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The Not-So-Trivial Pursuit of Industry + Social Recognition

While some may question their legitimacy and value, there are a number of reasons why it is worthwhile for lawyers to pursue industry awards and other recognitions.

As much as people like to say that industry awards are politically motivated or popularity contests, and to level various other criticisms at them –some of which are valid—a lot of good can come from seeking out and earning such honours.

Most obviously, it is a big confidence builder to be recognized, and we all know that confidence is key to success and business development!

Industry, community and sector-based awards are also effective tools to enhance name recognition, and are often associated with high-value networking opportunities which can provide you with access to other successful and inspiring people who you might not otherwise get to meet. These honours are also great material for website content and other online profile-building tools, and can provide an opportunity to tell inspiring stories that will motivate and encourage others.

There are several misconceptions about how lawyers are nominated and chosen for awards and rankings, however, so let’s clear some of them up.

People often mistakenly think that the recipients of industry awards are chosen by some secret process or because someone nominated them without their knowledge. This is the same misconception that drives people to think that stories relating to our sector appear in the media because a journalist found the story.

Nope! Most of the time this is actually not the case at all.

In fact, most stories about legal issues are written because a lawyer has taken the initiative to reach out to a journalist to provide her with the story. And most lawyers who win awards and honours do so because they have taken the initiative to ask to be nominated for them –often writing their own nomination materials or submitting the nomination themselves– or because they know someone like me who actively looks for honours and awards that they would be best suited for and creates a nomination package with them.

On rare occasions someone who thinks highly of a colleague might spontaneously nominate them without their knowledge and participation. But this is the exception, not the rule.

For the most part, lawyers get on the awards circuit because they want to be there and they have figured out how to sell themselves to organizations that give out awards. They also are at ease or at least have come to terms with nominating themselves, or they have a friend (or two) that they are comfortable asking to nominate them.

That said, there are recognitions and rankings in every industry that are created solely to make money, so I urge you to do some research before getting yourself or anyone else involved. You certainly don’t want your name connected with an association, award or ranking list that isn’t legitimate.

Once you identify the kinds of recognition opportunities you would like to be considered for, look into what the nomination entails and plan how you will go about putting together a nomination package, which may include reference letters or other documentation. Consider whether you have genuinely demonstrated the characteristics that the award is meant to recognize, or have reached the level of expertise and experience in your area of practice that you feel justifies your recognition. Then, create a narrative that shows how you fit what they are looking for.

I know that many people feel uncomfortable nominating themselves for awards. But you can use this as an opportunity for relationship-building.

Be intentional about using industry awards and recognitions as an opportunity to exercise your “giving over getting” mindset and nurture your professional relationships. Keep your eyes peeled for recognitions that honour attributes of particular people in your network and when you see one, take the initiative! Call them and collaborate with them on a nomination. Or go ahead and just nominate them yourself! It is the rare person in any of our networks that is generous and invested enough in their relationships to show this kind of investment and commitment in the success of others. Be that person in your networks.


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