How law firms can noticeably benefit from legal awards, honors and accolades

• 5 minute read

Marketing and communications professionals who are new to the legal profession may be surprised by the degree to which law firms and lawyers embrace legal awards and recognitions. It’s estimated that there are now more than 2,000 honors that specifically target the US legal profession, and the number of awards handed out by media outlets, bar associations and law schools has grown exponentially over the past two decades. And once those who are new to the profession understand the value and benefits, that growth makes sense.

The benefits to the group giving the award are straightforward: It engenders goodwill with the recipient, creates content for the organization to share with its target audience and can generate revenue, particularly if nominees are paying entry fees and winners are buying ads or tickets to an award event.

For the law firm marketer working on 2021’s budget, the benefits to the law firm are much more important considerations. Whether nominating individuals, practices, client teams or the entire firm, the benefits can largely be broken into three categories: Professional, personal and firmwide.

The professional benefits of legal awards and accolades

In short, legal awards and accolades serve as a third-party validation of an individual, practice or firm’s credentials. No client is likely to hire an attorney because of an award he or she received, but it may get that lawyer (or practice or firm) on a prospective client’s radar – or even their short list.

Take the general counsel of a company that doesn’t have a lot of intellectual property needs, but suddenly faces a thorny IP issue. That GC will seek referrals from trusted counsel and check the top-rated firms in Chambers, but also look at Law360’s Intellectual Property Practice Groups of the Year, or National Law Journal’s Intellectual Property Trailblazers. And even if the GC doesn’t check those lists, seeing those accolades in a lawyer’s bio serves as validation that the attorney or practice does good work.

Simply put, legal awards and honors help elevate the profile of law firms, their practice groups and their attorneys, and differentiate them from their competitors. And given the scarcity of in-person networking events during the pandemic, recognitions can an even more important way to raise a lawyer’s profile in the coming year.

While award dinners have gone on hiatus during the pandemic, when they return post-pandemic, they can be great networking opportunities, particularly when the ceremony honors both in-house counsel and lawyers in private practice.

The personal benefits of legal awards and recognitions

When it comes to individual and team awards, the benefits extend beyond business development. There are a host of psychic rewards that people derive from being recognized for their accomplishments.

Particularly in a time when some law firms are still operating under austerity measures (and many attorneys may be experiencing job insecurity even in the absence of salary cuts), putting attorneys forward for awards can improve morale.

In fact, I’d argue that law firms should be doubling down on legal award nominations of the 40 Under 40 and Rising Star variety in an effort to help improve job satisfaction among senior associates and younger partners – particularly women and ethnic minorities, who are a hot recruiting target these days. While a professional recognition doesn’t guarantee they’ll stay put, it certainly adds to the feeling that their firm recognizes and appreciates their good work.

Individual award nominations are also a great way to appease those squeaky wheels who require more support and demand extra attention. And while most awards in the legal professional are open to self-nominations, for recognitions that require either a separate nominator or a letter of recommendation, an award nomination can be a great way to strengthen a relationship between nominator and nominee.

The firmwide benefits of legal accolades and honors

Whether a firm is pursuing individual, practice area or firmwide awards, any recognition can be leveraged across internal and external communications channels.

Award announcements should be shared in internal newsletters and communicated to a broader audience via social media channels, press releases and website announcements, and added to individual bios and practice area pages.

Recognitions are an effective way to communicate the firm’s values to a wide audience – particularly when the awards honor a firm’s work on pro bono matters, recognize its diversity, applaud its social justice efforts or focus on other laudable efforts. Clients may appreciate these efforts, and new recruits, particularly Millennials and Gen Z lawyers, often seek out employers whose values match their own.

As law firms prepare their 2021 marketing and communications budgets, many are sure to be influenced by economic uncertainty as a result of the pandemic and the US elections. Given that many media outlets and associations cancelled or scaled back their awards programs in 2020, some law firms may also rein in their plans for 2021 accolades. But even if tables at awards ceremonies and congratulatory ads in the dinner program don’t make the cut for 2021, law firms shouldn’t take their foot off the gas – honors, awards and accolades yield significant value even when they aren’t accompanied by a banquet.

Legal awards and honors provide great bang for a law firm’s buck. Whether handled by the internal marketing and communications team or an outside agency, most nominations can be drafted in 10 hours or less (and many can be drafted in about five hours), and usually require about an hour of the nominee’s time for an interview and final sign-off.

Jennifer King is an associate vice president at Infinite Global, based in Chicago. She leads the company’s awards and legal directories work for US-based clients. She can be reached at jenniferk@infiniteglobal.com.

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