You didn’t become an attorney for the accolades, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t care about lawyer awards.
Reputable, prestigious awards for attorneys are more than a pat on the back or a boost to your ego. Awards can be effective marketing tools to help lawyers like you stand out from the competition, elevate your reputation in your professional network, and build trust with clients. But not all law firm awards are the same and some are more significant than others.
To focus your search for the best lawyer awards to compete for, we’ve created the following guide. Featuring a comprehensive list of national, local, and international awards for attorneys, this guide will help you choose which lawyer awards to submit a nomination for. It also includes useful tips on how to win them.
How to win lawyer awards
Just doing great legal work isn’t always enough to take home the best lawyer awards. If you want to be considered for (and win) lawyer awards, you need to do some strategic legwork:
- Start with a client-centered experience. If you want to be recognized for being a leader in the industry, you need to be a leader in the industry. Taking a client-centered approach drives more efficient processes, innovation, and positive client experiences. This is done by putting your clients’ experience at the forefront of your thinking and decision-making at your firm.
- Check for deadlines. You don’t want to waste time preparing for awards that have already closed. Take into account which lawyer awards have set application deadlines. Prioritize applying for set-deadline awards first, then apply to awards with open nominations.
- Vet, then apply. Some attorney awards mean more than others, as some awards are more like paid marketing tools than actual accolades. Before applying, research who’s offering the award (i.e. is it a reputable, credible organization?). Find out how the final decision is made (i.e. do awards just go to who can pay the most?) and how you can benefit from the award.
What are the best national lawyer awards?
American Bar Association (ABA) Awards
This annual award (nominations are accepted every fall) honors an individual or organization that has exemplified leadership and success in educational pipeline work—someone who has opened up opportunities for underrepresented students as they move through law school and into the legal profession.
Who should apply: An individual or organization that has led or created a program that enhances opportunities for underrepresented students through the educational pipeline.
Showcasing the excellence of young lawyers, this ABA award brings national recognition (via ABA publications and on social media) to attorneys with qualities like vision, leadership, achievement, and service—both to the legal profession and to their communities.
Who should apply: Nominees must be a lawyer member of the ABA in good standing, a licensed attorney in the United States or one of its territories, and must be 36 of age or younger on the application deadline date (or have received their first license within the last five years. Past honorees are not eligible, but self-nominating is allowed. Nominations for 2021 are now closed.
Recognizing the best and most innovative on-going professionalism programs and projects (in the legal profession and legal education) in the country, each award carries a $3,500 prize.
Who should apply: Law schools, state and local bar associations, court programs and projects, law firms, and not-for-profit law-related organizations with ongoing professionalism programs or projects. Nominations are currently open, and the 2021 deadline is March 31, 2021.
Honoring the fourth Chief Justice of the United States, this award recognizes efforts to improve the administration of justice on a national level.
Who should apply: Lawyers and non-lawyers can be nominated—the award goes to any individual responsible for extraordinary improvement to the administration of justice related to Judicial Independence, Justice System Reform, and/or Public Awareness about the Justice System. Nominations are currently open and the 2021 deadline is May 7, 2021.
Presented annually by the Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, these five awards recognize a commitment to enhancing the human dignity of others—specifically, the poor and disadvantaged—through legal services.
Who should apply: Lawyers and institutions in the legal profession (including small and large law firms) that can demonstrate outstanding commitment to improving or delivering volunteer legal services to the poor and disadvantaged. The award is not open to compensated pro bono coordinators. Nominations for 2021 are now closed.
Recognizing the accomplishments of solo and small law firms (defined as two to five attorneys), these awards include three categories: Solo and Small Firm Lifetime Achievement Award, Solo and Small Firm Project Award, and the Solo and Small Firm Trainer Award.
Who should apply: Solo and small firm (2 to 5 attorneys) practitioners, bar leaders, and bar associations. Nominations for 2021 are now closed.
This lifetime achievement award is the highest honor bestowed by the ABA Law Practice Division. The annual award recognizes achievement in law practice management.
Who should apply: The recipient is chosen and presented the award at a reception during the ABA LP Annual Meeting.
These awards recognize exceptional contributions in the ABA’s Law Practice Division’s publications—Law Practice, Law Practice Today, and Law Technology Today. Awards are available in three categories: Overall Achievement in Division Publications, Best Feature Article, and Best Column.
Who should apply: Award recipients are individuals or entities that have contributed to/written in the Division’s publications.
Named in honor of the founding Chair of the ABA Law Practice Division eLawyering Task Force, this award recognizes innovation in legal services—specifically in delivering personalized legal services—over the internet.
Who should apply: Law firms and offices—especially those that serve moderate-income individuals and the middle class.
This award recognizes a person who has used pro bono services to make a difference. The award includes a $1,500 cash prize that goes to the pro bono or public service organization selected by the winner. Nominations for 2021 are now closed.
Who should apply: US citizens and residents 21 years old or older who have offered pro bono legal services or promoted organization(s) that provide legal services to low-income and/or underrepresented populations. Attorneys considered for the award must not be full-time, compensated pro bono attorneys.
Honoring people who make a difference, this collection of four awards celebrates attorneys and non-attorneys, both living and deceased, who break down barriers, serve the community, do pro bono work, or serve the legal profession.
Who should apply: The awards are targeted to many different groups depending on the category, including attorneys and law firms. Nominees for the awards are encouraged to be members of the ABA and GPSolo.
