Super! You were listed with Super Lawyers! Now you may be asking: "How can I get one of those nifty Super Lawyers badges?" "Do I have to pay for it?" "Do my bar's rules of professional conduct restrict how I display the badge or announce my listing?"
If you're not sure if promoting your listing makes sense for your practice, take a look at our discussion of whether you should include your Super Lawyers listing on your law firm website. To learn exactly how to go about promoting it, read on!
First off, Super Lawyers itself provides a handy guide to promoting your Super Lawyers listing. Although the guide is officially aimed at ads in Super Lawyers Magazine, its standards are also helpful rules of thumb for promoting your listing elsewhere, since the standards are generally consistent with common rules of professional conduct governing attorney advertising. You should not rely on Super Lawyers, alone, to ensure that you are complying with your own jurisdiction's rules, however. So please read about rules of professional conduct governing Super Lawyers listings below — and absolutely consult your own bar rules. Still, complying with the Super Lawyers guidelines is a good start that will get you most of the way to compliance for many jurisdictions. So let's start there.
You are an awesome lawyer, no doubt. But you are not actually a super hero. Consistent with Super Lawyers guidelines and the gist of most bars' rules on advertising, your Super Lawyers listing doesn't give you a license to promote yourself as more than human or superior to other lawyers — in particular to the 95% of lawyers in your state who were not listed. So no slogans or images that suggest you are "super." Or that you are "the best." Or, especially, that you can fly. (Unless you can.)
Consistent with the above, as super-awesome as you are at your job, you should refrain from calling yourself a "Super Lawyer" (or a "Rising Star") in the singular. Rather, you were "selected to the 2017 Michigan Super Lawyers list" or "included on this year's Top 10 California Super Lawyers list." Indeed, the guide notes that "Super Lawyers" should always be stated in plural form and refers to a listing of attorneys — not a group of attorneys. Similarly, although Super Lawyers listings are limited to 5% of attorneys in a given state, you should not say that you are "in the top 5% of lawyers" in your state. Rather, you can specify that you were "selected to the 2017 Texas Super Lawyers list" and that the list "is limited to 5% of lawyers in Texas" or that "only 5% of lawyers in the state are selected."
As stated by Super Lawyers itself, Super Lawyers employs an annual, jurisdictional selection process. Thus, the relevant year(s) and your jurisdiction are integral to the honor: you should state both whenever referring to your listing with Super Lawyers. Some bar rules note such a requirement for describing honors, as well, so following this guideline is definitely the best practice. Further, you should make clear whether your rating is connected with a specific area of legal practice — and you should make equally clear if it is not. I.e. the most common Super Lawyers listings do not officially endorse a particular area of practice, and thus should be phrased along these lines:
NOPE: Rebecca was named a Super Lawyer in the area of divorce law.
YES!: Rebecca was selected to the 2017 Michigan Super Lawyers list. Her primary area of practice is divorce law.
"Super Lawyers" (a part of Thompson Reuters) is, indeed, a registered trademark. So displaying the name as "Super Lawyers®" doesn't hurt. But nothing in the Super Lawyers usage guidelines requires or requests that attorneys use the symbol whenever they refer to Super Lawyers.
Super Lawyers makes it very easy to download a personalized Super Lawyers badge for free for your website or other marketing materials. You have a choice of layouts and colors. And yes, there is no cost: our clients often ask whether you have to pay to get a Super Lawyers badge and, no, you don't pay anything. At least, not in money.
The way you "pay" for your Super Lawyers badge is by renting Super Lawyers real estate on your law firm's website. The badges they send you are embedded with code that includes several links on each badge that go back to the Super Lawyers website. The badge, when clicked on by someone viewing your website, thus can take the user to your Super Lawyers profile or to the main SuperLawyers.com domain. This benefits Super Lawyers in two main ways:
And how does the Super Lawyers badge benefit you? In the past we've discussed more thoroughly how a Super Lawyer badge benefits you. Beyond the mere visual interest and promotion of a fancy-sounding honor, most germane here is that you may find value in sending your prospective clients off to see your Super Lawyers profile, thus verifying that you are, in fact, listed on that official-looking site. In particular, you may value this if you've paid to enhance your Super Lawyers profile in a way you think your prospects will find impressive.
