What’s the point of law firm rankings?

June 23, 2008
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We get a lot of e-mails from law firms touting their ranking on a list of “outstanding” firms by a publication or naming them third-largest overall according to some survey. We don’t publish the rankings in our paper because we just don’t have available space to do so, and we don’t want to inadvertently leave out a law firm on a particular list whose marketing department didn’t happen to send us a press release.

And honestly, what’s so significant about a ranking if it seems like every big law firm in the state is ranked on the same list? Really, a lot of these lists are quite subjective. How do you determine who is “outstanding” or “super?” My definition of “super” might not be the same as those who compiled the list.

We get these notifications from the firms because we are a legal newspaper, but I can’t recall seeing a mainstream media outlet write a story about an Indiana firm making a national list because its attorneys were highly rated by their peers. If these lists are for the benefit of the client to make the firms stand out from the rest, the law firms aren’t doing a very good job of getting that notion out in the public.

Even if John Q. Public comes across the latest ranking of the largest litigation firms in the country, I doubt whether a firm comes in fourth or fourteenth makes too much of a difference to someone who is looking for a quality law firm that he can afford to take on his case.

These lists seem more like bragging rights for the legal community. They post the press releases about the ranking on their Web sites to call attention to the fact that they are one of only a handful of Indiana firms to make this particular list, or maybe even the only one. When there are so many lists compiled by various publications, and marketing and consulting firms, it’s easy to glaze over the results because you know you’ll see a list with similar criteria with different results in the near future on another firm’s site.

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  • Jennifer, thanks for sharing your thoughts on such lists, and the vanity among the firms that often go with it. As most know, such lists are often designed for one primary reason - to sell advertising. They have little to no useful purpose, particularly as the public goes. Some law firms are very good at patting themselves on the back and spending a lot of money and attention telling others how great and how super they are. Studies do show that consumers and other lawyers in general (including potential referring lawyers) do not look kindly at such self-promotion and arrogence. In the end, a good marketing effort should have your clients telling others how good you are. If you have to pay to do so, you should probably be re-visiting your marketing approach.

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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