Superlawyers with Cheese, Please

When you pour your first cup of coffee this morning and pull out the New York Times Magazine, you’ll find it a bit heavier than normal.  That’s right.  Right there in the middle, past a fascinating cover story about Senior Associate Supreme Court Justice  John Paul Stevens, there is a monster advertising supplement for (ta da) Superlawyers!  Super Lawyers.  Super.  The best.  The best of the best.  The creme de la creme.  In four color glossy almost-candid photos.

Sigh.  This one truly pains me, as there are many friends of mine in there.  Men and women I like and respect.  There are also some lawyers who suck, and a few I’ve never even heard of.  Since I know most lawyers who practice criminal defense around these parts, it’s hard to imagine many Superlawyers whose names are unknown, but there they are.

Like most lawyers (I suppose), I’ve gotten the letter from Superlawyers that begins, “Congatulations! You have been nominated . . . ”  I file it with my Nigerian lottery notifications.  Apparently, that’s not true of all lawyers.  To each his own.

So what’s this Superlawyers all about?  According to Larry Bodine’s LawMarketing Blog, it’s about an appeal to ego.
When I am advising a law firm on marketing, and see that they’ve put their Super Lawyers selection on their Web site or in a press release, I recommend they immediately remove them.  They are embarrassing themselves.  They are advertising to the world that the only ranking they can get into is one that sells advertising. They are announcing how insecure they are that their ego needs to be propped up with apparent praise.

Ouch.  During a lunch with fellow marketers, Bodine says, “The marketers laughed, and then sighed about how easily the lawyers were fooled.  All it took was one shot at their egos and the were ready to pay money to be in a meaningless directory.”  Are lawyers that fragile?

There is no doubt that an advertising scheme like Superlawyers plays on the ego of lawyers, but in some respects it’s understandable.  An AV rating from Martindale Hubbell really doesn’t do much to distinguish a lawyer, and certainly lacks the pizazz of Super Lawyer.  You’ve never seen AV Man flying through the air with a cape, have you?

Ernie the Attorney was proud of himself for being a Super Lawyer, though it appears that he bought into the rhetoric without knowing that others simply bought in.

They sent us a letter that three of our lawyers had been chosen,” said the director of a prominent Ohio law firm.  “One was retired and another was dead.”  So much for their rigorous selection criteria.  “So I called up and said I wanted three different lawyers in the directory.  They said ‘OK.'”  Again, so much for their rigorous selection criteria.


One of the problems is that lawyers, looking for a way to distinguish themselves, may not be as scrupulous in vetting their “awards” as they should be.  Ernie probably is a Super Lawyer, but not because he was listed in the advertisement.  But if you really are a super lawyer, how do you let people know?

In New Jersey, Super Lawyers has been outlawed.  It was deemed unethical and a scam on the public.  Whether it’s any more of a scam than any other lawyer advertising is unclear, but the superlative nature of the list does tend to suggest a great deal about a lawyer that may not be exactly accurate.  Still, being part of the Super Lawyer advertisement doesn’t mean you aren’t a great lawyer either.

I chose to toss my Superlawyer notification.  I toss a lot of this stuff.  My AV rating from Martindale means something, I think, and I put stuff like this on my website because it’s all lawyers have available.  But Superlawyers was way over the top for me, and apparently for a number of other criminal defense lawyers I know who are far, far better than some of the people who decided to pay the fare and get their mugs into the New York Times Magazine today.  

I won’t criticize those lawyers who decided that it was worth the money to become a Superlawyer.  Every good criminal defense lawyer fights for the few top cases that come along, and wants any edge they can get.  There just aren’t that many really good cases.  Maybe I’ll bite when I get the advertisement to be a “Really, Really Super Lawyer.”  After all, if it is says “really” twice, it must be true.

28 comments on “Superlawyers with Cheese, Please

  1. Mark Bennett

    I’d seen Bodine’s post on the Superlawyers issue. Among other things, he writes:

    I remarked that research shows that only blue collar workers are impressed by the Super Lawyers designation — not corporate execs, GCs or referring lawyers. I’ve never seen a Super Lawyers listing in the office of any corporate leader who hired lawyers.