In The Modern Firm's opinion, however, the primary value of your Super Lawyers profile comes from folks finding you on Super Lawyers and therefore choosing to check you out further. I.e., Super Lawyers benefits you most by piquing interest in you from clients who started at the Super Lawyers site and providing inbound links to your website — not the other way around. In other words, to the extent you participate with Super Lawyers, you most often want to leverage Super Lawyers to bring clients to your website, not send them away.
Most jurisdictions' rules of professional conduct do allow you to mention or promote your Super Lawyers listing, albeit with varying restrictions and requirements. Importantly, we do not recommend that you rely on Super Lawyers for this information. Although it purports to offer state-specific information about use of the Super Lawyers name and badges, the relevant rules of professional conduct for attorneys vary a lot and change often. It's better for you to confirm with your own bar organization whether and how you can promote the listing in your jurisdiction.
Now, that said, I can speak in some generalities so you understand what the possible considerations may be — and where to look in your own bar rules.
And here, of course, is my big ol' caveat: I always endeavor to offer up-to-date language and links as of this writing, as well as The Modern Firm's knowledge gained from years of experience working with these rules. But I am not a legal expert on the rules or their interpretation. And, particularly with regard to state RPCs, I am not always privy to hard-to-find or members-only ethics rulings or bar guidance. So: buyer beware!! Please do your own research when making final decisions on these issues for yourself.
Because many states use the ABA model rules as a starting point for their own RPCs, let's start there. The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct are quite liberal about use of the Internet for attorney advertising. The key is generally that you always need to comply with the basic tenant of RPC 7.1 on Communication Concerning a Lawyer's Services: your communications should not be "false" or "misleading." The "misleading" aspect is most commonly cited when bars question the promotion of listings with groups like Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, Lawyers of Distinction, whathaveyou.
As is helpfully summed up in this ABA article, the concern is whether the criteria of such awards are meaningful, as opposed to simply fee-based (i.e. you buy membership in the organization) or based on mere tallies of years in practice and/or lack of disciplinary history. Hence, some states — at times after courts have weighed in on the balance between attorney regulation and First Amendment rights — have issued guidelines on how to determine if an honor should be considered sufficiently bona fide, and thus not misleading to the public.
If you want to get deeper into these issues, the New York Legal Ethics Reporter offered a particularly nice piece, back in 2011, on the history of entrepreneurial lawyer rankings. Their proliferation — along with the language and tenor of many rules on attorney advertising — originates in large part with Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977). In Bates, the U.S. Supreme Court held, contrary to the traditional prohibition on marketing by attorneys, that lawyers have First Amendment rights to advertise their services through truthful, non-misleading information. See, "ABA Studies ‘Super,’ ‘Best,’ and Other Lawyer Rankings," by Roy Simon.
The general consensus on whether Super Lawyers is a bona fide award is: yes. Guidance from Michigan Ethics Opinion RI-341 is an exemplar on the question whether it is a real award that doesn't just snow the public with fancy language. In concluding that promoting your Super Lawyers listing is acceptable under Michigan RPC 7.1, the opinion examined other states' treatment of the subject and set out criteria for evaluating all comparable honors:
Examples of states that have determined formally or informally that Super Lawyers, specifically, is indeed bona fide include, e.g., Iowa (Ethics Opinion 07-09), Tennessee (Advisory Ethics Opinion 2006-A-841), Utah (Ethics Advisory Opinion 14-04), Delaware (Advisory Opinion 2008-2), Alaska (Ethics Opinion 2009-2), and Florida (Rule Regulating the Florida Bar 4-7.14, comment).
