter about a big win for a client or a new way of solving a problem than about a high ranking in some publication’s list; and the only media that covers those rankings is the media that creates the list. It’s simply a better pitch and one that’s more likely to find a media audience. As a well-known PR blog notes:

A successful marketing or public relations campaign should center around a story. Whether you’re telling the story of the launch of your company, how you doubled sales in six months, or the people behind the brand, there’s a story there, and it’s one your customers care about.

So the old saying is true: When it comes to legal contests and rankings, winning really isn’t everything.