Jan 7, 2019

Understanding "Super Lawyers"

Super Lawyers Profile
Super Lawyers Screen Shot of Michael Ehline

The Story

There are a few sites that rate purely personal injury lawyers. But there is one that breaks down the award by type of law practiced. Super Lawyers is the name of a famous service for rating attorneys. SL remains different from Avvo in several ways. Super Lawyers does not assign a numerical rating. SL also maintains a printed, magazine version. That publication was around before they even had a website.

Many attorneys consider Super Lawyers to be a real honor and achievement. It is somewhat of a peer review system. Contrast this with Avvo. AVVO is both a consumer and peer review system. But SL remains highly recognized in the law field. This is especially the case if you can afford a full page ad in the print magazine. Above is a screenshot of the Ehline Law Firm Super Lawyers online profile.

Rising Stars?

A nomination for being ‘Rising Stars’ may also be in line for Super Lawyers, a choice that is much more selective. A stated above, not only does Super Lawyers provide a rating service. They also publish state and region based magazines with added individual and regional sections. The content featured in the magazine includes paid for ads. It also provides a list of lawyers and their profiles. Also, you can buy an enhanced user profile.

ABA law schools and lawyers often receive copies of these publications. Their list of publications include the rosters for ‘Rising Stars.’ That list features the leading 2.5% of attorneys for each state. And the listings for Super Lawyers features the leading 5% of attorneys for each state, based on Super Lawyers criteria.

Process and Criteria Examination

Super Lawyers generates lists from the four below steps:

I. Collecting the Pool of Candidates.

Three different ways exist for an attorney to become included in the pool of candidates.

  1. Formal Nominations – Attorneys can vote for other observed attorneys in their same state. ‘Safeguards’ exist so the system cannot be ‘gamed’ by attorneys. Allegedly less weight is carried for nominating an attorney from a lawyer’s law firm as there is when nominating an attorney outside their law firm.

The process does, however, ultimately give attorneys the ability to nominate attorneys from their own firm. Plus they can nominate family members and friends. According to an article published in a Boston Business Journal, some attorneys feel it is a contest for popularity. It is unlikely that Super Lawyers truly recognizes a ‘back scratch’ process for nominations. It appears they conduct a tremendous amount of research into the personal life and background of attorneys.

Super Lawyers prohibits candidates from campaigning for admissions. But who enforces the rules?

2. Star Search – Over 150 sources of data exist. For example, databases, the internet, local and national publications for legal trades. These all help to categorize attorneys possessing excellent credentials. But the sources they use online are not specified. United States News and World Report’s Best Law Firms or AVVO, or possibly even both are used during selection.

So these secret methods remain questionable. A conflict of interest could occur quite easily among employed lawyers when they research candidates. For example, while looking for candidates, they may ‘locate’ a member of their family, a close friend, or a co-worker from their firm.

3. Informal Nominations – There is no weight given to open nominations during the process of rating. However, clients, readers, and lawyers that hold a license in different states can choose to nominate an attorney. The candidate pool is assessed further by Super Lawyers. It can be assumed that ‘readers’ does not refer to other lawyers. After all it would be a reiteration for Super Lawyers to list participants of open nominations. But ‘readers’ are not revealed, nor is how they qualify to nominate.

I. Assessing the Pool of Candidates.

Here are the poolee rating factors:

  • Settlements and verdicts.
  • Transactions.
  • Amounts awarded on cases won or settled. This award could be an indication of the quality of a lawyer. But this may not necessarily be true. Sure, a great lawyer may receive awards for getting clients money. But a horrible lawyer may only receive award amounts of 5 million dollars for an example that is worth 100 million dollars.

Clients represented.

  • A rating weight is assigned to past clients. To know the clients that a lawyer represents can help determine how good the attorney is. It can also be a tool to help determine the better a lawyer is and the cost and the demand of a particular attorney. However, it is a valid question as to the amount of weight given to this indicator.
  • Position held within the law firm
  • Experience
  • Community service and pro bono service as an attorney
  • Awards and honors
  • Employment and education background
  • Certifications and special licenses
  • Writings and scholarly lectures
  • Bar activities
  • Other professional activity
  • Other outstanding achievements
  • But this remains a mystery.

Like the criteria used by Avvo, the weight given to these indicators is not provided.

I. Evaluation of Peers.

Out of all attorneys in a specific practice area, the candidates in the pool that have the maximum number of points. A ‘blue-ribbon panel’ then rates the lawyers. Attorneys competing to be ‘Super Lawyers’ also determine candidate admissions. So it looks like a conflict of interest exists. For instance, it would be simple for a blue ribbon panelist to give high ratings to attorneys at their law firm.

IV. Selection Process and Publishing

Lastly, the size of the firms where the poolees work separates them into categories. Candidates with the most points are selected as Super Lawyers.

Super Lawyers:

  • Performs searches on the internet to make sure no matters exist that would have an unfavorable effect on the attorney.
  • Checks the standing of each pool candidate against the local licensing authority.
  • Contacts attorneys for a confirmation that the information published is correct.
  • Asks pool candidates to provide a statement that they have never been a part of criminal or disciplinary proceedings.

The elite ‘Rising Star’ only lists 2.5 attorneys from each state. For an attorney to qualify for Rising Star, they have to either be 40 years old or have been in law practice for no more than ten years. Super Lawyer and Rising Stars use the same selection process. But in this case, there is no Peer Evaluation. Also, attorneys pay for featured ads. And Super Lawyers’ paid ads also appear in their magazine publication. As an aside, SL offers five different ad options.

  1. Standard Profile
  2. Platinum Profile
  3. Impact Listings
  4. Display Advertising
  5. Online Profiles

The content and price of each of these options vary. Advertising is not a basis for choosing attorneys to be a Super Lawyer, according to Super Lawyers. But attorneys who advertise remain more visible within the legal community.

Because the terms Best Lawyers and Super Lawyers could be an advertising tactic that is deceptive, New York State considered revising laws of advertising in 2006. The publisher of Super Lawyers’ disagrees of course.

But it appears the SUPER LAWYER awardee has better qualifications to win clients’ cases.

In Summary

Regarding the Process and Criteria used by Super Lawyers

The problems they have are similar to Avvo:

  • The opinion of Super Lawyers on what they deem as a good attorney is a basis for the criteria used for Super Lawyers.
  • The weight given to criteria is not provided to the public
  • Non-Super Lawyers and Super Lawyers can pay for a featured ad in each publication.
  • According to the website of Super Lawyers, both attorneys and law schools alike receive publications.
  • The criteria used are possibly flawed.
  • Super Lawyers appears to ignore possible conflicts of interests.