Are you a Super Lawyer? Trick question. No, you are not.
That is, I'm sure you're a really super lawyer. But it is not recommended that you describe yourself as a "Super Lawyer" on your law firm website.
In most jurisdictions, you can, however, promote your listing with Super Lawyers and even display their nifty badge/logo on your website design.
Still, one of the most common questions we get from attorneys during the website design process is: should I include my Super Lawyers listing? They wonder whether it really impresses clients, whether selection is actually meaningful, and indeed whether mentioning Super Lawyers might even seem tacky. Our answer is usually: it depends, and we'll help you decide for yourself! Here is the information you need to do just that.
Super Lawyers® is an arm of Thomson Reuters, a major player in the legal arena that, as you probably know, acquired West publishing some years ago and so also owns Westlaw. In short, Super Lawyers is an attorney rating service that recognizes lawyers from across the U.S. annually on "Super Lawyers" and "Rising Stars" lists based on area of practice, firm size, and geographic location.
Super Lawyers touts the validity and meaningfulness of its ratings by citing its patented selection process and the fact that it limits the number of attorneys included to 5% or fewer of the number of attorneys in a given state. (2.5% for the Rising Stars lists, which are for attorneys under 40 who have been in practice 10 years or less.)
The organization lists its ratings in Super Lawyers Magazine and in special sections of city and regional magazines. And, of course, attorneys listed with Super Lawyers are included in the SuperLawyers.com database where potential clients can search for attorneys by name, practice area and geographic location. In the world of online marketing, this SuperLawyers.com listing is particularly noteworthy. As a large website devoted to legal services, SuperLawyers.com has an SEO edge: search Google for a type of attorney in a given geographic location and you're likely to see a link to relevant Super Lawyers on the first page of the search results.
The Super Lawyers "patented multiphase selection process" generally begins with nominations by other lawyers, which the organization solicits in part through surveys. The Super Lawyers research team also identifies candidates on its own. Each candidate is then assigned a point value by the research team based on "12 indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement" including notable verdicts or settlements, years of experience, honors, certifications, publications, and other professional achievements. The sources for the research include "a proprietary list of database and online sources, including national and local legal trade publications."
The lawyers with the highest point values are advanced to a "blue ribbon review" by a panel of invited attorneys who are, themselves, nominees with particularly high point values. The panelists rate the final candidates on a scale of 1 to 5. The candidates are then grouped into firm-size categories and those with the top scores receive Super Lawyers designations within those categories. Finally, those with the highest points are also assigned to "Top" lists, like "Top 100: 2016 Texas Super Lawyers," "Top 50: 2016 Women Pennsylvania Super Lawyers," and "Top 5: 2016 Michigan Consumer Super Lawyers," etc.
For their part, Super Lawyers and Thompson Reuters have gone to great lengths to dispel the perception that anyone can inappropriately game their system. For example, when describing their nomination process, they take pains to explain that: an attorney cannot nominate him or herself or solicit nominations from other lawyers; in-firm nominations are assigned a lower point value and count only if matched by at least one out-firm nomination; the research team itself discovers outstanding lawyers who are otherwise overlooked, such as those in smaller firms, from smaller communities, or practicing in less visible practice areas; and, by tracking who nominates whom, they are aware of excessive "back-scratch" nominations (lawyers nominating each other) and "block nominations" (where members of the same law firm all cast identical nominations).
In the wake of scrutiny by courts and bar associations, Super Lawyers also promotes a 2008 evaluation of its process by the New Jersey courts which concluded, in part:
[The Super Lawyers selection process] is a comprehensive, good-faith and detailed attempt to produce a list of lawyers that have attained high peer recognition, meet ethical standards, and have demonstrated some degree of achievement in their field. ...
It is absolutely clear from this record that [Super Lawyers does] not permit a lawyer to buy one’s way onto the list, nor is there any requirement for the purchase of any product for inclusion in the lists or any quid pro quo of any kind or nature associated with the evaluation and listing of an attorney or in the subsequent advertising of one’s inclusion in the lists.
