Legal awards: what’s the point?

Could Bob Dylan’s apparent ambivalence towards his Nobel prize for literature set the new standard for playing it cool around awards?

Well, it doesn’t seem to have dampened the enthusiasm of stars of screen, now midway through their awards ‘season’.

As nominations open for The Lawyer Awards, the magazine’s team are likely right to expect plenty of nominations and a full house on the night.

Lawyers can sound pretty cynical about awards, so why do they submit, and why are they going?

No doubt they are partly worried that if they don’t submit and get shortlisted, all their competitors who’d also affected a lack of interest in awards would in reality submit and win things – meaning they go quite fast from feeling like Bob Dylan to looking like they’re not in the club.

There are more positive reasons too.

First, anyone can claim they are really, really good – and clients who might instruct a firm and lawyers who might think of working for it know that.

Awards are different – even though there are plenty of them these days, they are still a differentiator, because in each category, at each awards, there is just one winner.

Secondly, people notice when you win – they really do. If your clients like you, they’ll be really chuffed (and also have the idea reinforced that they instruct the right lawyers). It’s not a bad internal PR exercise at your firm or chambers – look at my prize-winning practice everybody!

Thirdly, it can change a view of you that’s inaccurate and dated. Reputation tends to lag actual achievements. If a fresh set of judges’ eyes look at your work and decide it’s a winner, perceptions in the market can then be changed faster.

A magic circle firm might not see an uplift for winning corporate finance team of the year; but the impact on others who win can be much greater. Here, we’re once again back to standing out from the crowd.

Of course wrong decisions get made in awards – they are subjective. And maybe the process behind some includes things the organisers would rather weren’t scrutinised.

But I’m reminded of the way a friend confessed he buys wine. ‘I always go for one that’s won a prize,’ he says. ‘It means someone else sampled it and thinks it’s alright.’

If you want help to get your awards submissions to stand out, get in touch.

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