The National Association of Distinguished Counsel (NADC) is a membership organization that says its mission is to “objectively recognize the attorneys who elevate the standards of the Bar and provide a benchmark for other lawyers to emulate.” We’re not sure how objective the NADC’s judging process can be, though, when “winners” have to pay a steep annual membership fee to be recognized.
The NADC is a classic example of a pay-to-play lawyer award. It’s positioned like a legitimate recognition, and members do get some benefits, like discounts and a profile in an online directory. However, inclusion is based only on a lawyer’s ability to pay, not on merit.
Why You Should Apply (And Why You Shouldn’t)
Word on the street is that an annual NADC membership costs $300. That’s lower than many other paid awards, so if you're dead set on buying some quick and easy recognition, at least NADC membership is a relative bargain. Unlike similar accolades, the NADC does offer benefits that might actually be useful, like discounts on corporate cell phone plans and business software. However, there’s a good chance these discounts won’t make up for the cost of joining the NADC in the first place.
You shouldn’t apply to the NADC for the same reasons you wouldn’t pay for any award: it’s not a real signifier of skill or prestige, and other lawyers (and some clients) will recognize that. There’s a plethora of more effective ways to market yourself and boost your reputation.
National Association of Distinguished Counsel Award Overview
Applications Due (typically): You can apply year-round since nominations are always open.
Recipients Notified (typically): Once you’ve been nominated on the NADC website, selected attorneys should get an email with a registration code within a month or so. In other cases, the NADC “research team” identifies lawyers and invites them to become members unsolicited. In either case, once you have a registration code, you can become a member instantly by paying the membership fee.
Award Recipients: The NADC only recognizes individual lawyers. There is no option for a firm as a whole to be selected.
Annual Award: Since this is a membership-based award, it’s available every year, all year. Once you’ve been selected, simply pay the annual membership fee to maintain your status. There’s no need to reapply each year.
Estimated Cost: The NADC doesn’t publicize its membership fee, but based on what we know, it runs about $300 a year. Promotional items cost extra.
Award Recognition Promotion Options:
- Newsletter/Digital Magazine Inclusion: No
- Physical Magazine promotions: No
- Plaques: Yes
- Physical Awards: Yes
- Press Release Options: Yes
- Directory Inclusion: Yes, members are automatically given a profile on the NADC website.
- Additional Advertising Options: Yes, the NADC can create personalized videos for members.
- Branded Bragging rights: Yes, the NADC allows you to use its logo on your website, social media profiles, and other marketing platforms and materials.
- Expertise: Eligibility for the NADC is vague. They say they only admit the top 1% of attorneys in a given area, but there is no way to quantify that number. The only way to know if you have the right expertise is to fill out the nomination form and see what happens.
- Years of Legal Experience: One of the check-box options under “Years of Practice” on the nomination form is “0 to 6 years,” so it’s safe to assume that even a lawyer fresh out of law school can be considered for membership.
- Limit on # of Attorneys Nominated from Firm?: There’s no limit since lawyers apply individually.
- Case Results/Outcomes? Case results are ostensibly considered during the selection process, but the NADC doesn’t give any further information.
- Recommendations/Nominations? If you’re not identified by the NADC research team, you do need to be nominated before becoming a member; however, there is no stated rule against self-nominating.
How to Win
With the NADC, there’s no winning—only paying. Potential members are first identified by the NADC in-house research team (what the research team’s criteria are, they don’t publicize), then lawyers are notified with a password they must submit to complete their registration and pay their membership fee. If you don’t want to wait around for the research team to notice you, not to worry: the NADC also accepts nominations on their website. Although the NADC says a nomination does not “create any expectation of selection,” we think it’s fair to assume that most nominated attorneys are contacted and encouraged to register.
The Bottom Line
The National Association of Distinguished Counsel is the perfect example of a pay-to-play award. If you feel comfortable paying for recognition, this is as good an award as any—but don’t expect to see a huge return on your investment.