Super Lawyers has long gotten a bad rap. Legal bloggers and marketers have called it cheesy, bogus, and straight-up rubbish. Yet thousands of lawyers are selected to Super Lawyers lists every year; who knows how many more apply. From boutiques in Kansas to megafirms in Manhattan, law firms send out press releases about their attorneys who’ve been included. Lawyers add the Super Lawyers logo on their websites and include the honor on their resumes. So which is it: a meaningless vanity award or a legitimate marker of a lawyer’s skill?
The answer is somewhere in between. But first, it’s important to understand exactly what Super Lawyers is and how it works. Super Lawyers, which is owned by Thompson Reuters, bills itself as “a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.” Lawyers are chosen based on a “patented multiphase selection process.” Put in plain language, here’s what that means:
- First, nominees are identified either through research by Super Lawyers or by having their name submitted (lawyers can’t nominate themselves). Anyone can nominate a lawyer, but nominations from lawyers who work at a different firm count the most.
- Super Lawyers researchers evaluate each nominee on 12 criteria, including verdicts/settlements, awards, and representative clients. Each lawyer gets assigned a point value.
- The lawyers with the highest number of points in each practice area in each state are given a selection of other candidates in their category to review. They rate them on a scale of one to five, giving them their final score.
- Finally, lawyers are divided into four groups based on firm size. The top five percent in each grouping in each state are named to the Super Lawyers list.
If you’re an optimist, you can choose to believe that the rankings are based solely on skill and experience. But since peer nominations and evaluations make up a big portion of the process, Super Lawyers is a bit of a popularity contest. The company makes it clear that lawyers are not supposed to campaign for votes or employ a “tit for tat” strategy; it follows which lawyers vote for each other and recognizes when people at the same firm cast the same votes. But since lawyers can’t nominate themselves and rankings depend at least partially on peer recognition, there’s an inherent popularity factor baked into the process.
Another thing to note is that although being included in Super Lawyers is free, the company has a slew of paid marketing materials that attorneys are encouraged to buy. To be clear, this isn’t a pay-to-play ranking. A New Jersey court determined that “[The Super Lawyers selection process] is a comprehensive, good-faith and detailed attempt to produce a list of lawyers that have attained high peer recognition…It is absolutely clear from this record that [it does] not permit a lawyer to buy one’s way onto the list.” However, plenty of lawyers are uncomfortable being included on a list that’s so closely linked to paid advertising.
Although some lawyers have reservations about the award’s legitimacy, there’s no doubt that Super Lawyers is a nationally recognized name, and the company offers attorneys of all specialties, ages, genders, and locations the opportunity to be included.
Super Lawyers honorees are primarily grouped by geography. Lawyers from every state are considered and compared against peers in their city first, and then by state or region. On the Super Lawyers website, users can search for ranked lawyers by their location.
Some larger and more competitive states are divided into smaller categories since the sheer number of lawyers to be considered at the state level would be unwieldy. It also makes the process fairer for lawyers practicing in smaller cities in competitive states. For example, California is broken down into two regions, Northern and Southern. On the Super Lawyers website, New York refers to upstate New York; lawyers in New York City are identified and ranked separately. New York gets broken down even further, with lists specifically for Westchester County and the Hudson Valley.
In addition to the overall Super Lawyers list, the top attorneys (meaning attorneys with the highest number of points) in each state across all practice areas are named to their own list. Usually, Super Lawyers releases lists of the top 10 and the top 100, but this can vary depending on the size of the state.
Each year, Super Lawyers publishes its list in state and regional publications throughout the country. The company secures space in existing newspapers and magazines, like the Miami Herald and Chicago magazine. In most states and/or regions, Super Lawyers publishes its own magazine that is distributed to lawyers. Some regions are grouped together in one publication, like New England Super Lawyers Magazine (which includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont) or the Mountain States Super Lawyers Magazine (which is Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming).
Another plus for Super Lawyers is that they publish annual lists of top women lawyers, and the selection process is totally straightforward. Candidates don’t need to do anything extra to be considered. Researchers simply count off the top women lawyers with the highest point value in each state and develop the list from there, selecting between 5 and 50 lawyers.
Super Lawyers also produces Top Women lists for major cities. Women can be included in both their state and city lists. For example, in 2018 the company released Top 50: Women Ohio Super Lawyers, as well as Top 25 lists in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus.
