The Pros and Cons of Putting an Attorney Rating Badge on Your Law Firm’s Site

By The Black Fin Team

Posted:

Category: Industry News


It’s one of the most frequently searched queries by attorneys in the United States: what is the Super Lawyers award, does anyone care about it, and does the designation belong on your website?

With any oft-asked question comes a million answers, and you’ll find replies in either extreme online. Some blogs feel very strongly that anyone who’s earned a Super Lawyers badge ought to put it on proud display. Others think it’s a meaningless and self-congratulatory boast, bordering on tacky.

Wading through all these opinions requires an investigation into their source. Look deep enough and you’ll often find a financial motive for feeling strongly anti or pro. Online attorney ratings is big business, after all.

It’s our feeling that whenever there are extremes of opinion, the truth usually sits somewhere between. So today, we’re going to get into this question, but we’re less interested in a “yes” or “no” answer than in a rationale.

(That said, don’t worry… if you’re looking for an easy yes or no, we’ll do our best to give you one at the end.)

As an attorney web marketing agency with no larger corporate parent, we don’t have a horse in this race. We work with many attorneys who are Super Lawyers — and many more who aren’t — but we don’t have any sort of kickback arrangement with Super Lawyers or their competitors.

Frankly, we’ve built a lot of law firm websites, and we’ve chosen to include this type of attorney rating badge on some while leaving them off others. It all depends on the firm — how they feel about Super Lawyers, how their clients might feel about it, what the local competitors are doing, and how that firm has positioned itself in terms of a USP (Unique Selling Proposition).

There are pros and cons. We’ll explore both of those. But first, let’s clarify what Super Lawyers is (including its sister designation, the Rising Stars award) and dispel some of the confusion about how it works and how important the program is.

What Is Super Lawyers? How Does It Work? Is It a Scam?

Super Lawyers is one of many attorney rating websites purporting to distinguish “the best from the rest” among U.S. lawyers. In its own words:

“Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The patented selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations.”

There are plenty of other services that attempt to do the same thing (read our thoughts on Avvo reviews), but Super Lawyers is significant because:

  • It’s one of the most popular attorney rating websites.• It’s owned by Thomson Reuters, the same corporate powerhouse that owns Westlaw.

    • It employs a unique approach for determining which lawyers rate well. (They even have a patent on the process!)

    • It appears on a lot of law firm websites, leading other lawyers to think it needs to be on theirs too.

Not everyone can earn recognition as a Super Lawyer. In fact, no more than 5% of the practicing attorneys in each state can be added to the registry each year. But the honor seems slightly less selective when you realize that not all lawyers are really in the running – only those whose names get submitted.

The selection process begins with a round of nominations, most of which are sent in by fellow attorneys. To its credit, the organization goes to great lengths to try to keep that process fair. For example:

  • You can’t nominate yourself, nor can you pay your way into consideration.
  • If you’re nominated by someone in your own law firm, that nomination is weighted differently and needs to be supported by someone outside the firm too. Ditto nominations from non-lawyers (such as your marketer).
  • Super Lawyers maintains a research team tasked with assigning point values to nominated attorneys based on independent / objective criteria (e.g. honors, certifications, whether the attorney has been published, etc.). The same team has authority to find its own candidates too, whether they’ve been nominated or not.
  • Attorneys who have previously earned high Super Lawyers ratings get to make the final decision.

So it really wouldn’t be fair to call Super Lawyers a racket or a scam. Those words go too far. Even the New Jersey Supreme Court agrees with that. Look no further than this 2008 court decision, which Super Lawyers is pleased as punch for you to read. (It’s on prominent display on their website.)

“[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.”

“Suffice to say, the selection procedures employed by [Super Lawyers] are very sophisticated, comprehensive and complex.”

“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.”

But while you can’t pay your way onto the list, you can pay your way to a higher spot on the list. (That is, attorneys who pay for premium placement get increased visibility on the Super Lawyers site.) The program is a for-profit enterprise, owned by a major corporation, and so the whole process is ultimately about making Thomson Reuters money, however fair its methodology may otherwise be. That makes it different from some other honors. The Nobel Peace Prize this is not.

What About Super Lawyers’ Rising Stars?

Rising Stars is a separate list, still maintained by Super Lawyers, but its honorees must meet the following criteria:

  • The attorney is younger than 40 years of age
  • The attorney has been in practice for 10 years or less
  • The attorney otherwise meets the criteria necessary to be designated a Super Lawyer

Whereas the broader Super Lawyers list is limited to 5% of the practicing attorneys in each state, Rising Stars is even more selective. It’s limited to 2.5%.

To Decide Whether You Should Include Super Lawyers on Your Website, First Clarify Your Goals

Having laid out how Super Lawyers works and whether it’s “legit,” let us now turn to the question at hand: does the designation (usually expressed in the form of a colorful digital badge) belong on your law firm website?

To answer that, first ask yourself: why does anything go on your website? Why do you even have a website?

Those answers are easy: to get clients, to strengthen your brand, to edge out your competitors, and to communicate your USP.

In other words, the goal is to grow your firm and make more money.

Your website isn’t about bragging. It’s not about your biography. To put a sharp point on it, it’s not about you… or at least it shouldn’t be. (More on that in a moment).

So this whole conversation about whether to include Super Lawyers on your website comes down to this single inquiry: does it help your website do its job of growing your practice by getting you bigger cases and better clients?

Us Messaging vs. You Messaging: Which One Is Super Lawyers?

At Black Fin, we consistently preach the idea that your law firm’s marketing messages should always be about the client instead of the lawyer.

It’s the difference of:

  • “Us” messaging (“We have so many degrees, so many wins under our belts, so much experience…”)
  • “You” messaging (“You will probably have a hard time getting a fair settlement from the insurance company by yourself, but an experienced lawyer with a record of success can use effective strategies to get you what you deserve.”)

