While your legal marketing department has a moment to breathe, this is the time to take a step back and make sure you are ready to start the whole legal rankings cycle again. In our last article, we mentioned the importance of using the time between Chambers USA seasons by wrapping up last year’s submissions, repurposing content and preparing for the next round. We’re going to highlight some action items you can take now to ensure ethics compliance on your advertising materials, keep style consistent for displaying recognitions on attorney bios and flag any gaps in your rankings and awards strategy.

Here are a few tips for making the most of the rankings downtime.

Compliance with Bar Association Rules

There is one thing might strike more fear in the hearts of legal marketers than managing rankings, and that is bar compliance. One of the most common topics we are asked about in relation to rankings is how to list a ranking recognition in biographies and on websites while remaining in compliance with each state’s bar rules, because some now consider rankings announcements or postings as advertising.

Many states have similar provisions, but a few are significantly different. Remember, you may have lawyers licensed in states beyond your office footprint, so even if you know the rules related to the states where you have offices, make sure you are also aware of the rules in every state where your lawyers are licensed.

Depending on the states, you may choose to comply with the most-rigorous rules. If you have one or two lawyers in state with stricter rules, you may opt to ensure compliance for those lawyers with their state bars, but maintain compliance with the less-rigorous states in which the firm operates.

In recent years, some state bar associations have started to require disclaimers related to rankings. For example, in 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Attorney Advertising updated rules concerning advertising awards, honors and accolades. The committee’s notice required additional language be displayed in references to rankings awards to provide explanation and context, such as a disclaimer on an attorney’s biography page that says something like this, with a link to a page on your website listing methodologies — or links to methodologies — for all recognitions and awards:

To the extent this is considered an advertisement, “No aspect of this advertisement has been approved by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.” Click here to view recognition methodology.

Most firms also have a disclaimer page focused on things like liability, indemnification, jurisdiction, etc. It may be time to include recognition methodology for all awards on that page, similar to this:

Our firm and many of our lawyers have been recognized by various publications or organizations in their rankings. To understand how the rankings were determined, please see the links below.

The final compliance issue to consider is the rules set by the rankings organizations/publications themselves. Many rankings have specific requirements for how you may publicize their recognition.

For example, this is a response on the Super Lawyers® FAQ page.

Can an attorney selected to the Super Lawyers list be called a “Super Lawyer”?
A lawyer on our list is not a “Super Lawyer” or a “Rising Star.” Rather, “they have been named to the 2022 Minnesota Super Lawyers list or 2022 Minnesota Rising Stars list.” When used properly, the term is not descriptive or comparative, which in some jurisdictions could raise ethical concerns. Instead, it’s a fact-based statement, and as such, is protected speech.

Here is a link to their usage guidelines. It is important to make sure you are compliant with these guidelines, as well as bar association rules.

Housekeeping: Review All Previous Legal Rankings and Recognitions

Now is also a good time to do a little tidying up. It is amazing how annual website updates can look fine on the surface, but when you step back and look at the whole picture, you notice inconsistencies that may have developed over time.

This is the time to take a look at each lawyer’s recognitions. Are the years of recognition correct? It is not uncommon for a year to be missing, so look through the historical rankings to make sure you are listing each year an attorney was recognized. Remember, listing a start date with no end date — “1998–present” — is not permitted. It should be written as 1998–2021/2022.

Is the style consistent among lawyers? Check a new lateral attorney’s bio that might have been added quickly when they joined. Maybe their previous firm listed recognitions one way and your firm lists them differently. A great way to ensure consistency is to develop a style sheet and apply it to all new additions to the site.

Since you have already taken the time to review the requirements for bar compliance, use this as the basis for your style sheet. List all the most common recognitions that your lawyers receive and how each should appear in website bios. This will make it easy for anyone to update bios from now on, and it will ensure you are able to maintain the consistency you have worked to achieve.

Begin the process of making templates now for future awards and honors. What assets should be included in announcing a recognition? Do you need to prepare website news posts and social media posts? This will include having up-to-date photos of ranked attorneys. Having templates and photos ready will ensure consistency in style and format.

Now is also the time to plan for updating attorney biographies. Keep in mind that some bios will list rankings in multiple places, such as both the narrative and the “awards” section. Create a list of that rankings logos that are featured on your website and where. Be mindful of badges that might have to be both updated and purchased. Have you budgeted appropriately for that?

Streamline Your Process for Next Year’s Legal Rankings

Another great thing to do with this downtime is to streamline your process for the upcoming rankings season. You can dramatically increase your efficiency and reduce your stress level by getting prepared.

Begin the process of documenting big wins that the firm has had since the last submission. Are there individual attorneys or practice areas that you may want to focus on getting ranked but have not in the past? Now is the time to make those decisions, and get firm management and those attorneys on board. Based on your last ranking, what strategic improvements could you make to increase the odds of a better future ranking?

Reviewing your attorney bios will also show you who is not currently recognized. Do these lawyers want to pursue recognitions? Does the firm want to promote individuals who are not currently ranked? Use these data to adjust your rankings strategy for the coming year.

Be Prepared

No marketer wants to be asked the dreaded question of why one of their firm’s attorneys was not recognized for a particular award or to be accused of not updating information in biographies or on websites. You may not always have the answer, but now is the time to try to mitigate those questions and concerns.

Want to talk more about your legal rankings program, initiatives or submissions? Need help getting started or with submission guidance or review? Jaffe can help. Reach out to Evyan O’Keefe at eokeefe@jaffepr.com or 347.213.7656.