Founded in 1981, Best Lawyers is one of the original lawyer rankings. The company is known for its trademarked “Purely Peer Review” methodology, which means that candidates are chosen based mostly on feedback from their colleagues. Along with U.S. News – Best Lawyers Best Law Firms, these two rankings honor thousands of lawyers and firms each year, in virtually every practice area imaginable (except for in-house counsel).
The branding between these two rankings is a bit fuzzy, so many people don’t know the distinction. Best Lawyers is the original company where “Purely Peer Review” comes from. Best Law Firms is a partnership between Best Lawyers and U.S. News, which publishes the Best Law Firms rankings.
To be considered for Best Law Firms, a firm must have at least one lawyer already ranked by Best Lawyers. Only then can it go through the nomination process, which includes client feedback and law firm surveys.
Why You Should Apply (And Why You Shouldn’t)
Best Lawyers is a widely recognized brand—even the name is as straightforward as it gets. That branding is a huge benefit for lawyers who are selected. If there’s one ranking where potential clients might actually use the online lawyer directory, Best Lawyers is probably it, and the publication of Best Law Firms in U.S. News means it gets a lot of exposure.
On the other hand, that massive brand could also work against you. Although less than 10 percent of all lawyers in the country are listed each year, that’s still thousands of lawyers. Since the company casts such a wide net, Best Lawyers and Best Law Firms doesn’t feel terribly exclusive. There’s a bit of a popularity factor, too. And even though it’s free to be nominated and listed, the company pushes selected lawyers to buy enhanced online profiles, commemorative items, and features in its regional magazines.
Best Lawyers in America & U.S. News Award Overview
Applications Due (typically): For Best Lawyers, nominations are typically due in early December. Peer surveys for nominated attorneys are then due in the spring, usually in April. Note that Best Lawyers has a long lead time and rankings are announced the year before they go into effect. For example, to be ranked in the 2022 edition, you would have to be nominated in December 2020, and the results would be released in late summer 2021.
For Best Law Firms, any firm with ranked lawyers will automatically receive a submission packet in January. Firms must complete a survey and list of references by late April/early May. Then reference surveys are due in June.
Recipients Notified (typically): Attorneys ranked by Best Lawyers are notified in July, but results are embargoed until August when Best Lawyers releases its rankings to the public. Best Law Firms recipients are also notified in July, but they have to wait a bit longer to publicize the news. Best Law Firms results are embargoed until November.
Award Recipients: Best Lawyers only ranks attorneys, and an unlimited number of attorneys from the same firm can apply. Law firms are also eligible for recognition under the Best Law Firms designation, but at least one attorney from the firm must be ranked by Best Lawyers before the firm can apply for Best Law Firms.
Annual Award: Yes, attorneys can apply every year, and the goal is usually to get ranked for as many consecutive years as possible. The same goes for Best Law Firms. Once you and/or your firm have been ranked once, you’ll be automatically considered for the following year.
Estimated Cost: There’s no fee to be nominated or ranked, but Best Lawyers pushes ranked lawyers and firms to purchase promotional materials.
Award Recognition Promotion Options:
- Newsletter/Digital Magazine Inclusion: Yes
- Physical Magazine promotions: Yes
- Plaques: Yes
- Physical Awards: Yes
- Press Release Options: Yes
- Directory Inclusion: Yes - all ranked lawyers receive a basic profile on Best Lawyers’ online directory, but lawyers can upgrade their profiles for a fee.
- Additional Advertising Options: Yes - from ads in their annual magazines to social media cross-promotion, Best Lawyers offers every advertising opportunity you can imagine.
- Branded Bragging rights: Yes - ranked firms and lawyers get free use of a digital logo and can purchase additional personalized versions for print.
- Expertise: Any lawyer in private practice can be nominated, and Best Lawyers offers little guidance in this area. Since rankings are determined by peer reviews, whether or not your peers perceive you as experienced matters more than your actual expertise.
- Years of Legal Experience: Best Lawyers accepts nominations for lawyers at any stage of their careers, but lawyers with a longer history in the field have a better shot at being ranked because they have more peer and client connections. Best Lawyers also recently created its Best Lawyers: Once to Watch list, which specifically ranks lawyers with less than 10 years of experience.
- Limit on # of Attorneys Nominated from Firm?: No
- Case Results/Outcomes? There is no requirement for cases or outcomes, but the more significant and successful cases you have, the more likely you’ll get high marks on your peer survey.
- Nominations/Recommendations? To start the process, lawyers must first be nominated by anyone but themselves. The judging process is then largely dependent on peer surveys sent to lawyers who have been previously ranked by Best Lawyers.
How to Win
The “Purely Peer Review” methodology means you don’t have a ton of control over your nomination. Lawyers can be nominated by anyone—including peers, clients, and marketers—besides themselves. Candidates are then evaluated by attorneys who have already been included in Best Lawyers. Finally, nominees with high marks are confirmed to be in good standing with their bar associations, and that’s that.
Since lawyers can’t influence the nominations themselves, the best you can do is let people know you’re interested in being recognized and tell them how they can nominate you. You might want to use discretion, though: we couldn’t find anything specifically saying that Best Lawyers discourages solicitation, but many similar awards do.
The Bottom Line
Best Lawyers and U.S. News – Best Lawyers Best Law Firms are well-known awards that are based, for the most part, on feedback from peers. If you’re comfortable with the popularity aspect (and with being encouraged to buy marketing materials), these rankings are on the more legitimate side of things.