The second message is so much powerful than the first, even though both emphasize the importance of experience. The distinction is in to whom it is important.

Which of these messages does the Super Lawyers distinction communicate?

Arguably, you could position it either way.

The mistake would be to make it the focus of your messaging, wherein the Super Lawyers badge becomes all about you. “Hire us because we’re Super Lawyers!” doesn’t directly connect with the client’s experience.

This is better: “Your chances of maximizing compensation are better when you’re represented by a lawyer who knows how to negotiate claims with your best interest in mind. That’s how attorneys make a difference. We believe our clients have gotten bigger financial recoveries because we combine passion with experienced-based strategy… and that’s how we became one of the few firms recognized by the Super Lawyers program.”

The latter gives context to the Super Lawyers designation and makes it part of a narrative the client can relate to and understand.

So it isn’t so much about whether you include a Super Lawyers listing on your website as how you include it.

Check Your Jurisdiction’s Latest Ethics Opinions Too

A quick caveat: if you think mentioning Super Lawyers on your website might get you in trouble with your state bar, stay away from it altogether.

To date, we aren’t aware of any state ethics boards that have prohibited attorneys from putting a Super Lawyers badge on their website. But several states (most notably New Jersey) have issued strict guidelines for doing so.

In Jersey, for example, it’s okay to note that you were selected by the Super Lawyers organization for inclusion on its published list, but you can’t simply call yourself “a Super Lawyer” without further explanation. (That’s important because we’ve seen a lot of lawyers calling themselves just that online, without any fine print.)

Even if you make the clarification on your own site, you could get in trouble by including the Super Lawyers designation on LinkedIn or other social media forums lest you follow the rules to a T there too.

In Connecticut, there’s an ethics advisory opinion that talks about the importance of clarifying which practice area Super Lawyers recognized you for, among other things.

And the ABA published a study back in 2011 that detailed the ethical problems that could arise in other jurisdictions.

These are just examples, and it’s always possible that other ethics boards could issue new and different opinions in the future. So keep an eye on those rulings, and in the meantime, err on the side of careful and thorough wording… or otherwise don’t mention Super Lawyers at all.

(By the way, while we’re on the topic, you might want to read our guide to six common ethics mistakes lawyers make in their online marketing. There are some lifesavers there.)

Gut Instinct: How Does Super Lawyers Make You Feel? Icky or Proud?

An important consideration in all this is your own personal reaction to the Super Lawyers brand. Did you feel proud when you or your colleagues were selected? Did other people in your own life seem impressed? Do you, personally, think the distinction means something?

We find that different lawyers answer those questions differently. If you respect the honor and are genuinely proud to have it, we aren’t about to tell you not to promote it. By all means, put it on your site! Be proud! It is something!

By the same token, if it doesn’t sit well with you, don’t feel like you must broadcast it or else you’re committing a marketing sin. We promise: you’re absolved.

Super Lawyers and SEO: Who Benefits More… You or Them? Or Both?

SEO cuts both ways when it comes to Super Lawyers. Their site can send some traffic your way. There are prospective clients out there who visit attorney rating websites to look for a lawyer. When those sites link to your firm, that brings in leads and also adds some backlinking value to your quality score in Google’s algorithm.

But by putting a Super Lawyers badge on your website, you might be helping Thomson Reuters just as much as they’re helping you (if not more). Unless modified, the embed code they send along with that badge will link your site to theirs.

The danger there is that you could actually send traffic away from your site to SuperLawyers.com, where your client-to-be could discover another local lawyer (perhaps one who is paying for premium placement) and hire them instead.

We’re not convinced that’s going to happen on a regular basis, mind you. Most of your leads will see the badge, some will be impressed by it, but how many will care enough to click and start browsing for other lawyers?

Still, if it happens even once, that could be once too many. What if it’s the million-dollar case that got away?

It’s worth noting that SuperLawyers.com does very well on Google, consistently earning a high rank in local search results. Better to be listed there than not. Then again, just because you earn the Super Lawyers distinction doesn’t mean you have to plaster it on your own home page. In other words, they can link to you even if you don’t link to them.

So there isn’t a clear-cut answer as to whether SEO goes in the “pro” or “con” column for Super Lawyers. Call this one a draw.

Looking for a Yes or No Answer?

At the end of the day, there probably isn’t a clear-cut right or wrong answer to the question in our headline. But we promised an easy “yes” or “no” for those looking for one. So here it goes…

Yes. By all means, if you’re a Super Lawyer, say so. But (surprise, surprise… a caveat):

  • Don’t make too big a fuss over it.
  • Couch it in a “you” narrative, not in “us” language
  • Think twice before linking to SuperLawyers.com from your own site
  • Be super careful about the language you use with respect to the ethics rules & opinions in your jurisdiction
  • Make sure any reference to Super Lawyers on social media includes the same context/disclosures required by the ethics rules
  • Never make the Super Lawyers designation the focus of any webpage on your site.

Some perspective: no law firm will either rise or fall solely on the basis of a Super Lawyers badge.

Hire Black Fin to Manage Your Law Firm’s Digital Marketing Strategy

If you’re wondering whether to include Super Lawyers on your website, what you’re really wondering about is how best to market your legal services online.

As it happens, digital marketing for attorneys is exactly what we do at Black Fin (the only thing we do, in fact), and we’re very good at it.

There’s a reason we’ve earned the top spot on Google for attorney SEO, and it’s the same reason we’ve gotten so many of our other clients to the top of Google too.

We know how to build attorney websites and use digital strategies to make law firms grow. Find out what we can do for you. Contact Black Fin today.

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