    Aren’t many (most) of the people who hire criminal defense lawyers these same “blue collar workers”?

  2. Turk

    So, is touting a SuperLawyer selection better, or worse, than touting an Avvo rating? And I know how much you like Avvo…

  3. SHG

    It’s different.  While Avvo ratings aren’t worth much, at least you don’t pay for the privilege.  It’s one thing to get a silly rating, and another to buy it. 

  4. SHG

    I see somebody didn’t check the Larry Bodine link.  Take a look, it’s pretty clear.

    I do have some personal knowledge from friends who have used this to promote themselves.  They believe that by having the word spread that they are Super Lawyers, it helps them and it’s no different than any other advertising method.  I will not, however, tell their stories out of school, but it’s a business decision that some feel is right for them. 

    As I said in the post, I’m not sure how a super lawyer let’s the world know he’s out there and available, particularly in today’s world of websites with shameless hyperbole.  Some of the people in this Super Lawyer advertisement are great lawyers, and being in this thing doesn’t make them lesser lawyers.  On the other hand, some are not, and we all know them to be less than stellar lawyers.  This is in my area, and I’m sure you know who’s who in yours. 

    The point remains that this is an advertisement, not a contest, and if this is the sort of advertisement that suits you, so be it.  But no one should be misled, which is why New Jersey outlawed it altogether.

  5. Mark Bennett

    Denied. You asked a Marcia Clark question; you’ll take the answer you get and like it.

    Okay, I’ll explain. I’m not making a judgment either way. One of Bodine’s reasons for deprecating “Superlawyer” advertising — that “only blue collar workers are impressed” — may be no reason for criminal lawyers not to buy it. There may be some classism underlying the criticism of “Superlawyer” advertising as advertising.

    (Remember — Larry is talking about a conference of law firm marketing director. What sort of law firm has a marketing director anyway?)

  6. SHG

    Got it.  You’re right that there is a covert “classism” dealing with its effectiveness as a marketing tool.  Since blue collars certainly represents a segment of the criminal defendant population, it may well be a more effective tool for criminal defense lawyers then other areas of law.  Though, I think blue collar also makes up a decent segment of personal injury as well.

    In any event, that was one point, and I think a minor point, in Bodine’s critique.  His primary point was that this was crass marketing geared to appeal to lawyer’s egos. 

  7. Mark Bennett

    Really? A “minor” point? Don’t you think big-firm marketing directors would be entirely in favor of SuperLawyers advertising if they thought it would work for them? They are, after all, marketers.

  8. De Novo

    Harvey Birdman Smiles Upon This

    Practitioner Scott H. Greenfield has an amusing rant against the Super Lawyer advertisement that ran in the same New York Times magazine as the Justice Stevens profile. SHG notes, “In New Jersey, Super Lawyers has been outlawed. It was deemed…

  9. SHG

    Indeed it is.  The primary theme is that this is a meaningless designation.  Tangentially, he notes that research shows that it appeals to blue collar workers rather than corporate CEOs.  But your point (I think) that if it did appeal to corporate CEOs, would they be concerned with whether it was meaningless is well taken.  After all, they are marketers.  From the marketing perspective, truth takes a back seat to anything that sells.

  10. Bill White

    As publisher of Super Lawyers, I wanted to jump in and correct some misinformation posted here concerning Super Lawyers.

    First, this idea that you can somehow buy your way onto the Super Lawyers list has replaced that story about alligators in the sewers as the great American Urban Myth. Sorry folks. It ain’t true. No matter what Larry Bodine thinks he overheard some unnamed marketing people saying at some unspecified event, it simply is not the case. Think about it: Sales doesn’t begin until after the selections have been made. The majority of lawyers on the list do not advertise. Many lawyers, even though they are advertisers, are dropped from the list in subsequent years. Obviously, advertising doesn’t help; and not advertising doesn’t hurt your chances of making the list. The boring truth is that lawyers are chosen based solely on this selection process (http://superlawyer.com/about/selection_process.html), and nothing else.

