From my latest Solicitors Journal column “Family Business”, 08/11/2012.
As nice as it is to be recognised by your peers, glitzy award ceremonies just play to lawyers’ egos rather than provide any reputational capital, says Marilyn Stowe
Is any other profession as garlanded and as flattered as ours? It’s that time of the year again, with peer awards galore being handed out. There are directories, dinners, brochures and lists. Heaven knows, there are already plenty of lawyers who have egos the size of planets – but if you are a solicitor in need of peer approval and additional bragging rights, now’s your chance. These days, and at this time of year in particular, the promises of awards come so thick and fast that I scarcely notice them. My inbox is cluttered with emails from various organisers, many of whom I have never heard of before. They send invitations to attend this glitzy dinner, that cocktail party, to purchase this plaque or receive that framed certificate.
In recent years, such awards seem to have certainly multiplied in number. I also can’t help but notice that the congratulatory emails and letters follow a predictable pattern. Sometimes I am informed that I or the firm have been shortlisted for an award, and then invited to take an expensive table for ten at the forthcoming awards dinner. At other times I am informed that the firm has already won, and I am then invited to pay for expensive advertising such as a “sponsored awards editorial” or a celebratory plaque.
It annoys me to say so but I have no doubt that in the growing awards industry solicitors are simply seen as a soft touch, with big egos and better still, deep pockets.
Most of the time, it is a simple matter to separate the genuinely prestigious achievements from award spam. The mistakes, such as incorrectly addressed emails, tend to be of the glaring kind. In the past our firm, a dedicated family law practice, has even “won” awards for employment law and corporate deal-making!
Increasingly, I find that I am viewing some of the more established and well-respected awards, rankings and accolades with more scepticism than I used to. Researchers seem far less informed than used to be the case. And I can’t help but notice how, say, the firms which take up the option to advertise in the law firm directory, or the lawyers who are also regular contributors to the publication behind the awards bash, appear to do particularly well. Or has it always been like this? Perhaps others would know.
I may be a party pooper, but my wariness hasn’t stopped the firm from flourishing. So what’s my answer? Long ago I realised that, were we to begin taking up all these expensive invitations to attend awards events and sponsor awards editorials, our firm’s marketing budget would be swiftly exhausted. I also concluded that, as flattering as it is to receive recognition from one’s peers, it doesn’t provide a convincing return on investment.
As a family law firm we are public-facing, far more so than solicitors practising in other areas. Although we do take on legal professionals as clients, and are always grateful for referrals from other firms, the majority of our clients are not lawyers. They have never heard of many of our sector’s specialist magazines, directories and other publications, let alone the more spurious accolade-generating organisations.
My solution has been to focus our firm’s efforts and our marketing budget firmly upon initiatives that resonate with ordinary people and are more relevant to their needs, now or in the future. For example I am delighted that my family law blog now draws tens of thousands of readers every month – so much so that I recently invested in an in-house web editor, to further increase the blog’s reach.
This month our firm is also proud to be hosting an event for members of the general public with the Law Commission in Leeds, presenting the current review of the law relating to needs of the public, and inviting their views as part of the Commission’s extended consultation process. To my mind such achievements do more, far more to raise awareness about our services and improve our reputation, than an industry ‘accolade’ could ever do.