This award honors criminal trial lawyers devoted to criminal defense practice, who have embodied the principles enunciated in the ABA Standards for Criminal Justice, Defense Function. Recipients should also have worked to improve the criminal justice system.
Who should apply: Defense attorneys. Nominations are currently open, and the 2021 deadline is May 3, 2021.
This annual award recognizes those working to improve the treatment and rights of crime victims (through avenues like direct representation, advocacy, scholarship, volunteering, or leadership) in the criminal justice system.
Who should apply: Attorneys or legal service providers. Nominees must have represented victims in criminal, juvenile, or appellate courts, or worked to promote or implement policies to improve the treatment and rights of crime victims in the criminal justice system. Nominations are currently open, and the 2021 deadline is May 3, 2021.
Named in memory of a leader in the juvenile justice field and professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, the Livingston Hall Juvenile Justice Award goes to bar members who make a positive impact on young people and children through their work and representation of them.
Who should apply: Active members of the bar who practice law in support of youth and children. Nominations are currently open, and the 2021 deadline is May 3, 2021.
This award honors a California trial attorney, Charles English, who specialized in criminal defense. Awards are selected to go to nominees with exemplary service to criminal justice and professionalism.
Who should apply: Open to judges, prosecutors, the defense bar, academics, and other attorneys who are members of the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section. Nominations are currently open, and the 2021 deadline is May 3, 2021.
In memory of the award’s namesake—who worked to create a more inclusive legal profession—this fellowship goes to young lawyers showing promise for excellence in the practice of public law. The fellowship provides networking and educational opportunities, the opportunity for career advancement from writing articles, and mentorship.
Who should apply: Young lawyers showing promise in the field of public law. Nominations are currently open, and the 2021 deadline is April 15, 2021.
This award recognizes people involved with important cases that help tell the story of the American civil justice system.
Who should apply: Plaintiffs and the attorneys of plaintiffs with applicable cases.
This award goes to an AAJ member who can demonstrate the same level of passion for the law and trial bar as the award’s namesake, former AAJ President David Shrager. The recipient should also have contributed to the AAJ’s work and civil justice.
Who should apply: AAJ members.
The award recognizes an AAJ member who showcases the same level of standards of the award’s namesake when it comes to passion, civility, cordiality, professionalism, service, and courtroom advocacy in regards to the legal profession.
Who should apply: AAJ members of at least 10 years standing.
Presented at the AAJ Annual Convention, this award recognizes those who have taken on a case or cause voluntarily as a public service—beyond the standard call of duty.
Who should apply: AAJ members or firms. Nominations are due by April 15.
This award recognizes an AAJ member with integrity, character, and a commitment to human and civil rights—who has also helped advance the AAJ’s mission and growth and contributed to trial advocacy and the legal profession.
Who should apply: AAJ members of at least 10 years standing.
Other national awards
Honoring those who have made a major difference in the legal profession, these awards from The National Law Journal celebrate professional excellence.
Who should apply: Attorneys and judges. Nomination deadlines and criteria vary by award.
This collection of legal awards uses research to identify and recognize lawyers and firms that have performed the best in each category.
Who should apply: Individual lawyers and law firms are selected based on an assessment of the organization’s research.
What are the best international lawyer awards?
Clio’s annual law firm awards recognize legal excellence, innovation, and community impact in six categories—Legal Innovation, Best New Law Firm, Community Champion, Best Growth Story, Excellence in Client Service, and Legal Impact (aka the People’s Choice). Reisman Award winners receive a trophy and recognition at the annual Clio Cloud conference and on social media. Nominations are currently open, and the 2021 deadline is March 31, 2021.
Who should apply: Clio customers.
These awards recognize achievement and innovation in the legal profession across the Atlantic in a wide variety of categories.
Who should apply: Lawyers and law firms.
What are the best awards for attorneys from state and local government?
Established by the ABA Section of State and Local Government Law, these awards honor the accomplishments of practitioners and institutions in areas of practice associated with State and Local Government Law. Awards are given in four categories (Lifetime Achievement, Advocacy, Up & Comers, and Law Office Advocacy) annually. Nominations are currently open, and the 2021 deadline is April 15, 2021.
This annual award—which goes to someone from a state, local, or jurisdictional trial lawyer organization—recognizes individuals who promote and foster support and cooperation between the AAJ and the affiliated organization and between the AAJ and the National Association of Trial Lawyers. The awardee’s service to the affiliated organization should also be strengthening the civil justice system.
Earned vs. paid lawyer awards
Keep in mind that not all lawyer awards are equal: Some awards have an application fee and others are essentially paid advertisements.
Before taking the time to apply for any law firm awards, take a moment to consider if it’s an earned or paid award, and what value it holds. What are some signs that an attorney award may not be as valuable as you hope? The award may lack a vetting process and may require you to pay in exchange for recognition (often in the form of a plaque or online profile).
While a pay-to-play-style lawyer award may look nice on your desk, a bogus award doesn’t mean anything—and won’t help you stand out amongst your clients or peers.
Lawyer awards are a great way to stand out, showcase your great work, and build trust amongst clients—and it’s also nice to be recognized. When looking for attorney awards, be sure to check if there are specific deadlines and do your research to differentiate between merit-based and paid awards. This is because paid-for awards don’t mean as much as an award that’s truly earned. In the end, remember that the best way to be recognized for excellent work is to do great legal work and give your clients a positive experience.
Note: The information in this article applies only to US practices. This post is provided for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal, business, or accounting advice.
We published this blog post in March 2021. Last updated: .
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