There are thousands of legal rankings out there and it can be easy — and frustrating — for a legal marketing team to get stuck in the constant barrage of new listings, categories and deadlines. Legal marketers are busy, and parsing rankings opportunities takes a lot of time. That’s why we did it for you, identifying the six basic tiers of legal rankings and their distinguishing characteristics.

A law firm rankings and awards strategy is an important piece of an integrated marketing program, but it takes an ongoing commitment of time and resources to continuously identify, leverage and execute the various opportunities in a comprehensive strategy. The first step is sorting the opportunities. Which rankings will best serve the firm’s marketing goals?

Not all rankings are created equal and not all law firms have the same priorities. It’s like buying a new suit: The brand, the style, the quality and the size all play important factors in the overall fit. The same can be said for a rankings strategy — for it to make the firm look good, it should be tailored to fit a firm’s unique goals.

As deadlines loom, it’s a great time to evaluate where time and energy are being spent versus where they should be spent. If a majority of time is focused outside of the top tiers, it may be time to diversify. This guide will help you decide where to focus your resources.

Tier 1 — Legal Directories

Legal directories command the top tier in rankings. These we all know and love — and maybe love to hate. They typically:

  • Are incredibly competitive, with intense research processes and extensive forms to populate (hence the mental tug of war when tackling the submissions).
  • Solicit client references, as well as firsthand feedback from the attorneys being considered.
  • Require a lot of input and specifics, which means a lot of “persistent reminders” leading up to the deadline.
  • Rank firms and teams based on professional accomplishments and sustained track records of excellence. One exceptional year won’t land an attorney on these lists.
  • Have rolling deadlines based on location or practice.

The value of these directories is that they are reputable and sought out by key decision- makers who determine legal spend. Examples of these kinds of rankings include Chambers and Legal500.

Tier 2 — National Legal Awards

The familiar names of national legal publications comprise this category — think Law360 and the National Law Journal. They know the industry and the players in it, and frequently report on several of the matters firms put forward. These lists typically:

  • Are highly competitive and can be more difficult to tap into, because they are singular lists of honorees rather than rated structures.
  • Base recognition on recent professional achievements.
  • Place an emphasis on cases and details that may be disclosed publicly.
  • Are fluid in composition — not the same names year after year.
  • Have rolling deadlines based on location or practice.

These lists recognize outstanding accomplishments annually, but not necessarily cumulatively, which makes them valuable. A particularly impressive year or matter that garnered national attention might earn inclusion, rather than an entire body of work.

Tier 3 — Regional and Business Publications

Regional and business publications publish a variety of lists where law firm members can be good candidates, and not necessarily always in legal categories. Examples include local titles of the Business Journals or Crain’s. These lists typically:

  • Base eligibility for inclusion primarily on location.
  • Consider both professional and personal accomplishments, as well as community contributions and achievements.
  • Involve a narrative nomination and often a letter of support.
  • Have one deadline for each list.

The value of these lists is their regional appeal and visibility in front of targeted businesses, usually in the firm’s footprint. They often demonstrate a more personal side of attorneys and firms that can highlight culture and build connections within a community.

Tier 4 — Trade Publications

Trade publications look internally to highlight professionals in their practice areas, such as IPStars for intellectual property attorneys. These lists typically:

  • Are specific to the attorney’s industry of experience.
  • Consider both professional and personal accomplishments, as well as community contributions and achievements.
  • Evaluate professional, personal and community accomplishments.
  • Involve a narrative nomination and often a letter of support; sometimes require a membership to be considered if the publication is published by an organization.
  • Have one deadline for each list.

A rich base of current and potential clients often reads these publications, making them a solid opportunity to get the firm name out and showcase the great work the firm is doing.

Tier 5 — Peer-Review and Vote-Based

This tier is also full of well-known publications focused on attorneys in private practice, but the submission processes are less demanding on attorneys and their marketing teams. Examples include Best Lawyers and Super Lawyers. These lists typically:

  • Rely heavily on peer review or voting.
  • Involve independent research and proprietary methodologies to compile their lists.
  • Have deadlines that vary by list.
  • Base eligibility on years in practice.
  • Base recognition on geography and then by area of practice.
  • Do not require matter submissions or narrative components.

These lists are a great way for firms and attorneys to build visibility. They capture the longstanding go-to firms and attorneys in their areas, as well as up-and-comers, so sometimes simply having a presence in them can be worth the minimal investment of time.

Tier 6 — Non-Reputable and Pay-to-Play

Legal marketers may have their own rankings preferences, but one thing everybody can agree on is a distaste for the scams that infiltrate their inboxes daily. Sometimes the red flags are glaring, but often, it takes a little digging to determine that the alleged opportunity is not reputable and solely pay-to-play. These lists:

  • Are total spam or scams.
  • Require payment for inclusion.
  • Involve paid memberships with little to no ROI.
  • Provide minimal methodology.

There is absolutely no value in these lists, so we always recommend steering clear unless you have an affinity for overpriced plaques and trophies.

We hope this guide provides some clarity about the kinds of rankings your law firm should be pursuing, or some motivation to evaluate your current rankings strategy. Given the sheer volume of legal rankings, it can be an overwhelming task to evaluate and pare down the mix to best help reach your firm’s goals. Jaffe’s RankingsforLawyers® team is well-positioned to assist, whether to provide a list of relevant opportunities, manage the process side of rankings, or draft and submit nominations for you. We can serve as your tailor to craft a custom, bespoke strategy that meets your needs.

Contact Evyan O’Keefe at or Mary Smith at with any questions or to discuss how we can help.