One blind spot is that top women lawyers are not separated out based on practice area. Male and female lawyers are grouped together under each specialty, which could mean that women lawyers in male-dominated practice areas get overlooked. Super Lawyers does, however, say that their researchers look for underrepresented lawyers across all areas and locations to fill in any gaps.
Super Lawyers highlights younger attorneys through “Rising Stars,” its list of high-achieving attorneys under the age of 40 who have been practicing law for less than 10 years. All attorneys, no matter their age, go through the normal Super Lawyers selection process. The lawyers who do not make the standard Super Lawyers list, but who meet the Rising Stars criteria, are then considered for Rising Stars. No more than the top 2.5 percent of lawyers in this age bracket in each state are chosen, making it more selective than the general list—and potentially making it a more meaningful award.
One downside is that Rising Stars doesn’t always get the attention of the standard Super Lawyers list. There is no way for users to search specifically for Rising Stars on the Super Lawyers website. Instead, Rising Star recipients get a standard profile with a Rising Star notation. Super Lawyers also does not consistently publish lists of attorneys who score the highest points within Rising Stars.
For example, Southern California Super Lawyers publishes annual Up-And-Coming 25 and Up-And-Coming 100: Orange County Rising Stars lists, as well as Up-And-Coming 50: Women Rising Stars in Southern California. Texas also has a list of women Rising Stars and an Up-And-Coming 100. In New Jersey, however, even though lawyers can receive the Rising Stars distinction, Super Lawyers doesn’t publish any Up-And-Coming lists. Still, getting named on the Rising Stars can be a stepping stone to bigger awards for young attorneys.
In the evaluation process, lawyers are judged against peers in the same practice area. Most practice areas are represented, and some are even broken down into smaller categories. For example, Super Lawyers lists family law, but there are also separate groupings for Custody & Visitation, Divorce, Father's Rights, and Same Sex Family Law. One area that is not included in Super Lawyers, however, is in-house counsel. It’s only open to lawyers who can be retained by the general public.
Super Lawyers does allow nominees to be considered for and included in multiple practice areas. Candidates can update their profiles to include as many specialties as they want, but they may not be ranked for all of them, which makes sense—if your peers know you primarily as an intellectual property lawyer, but they don’t know anything about your labor and employment practice, it will be easier for you to get listed for your primary specialty.
How to Be Named to Super Lawyers
Since Super Lawyers doesn’t have a straightforward nomination process and lawyers can’t put their own names in the hat, breaking onto the list can seem like a bit of a mystery. While we don’t encourage you to break the company’s rules and campaign for votes, there’s no reason you can’t make it known to your colleagues that you’d like your name to be submitted and leave it at that.
Although nominations from clients, your marketing team and other lawyers in your firm don’t have as much impact, they do count for something, and they will get you on Super Lawyers’ radar. If you can’t get a nomination from a lawyer outside your firm, a few nominations from other people is better than nothing.
Once you’re identified as a candidate, there’s not much else that’s in your control. You’ll get a notice from the company alerting you to your candidacy and asking you to verify the information on your Super Lawyers online profile. Make sure you complete every area of your profile fully, including your summary, links, all your professional activity, and your profile photo. The information in your profile is what Super Lawyers will evaluate you on, so it’s better to add more information than less. It’s also important to adhere to the deadline—every state has a different timeline, so make sure you pay attention to your region’s dates. In addition, you’ll be asked to nominate your peers, which you can do through your online account.
Rather than making yourself sound impressive on paper, being named to Super Lawyers is more about having good relationships with your peers. The best way to get selected is to be friendly with lawyers in your practice area and produce high-quality work before annual submissions open.
Is Super Lawyers Worth It?
Ultimately, Super Lawyers has some pros and some cons. Whether or not it’s valuable for you depends mostly on your personal feelings toward it, the clients you serve, and whether other lawyers in your practice area use it as a distinguishing factor.
Super Lawyers is a massive award. On the one hand, that can diminish its value (can that many lawyers really be super?). On the other hand, it means that virtually every lawyer, in any practice area and at any point in their career, has an opportunity to be considered and included on the list. If you’ve never received an award but you’re generally well-liked by your peers, you have a pretty good shot of at least being considered. Super Lawyers is a great way to get your foot in the door of awards, so to speak and your prospective clients don’t know the nitty-gritty of the award so it can be very appealing from their perspective to have a recognized attorney.