Awards for Lawyers: The National Law Journal’s Elite Trial Lawyers Overview

The National Law Journal (and its sister publications, all owned by information and intelligence company ALM) presents a variety of awards to lawyers in different states and practice areas, but it’s perhaps best known for Elite Trial Lawyers, an annual award for the top plaintiffs’ lawyers in the country.

The award is open to any attorney who dedicates at least 50 percent of their resources to representing plaintiffs and has recently secured at least one significant win—which The National Law Journal defines as “prevailing in a bench or jury trial or in a major settlement where the stakes are high.” Applicants can apply under a wide variety of practice areas, from civil rights to privacy and data breach. There’s a catch-all “other” category, too, so virtually any plaintiffs’ attorney can apply regardless of specialty. And Elite Trial Lawyers also offers a special category for women lawyers: “Elite Women of the Bar.”

Finalists in each category are invited to a swanky event in Las Vegas, where the winner is announced. Winners are also included in the November issue of The National Law Journal each year.

Why You Should Apply (And Why You Shouldn’t)

The Elite Trial Lawyers selection process is based on arguably the most important sign of a lawyer’s skill: their legal victories. This is a genuine attempt to identify the country’s top trial lawyers by a well-regarded publication—no paying for recognition here. This is definitely an award you should be proud of if you win.

So, why wouldn’t a lawyer apply? Larger firms with more marketing resources and higher-profile clients probably have a slight advantage, although Elite Trial Lawyers does take firm size into account. The application is fairly extensive, so it may not be worth the time investment if you think you’re a longshot (although it never hurts to try). Finally, firms invited to the Las Vegas event have to pay for it on their own dime—but hey, being invited to the Bellagio isn’t really a downside in our eyes.

Elite Trial Lawyers Award Overview

Applications Due (typically): Deadlines for Elite Trial Lawyers seem to change every year, so we can’t say with certainty when applications are generally due. The best way to keep tabs on deadlines is to subscribe to the National Law Journal newsletter.

Recipients Notified (typically): In our experience, finalists are notified about a month after applying. Winners are announced at the annual awards ceremony, which tends to happen sometime in the fall or winter.

Award Recipients: Although the award is called “Elite Trial Lawyers,” the honor is actually bestowed upon firms. Firms apply as a whole and highlight the work of their top attorneys in their nominations. There are exceptions: 10 women from finalist firms are chosen for “Elite Women of the Plaintiffs Bar,” and a few individual lifetime achievement awards are given out.

Annual Award: Yes, this is a yearly award that firms can apply for every year. Firms can apply, and are often named finalists, in multiple practice areas.

Estimated Cost: There’s no fee to apply, although finalists have to pay to attend the awards ceremony.

Award Recognition Promotion Options:

  • Newsletter/Digital Magazine Inclusion: Yes
  • Physical Magazine promotions: Yes
  • Plaques: Yes
  • Physical Awards: No
  • Press Release Options: No
  • Directory Inclusion: No
  • Additional Advertising Options: No
  • Branded Bragging rights: No


  • Expertise: Elite Trial Lawyers recognizes plaintiffs’ firms in about 30 different practice areas plus an “other” category, so firms with any specialty can apply. Eligible firms should devote at least half of their litigation efforts to representing plaintiffs. Nominees should also have at least one significant plaintiff’s win in the last year, and a track record of success over the last three to five years.
  • Years of Legal Experience: Elite Trial Lawyers wants to see evidence of expertise in plaintiff’s litigation over the last five or so years, but there is no hard-and-fast rule here.
  • Limit on # of Attorneys Nominated from Firm: Applications are open to firms, not individual lawyers. Firms can highlight as many attorneys as they want in their nomination.
  • Case Results/Outcomes? Elite Trial Lawyers wants to see “cutting-edge work on behalf of plaintiffs” and a “solid track record of client wins,” but they leave this somewhat to interpretation. You can provide summaries of 10-15 cases in your application.
  • Recommendations/Nominations? Firms don’t need to be nominated to apply, and the application doesn’t require recommendations or references.
  • Other?

How to Win

You can’t buy your way into Elite Trial Lawyers, so your best bet is to submit a killer application. The bulk of the application is case summaries of recent victories and ongoing matters, so it’s critical that you have some legitimately impressive awards you can include here. Consider also that Elite Trial Lawyers judges are reporters from The National Law Journal and other legal publications—people who know a lot about law, certainly, but not necessarily people with JDs. Make sure you avoid legal jargon and clearly explain what makes each case significant.

Another tip? Increase your chances of winning by submitting your application under more than one category. For example, you might have significant cases under the medical device and pharmaceutical litigation categories. You don’t need to fill out separate applications for each one—just check them both when you submit the online form.

The Bottom Line

If you’re a plaintiffs’ lawyer with a few recent wins you can brag about, Elite Trial Lawyers is worth your time. It’s a legitimately impressive award that will look good to clients and colleagues alike.

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