Even if the Super Lawyers nomination and rating process is generally on the up-and-up, it is still reasonable to ask some follow up questions before you decide how involved you want to be. For, indeed, Super Lawyers is a money-maker, and one may question whether its listings are the best way for potential clients to find or evaluate good attorneys.
Starting with the nomination process, although non-attorneys cannot officially nominate attorneys for consideration, Super Lawyers does accept informal nominations — including from marketers. Although attorneys are not given nomination points based on these informal nominations, the attorneys are nonetheless added to the pool for evaluation. In other words, even if you cannot nominate yourself, you can get yourself evaluated by Super Lawyers simply by making sure someone, including your marketing team, submits your name. This arguably takes the sting out of the company's efforts to avoid "back-scratch nominations" and campaigning for inclusion.
Moreover, depending on the number of names submitted in any given year, the limit of Super Lawyers designations to a number equal to or less than 5% of attorneys in a state could conceivably have little meaning: if a small enough number of names is considered, presumably all or nearly all nominees could, by default, have the "highest" point values in their fields regardless of their actual accomplishments.
Finally, you should be aware that, if you include your personalized Super Lawyers badge/logo on your website, the version they offer you generally includes a link back to their site. This gives their SEO a further boost. And, if clients click on the link even just to view your profile, they are swept into the Super Lawyers profile area where they may also be invited to view the profiles of your competitors.
Finally, the rub: although you cannot buy a nomination or rating, you can buy plenty of marketing services from Super Lawyers, including paying to "upgrade" your online profile in their database. This is where all the effort pays off for Thompson Reuters — and where many lawyers become particularly uncomfortable.
From the online marketing perspective, remember that Super Lawyers — like other big attorney profile aggregation sites, such as Avvo and FindLaw (yet another legal marketing arm of Thompson Reuters) — has an advantage in coming up for attorney searches online. It also actively promotes itself to the public as a place to find the best attorneys. Thus, it creates advantages for attorneys who are listed on its site, and especially for those who pay to make their profiles more visible.
Simply by virtue of being listed with Super Lawyers, you therefore get a little free benefit. But you are also involuntarily opted into a game you may not wish to play. You may worry that your unpaid-for profile will make you look worse in comparison to the expensive "enhanced" ones. Further, on sheer principle, it may bother you that these profile aggregators can include you on their websites without even asking you: you become an unwitting contributor to their dominance in organic search results — the very dominance that drives individual firm and attorney websites off page 1 of the search results.
All this said, companies like Thompson Reuters didn't invent the overall phenomenon here. Really, we can call just about anything related to marketing or professional networking a racket, at least on some level. From the earliest trade associations to unions and bar associations, groups have come up with ways to cater to their members and the public that foster a certain exclusivity and open doors for members only. Less formally, many lawyers find that, like it or not, they need to participate in certain civic activities, attend certain bar events, or even golf at certain clubs to maintain visibility and important connections. With Super Lawyers, as with each of these things, each of us has to decide for ourselves whether the benefits outweigh the costs in time, money, and reputation.
Put otherwise, in the end, Super Lawyers is a tool that you have to decide whether to use based on your own legal market, advertising strategy, and personal feelings about its methods. Importantly, think about two distinct potential benefits to you from a Super Lawyers listing.
First is the mere listing itself, which you need to decide whether to promote on your own website or other marketing materials. Here, the listing is a feather in your cap designed to reflect well on your reputation with potential clients or colleagues. Considerations:
The second way you might benefit is through taking your Super Lawyers listing to the next level by using their paid marketing services. Whether to do this is of course entirely dependent on your overall marketing strategy and budget, including which online marketing efforts offer the best return on your investment. Just keep in mind that no single service or provider is absolutely necessary to your success. For example, if being found through online searches for attorneys in your practice area and location is your goal, maybe you'll determine that working with a large aggregator, like Super Lawyers or Avvo, is worthwhile. But, you also have a lot of other options for how to meet that goal, from Google AdWords campaigns to improving your local search presence to content- and link-building. Your best bet is to work with an experienced online marketer for law firms to determine what will work best for your particular goals.
Finally, don't forget: your bar rules govern whether and how you can promote your Super Lawyers listing. See our Question of the Week on how to display your Super Lawyers listing on your website.