    Second, we have not been “outlawed” in New Jersey. In fact, we just published our third annual edition of New Jersey Super Lawyers this past spring. It’s true that the New Jersey Committee on Attorney Advertising issued Opinion 39, which attempted to ban Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers, but that opinion was stayed by the state Supreme Court within weeks of its issuance way back in August of 2006. We and a number of other parties are challenging the Opinion in a case currently before the New Jersey Supreme Court. For those interested in following the case, we have created a website, superlawyersfacts.com,(http://www.superlawyersfacts.com/) that posts all documents filed in the case as well as a summary of the latest developments.

    If anyone wants to know more about Super Lawyers and our selection process, please feel free to contact me.

    Bill White
    Publisher
    Super Lawyers
    and Law & Politics magazines
    [email protected]

  11. SHG

    Hi Bill, and welcome to Simple Justice.  While I don’t think Super Lawyers ranks up there with the alligator myth (it’s just not as interesting), we always welcome info straight from the horse’s mouth if we’ve got our information wrong. 

    Larry Bodine has built up a lot of street cred, so you’ve got to do a lot more to prove your bona fides than just say so.  I’ve gone through your website at length, and found nothing to support your claims of a “rigorous” process other than your own self-serving “study”.  On the other hand, we have accumulated quite a bit of annecdotal evidence that Super Lawyers is a great marketing concept, but that’s about it. 

    So my first question to you is, how can you possibly claim to be legit if you don’t have Eric Turkewitz in there?  Also, who says there are no alligators in the sewers?

  12. Bill White

    Scott,
    Thanks for your reply. I really enjoy your blog except for the fact that you give more weight to Larry Bodine’s hearsay from unnamed sources than to our word! Oh well. We hope to one day gain more “street cred” with you. We stand by our selection process and believe it to be the most rigorous and transparent in the business. And we appreciate your feedback regarding Eric Turkewitz.

  13. Testy

    With the hundreds of thousands of lawyers in New York City(and New York State), how does one distinguish him or herself? I’ve been AV rated for over 20 years, and maybe I got a SINGLE caller mentioning that over the course of the last two decades.

    I do civil litigation/defense work, and I found the response to my being in the New York Times Magazine and their October Super Lawyers Magazine, to be terrific. (That is, helpful to my business and reputation.)

    How many of us can write books or law review articles, be a talking head on TV or teach at a law school?

    We all need to distinguish ourselves in some way, and I can attest that the publication has helped to do that and has led to a couple of retainers over the past few weeks. (Retainers I don’t believe I would have otherwise received. Isn’t that the “bottom line?”)

    Additionally, Super Lawyer status has reinforced my relationship with my existing client base.(Quite a few sent congratulatory e-mails. And, one just “happened” to have another case for me.)So, from a marketing perspective I thought it was yet another “home run.”

    And, I think the mention has broader impact.

    As I was walking the hallway of local courthouse, a Judge remarked to a group of lawyers and pointed in my direction, “there goes a Super Lawyer!” And, he did not mean it in a condescending or sarcastic way. (So, I’ve believe it will help improve the way I am perceived by adversaries and judges.)

    Finally, my mom and dad got a kick when they saw me in the magazine. (Mom is still carrying the page around showing all her friends — and anyone else who will bother looking. It’s absolutely great to see the senior citizen run with it. She’s having a ball.)

    So, I’m a believer. (As are the major firms that spent quite a pretty penny for those mult-page spreads. If it’s good enough for them ….)

  14. SHG

    You nailed it.  It is great marketing, and one of the few ways to distinguish oneself in market as saturated as New York.   And you are enjoying all the benefits that great marketing provides.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with what you say or how you’re using.  This is what Super Lawyers is all about, and I hope you can enjoy the benefits for years to come.

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