Publicizing Attorney Recognitions Without Crossing the Line

by | Law Firm Marketing Ethics

Image of three trophies on a raised podium, representing publicizing attorney recognitions from ratings companies and how TwoDogBlog, LLC can help attorneys and firms navigate the ratings companies’ guidelines for publicizing attorney recognitions.

In many states, attorney peer reviews and recognitions can be used much like testimonials—to show that fellow attorneys recognize your professional merit in a particular practice area or geographic region. But you may not realize that publicizing attorney recognitions requires compliance with the sponsoring organization’s publication guidelines. There are often strict rules about how you may publicize the attorney recognitions awarded to you.

Guidelines for Publicizing Attorney Recognitions

Attorney ratings and recognitions come in various shapes and sizes, but the ones most often seen on attorney web sites involve peer review recognitions. The common theme across these awards is that they’re based on reviews by your peers—other attorneys and sometimes also the judiciary.

Various organizations confer these “awards” to recognize practitioners’ merit. Some of the best known are Best Lawyers®, Super Lawyers®, Martindale-Hubbell®, and Avvo. The sponsoring organization may license an attorney’s use of the recognition, and each has its own rules for publicizing the recognitions. You may be surprised to learn that some organizations require prior approval before you advertise these ratings and recognitions.

Before you publicize your attorney ratings and recognitions, you must first review the ethics rules in the jurisdiction where you practice. The states vary in the type of attorney advertising and publicizing of recognitions allowed. Next, review the attorney recognition publicizing guidelines from the sponsoring organization. Below is a summary of those guidelines from key players in the attorney ratings and recognitions game.

Attorney Recognitions and Awards

Read Your Jurisdiction’s Ethics Rules on Attorney Advertising

Your state’s ethics rules govern how you may advertise your legal services generally and attorney recognitions specifically. The rules and each state’s interpretation of them vary. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct are the starting point for many states’ own ethics rules. The following Model Rules jump out as being particularly relevant to attorney advertising:

Use of the Internet and, later, social media as acceptable forums for advertising was not contemplated in the ethics rules originally. As a result, the need for new interpretations or modifications of the rules is not surprising, but the result is a changing landscape.

The body governing professional responsibility in each state revisits attorney advertising both in handling specific rule violations and in the rule modification process to deal with this changing landscape. Docket to read your state’s ethics rules regarding attorney advertising rules at regular intervals in order to keep abreast of changes in the rules and the interpretation of them in your state.

Publicizing Attorney Recognitions by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is a legal services company that provides strictly peer-reviewed ratings of attorneys and law firms. The company provides reviews of attorneys in 75 countries including the United States. In the United States, the list or publication is referred to as The Best Lawyers in America©, which is published digitally and in print.

Attorney recognitions are issued annually and are based on geography (where the attorney practices) and practice area. The company also confers “Lawyer of the Year” awards annually. Publicizing attorney recognitions in The Best Lawyers in America and use of the Best Lawyers logos representing the recognition must follow the Best Lawyers Publicizing Guidelines, which include the following requirements:

  • Never refer to a Best Lawyers recognition in the singular or as a reference to a person.
  • Email Best Lawyers for approval of language before publishing your Best Lawyers recognition.
  • Link to your Best Lawyers profile or when publicizing your recognition online.
  • Contact Best Lawyers to license use of the Best Lawyers recognition logo before publishing it online or in print.
  • Do not alter the Best Lawyers logo.

Martindale-Hubbell Attorney Ratings and Recognitions

Martindale-Hubbell provides legal information services to the legal community and consumers. Among its products is a directory of attorneys reviewed by their peers and the judiciary. Attorney ratings include AV®, AV Preeminent®, Martindale-Hubbell Distinguished℠, and Martindale-Hubbell Notable℠. Reviews are based on surveys by practice area for legal ability and ethical standards.

Attorneys and firms who wish to use Martindale-Hubbell’s Certification Marks, a text description of the rating, and/or Icon Marks, the image or icon associated with that rating, must include particular language and comply with the terms in Martindale-Hubbell’s Use Guidelines:

  • Use only the language from the Use Guidelines to publish your Martindale-Hubbell rating. The language required is determined by the type of publication: announcement, print, or online.
  • Do not use Martindale-Hubbell or any of its review ratings in political pieces, letters to the editor, or websites unaffiliated with the practice of law, obscene, or that promote illegal activity.
  • Use Certification Marks and Icon Marks only in the format permitted by the Use Guidelines.

Publicizing Attorney Recognitions: Selection to a Super Lawyers List

Super Lawyers is a legal directory and attorney rating service company that publishes digitally and in print. Attorneys are selected for inclusion in a Super Lawyers list based on input from an attorney’s peers or supervisor as well as independent research. The Super Lawyers list includes no more than five percent of the attorneys in any state, and the Rising Stars list includes half that amount of attorneys per state.

The Super Lawyers Promotional Kit includes various guidelines for permitted usage of the Super Lawyers recognition both online and in print.

  • Use “Super Lawyers” only in the plural and cannot be used to refer to one or more attorneys. Rather, the term should be used to refer to the list of recognized attorneys or the honor.
  • Request permission of Super Lawyers logo use annually.
  • Review the Super Lawyers Promotional Kit annually for approved language with which to publish your Super Lawyers recognition.

Avvo, Where Attorney Recognitions Can’t Be Bought

Like Super Lawyers, Avvo serves as both a lawyer directory and a rating service. Avvo ratings are achieved using a mathematical formula that weighs the public information collected in an attorney’s Avvo profile as well as information the attorney has supplied in his or her Avvo profile. While Avvo does not solicit peer surveys in rating attorneys, it does include peer endorsements on Avvo in its mathematical formula.

Avvo offers a variety of “badges” you may download and post on your firm website. Badges are available to reflect that you have an Avvo profile or are an active Avvo contributor. Yet another badge shows your Avvo score, which is updated automatically.

Please note that Avvo profiles can include client testimonials, which may be prohibited in your jurisdiction.

Again, Read Your State’s Ethics Rules Before Publicizing Attorney Recognitions

We start and end with this mantra for good reason. Your state’s ethics rules on attorney advertising trump the individual rating company’s usage guidelines. Read the ethics rules thoroughly and often, and follow your state’s cases addressing rule violations and interpretations. You may enjoy the advertising value of one of these recognitions, but all that could be lost with negative publicity from a violation of your state’s rules on attorney advertising.

Check out our cheat sheet summarizing the highlights of the publicizing guidelines for the publishers discussed here.

Do you need help updating your firm web page with attorney recognitions? And would you like help learning how publicizing attorney recognitions and use of other tools can improve your website’s search ranking? After reading your local ethics rules—yes, I got it in yet again—contact TOPDOG Legal Marketing, LLC, a premium digital marketing company. We are lawyers helping lawyers by providing web design, SEO, and meaningful content services.

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