Some states apply similar criteria but go a step further. New Jersey is a flag bearer on prohibiting promotion of unsubstantiated honors and conspicuously publishing an honor's methodology. NJ RPC 7.1(a)(3) prohibits communications that compare the lawyer's services with other lawyers' services, unless:
(i) the name of the comparing organization is stated,
(ii) the basis for the comparison can be substantiated, and
(iii) the communication includes the following disclaimer in a readily discernible manner: "No aspect of this advertisement has been approved by the Supreme Court of New Jersey."
The comment to the rule explains what this requires in practice:
A truthful communication that the lawyer has received an honor or accolade is not misleading or impermissibly comparative for purposes of this Rule if:
(1) the conferrer has made inquiry into the attorney’s fitness;
(2) the conferrer does not issue such an honor or accolade for a price; and
(3) a truthful, plain language description of the standard or methodology upon which the honor or accolade is based is available for inspection either as part of the communication itself or by reference to a convenient, publicly available source.
Here are a couple examples of how The Modern Firm has helped New Jersey attorneys to comply with NJ RPC 7.1(a)(3):
Examples of other states that require a lawyer to publish award methodology or other disclaimers include, e.g., New York (once the rating is determined to be bona fide, the advertisement must also say “Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome,” NY RPC 7.1, comment ), North Carolina (standards for inclusion must be explained in the advertisement or information on how to view the standards elsewhere must be provided, Formal Ethics Opinion 2007-14), and potentially Pennsylvania (promotion of Super Lawyers ratings are permissible only when the advertisement contains "sufficiently detailed information about that process and criteria for the reader to whom the advertisement is directed, to determine the manner and context within which the designation was made," non-binding Ethics Opinion 2004-10 of the Philadelphia Bar Association's Professional Guidance Committee).
It's fair to say that the upshot on Super Lawyers promotion is: do it if you find it meaningful, comply with your state bar rules, and be aware of the mechanics and downside of including linked badges on your website. States generally allow promotion, but check your own bar rules and ethics opinions to see if there are requirements about how you display your listing. Requirements range from relatively simple rules stating that you must include your year(s) and the practice area(s) (if any) named in the award (e.g. Florida, Alaska, Delaware) to rules requiring disclaimers and descriptions of award methodology in direct proximity to mention of the award (New Jersey being the quintessential example).
Your best bet, if you're uncertain about your jurisdiction's requirements, is to call your ethics hotline (if you have one) to see if guidance has been issued. Of course you could also request an informal ethics opinion on the matter, as well. And, don't forget: some states, like Texas, require pre-approval of your website before you publish it!
Most importantly, inform your website developer of any requirements or concerns and do not rely entirely on that developer, or someone you've hired for marketing, to advise you with regard to bar rule compliance: as the attorney, it is your job to make sure you are adhering to your rules of professional conduct. And you'll be the one whose reputation suffers if you accept bad advice.
That said, attorneys are generally best off working with website designers who are familiar, overall, with potential restrictions imposed by bar rules — and thus who can offer you time-tested options for compliance with your particular rules. For example, The Modern Firm can add this paragraph to the standard website disclaimer we use for law firm websites:
Super Lawyers and Rising Stars listings. The Super Lawyers and Rising Stars lists are issued by Thomson Reuters. These lists honor no more than 5% of licensed attorneys in a given state, based on peer recognition and professional achievements. Learn more about the Super Lawyers selection methodology.
This disclaimer covers several basic bases. And, of course, when our attorney content staff members write or review the text for your website, we're always reading with common bar restrictions in mind. You will not inadvertently call yourself "a Super Lawyer" on our watch!
If you are an existing Modern Firm client looking to add or update a Super Lawyers honor on your website, email our support team at email@example.com. If you are an attorney looking for a web designer that has experience complying with attorney advertising rules, tell us about your firm and your needs!