Super Lawyers: Are They Really “Super” Lawyers?”

In shopping around for a new lawyer, you may have noticed how many lawyers proudly proclaim that they have been awarded the “Super Lawyer” designation.  As a matter of fact, with each new Super Lawyers directory I receive each year, I note that more and more lawyers are being named Super Lawyers.  So many in fact that I sometimes wonder if it might not be too many more years before just about every lawyer in the U.S. may be able to proudly claim the Super Lawyer designation.

But what does being a Super Lawyer really mean?  Are Super Lawyers really super lawyers?   Can an individual shopping for a lawyer rely upon a lawyer’s assertion that lawyer is a Super Lawyer as meaning that the lawyer is actually better than non-super lawyers?

When I was chair of my state bar association’s Legal Ethics Committee, I had an opportunity to examine this issue as a question was asked by several lawyers who believe that it violates the Rules of Professional Responsibility (the lawyer’s ethics code) for an attorney to make “self laudatory” statements such as proclaiming to be a “super” lawyer.  Here is what I found.  

First off, there are some worthy recognized “professional designations” that must be earned by merit in the practice of law, such as a Martindale-Hubbell AV rating. But, there are many other so-called “professional designations” in the legal profession that can be obtained by paying a fee or by taking a popular vote. These types of “professional designations” I believe may be more akin to a “social” or a “vanity” designation like being named a “Kentucky Colonel” or an “Admiral in the Nebraska Navy.”

In between the true professional designations and the social designations, there are some professional designations that recognize lawyer achievement of some sort other than skill in a particular field of law. But, it seems that most professional designations for lawyers fall into the “social” or “vanity” designation category and can be obtained by lawyers by either stuffing the ballot box with votes of the lawyer’s friends or by paying a fee.

Because the “for pay” designations seem to be so popular with lawyers (probably because they are so easy to obtain), an attorney friend and I once thought about creating a new attorney designation for fun and profit. I mean what lawyer would not like to be named one of the “Most Outstanding Lawyer in America in [name of your practice area]?” For payment of a mere $500 to MOLA (i.e., me and my friend), a lawyer would receive a certificate suitable for framing and a MOLA logo to use on letterheads and in advertisements. What a deal!

The bottom line here – especially for non-lawyer clients – is that a lawyer’s advertised professional designations may look and sound impressive. But unless you want to do the research to find out if they really mean anything or not, I would not do put much weight on the lawyer’s “professional designations” as a criteria to use when selecting a lawyer. In a future post, I will go over what criteria I believe should be used in selecting not just the right lawyer, but a truly super duper lawyer.

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