How can you tell if a lawyer award is a scam? I previously quipped that awards were bullshit unless they were given to me. The truth was actually the reverse of that – if they were nominating me, they were likely out of their damn minds, as I had been practicing full-time for only a few months at that point. Seriously though: were there not ten more qualified attorneys in the entire state of California for the “ten best” list?
AIFLA isn’t the only scam in town though. Lawyers of Distinction is yet another one I saw frequently – both as an attorney and as a lawyer-marketing consultant. LOD, though, is perhaps the most audacious: they will nominate anybody, no matter their qualifications or species, to their “prestigious” list.
So why am I certain that Lawyers of Distinction is, in fact, a scam?
Fun With Nominations
It all started a few years ago, when I worked in a mid-sized firm. I received a Lawyers of Distinction nomination, as did a truly excellent and experienced attorney in our office. (Seriously, she should be on the bench, even if it would mean one fewer good lawyer.) She asked if it was a scam. I showed her my letter. We laughed. I then nominated every person in the office. Within a few days, I had a dozen emails forwarded to me asking, “Is this legit?” including a lawyer who had just passed the bar a couple months before.
Recently, I wanted to check and see if LOD had gotten any more selective. So, I nominated my big brother, who had passed the bar a week earlier. An hour later, he got his email. They hadn’t gotten more selective, but had gotten quicker! Still seeking amusement, I nominated a made-up alias: Willard Fillmore. Mr. Fillmore got his award email in an hour and still gets solicitations to this day. (I used a spare email address for Mr. Fillmore.) There is not, to my knowledge, any attorney named Willard Fillmore, in the United States (or at least any that can be found on Google).
None of that compares with Seattle’s Top Dog. That’s right – a law firm in Seattle actually spent the money to buy a Lawyers of Distinction plaque for their dog after Lucy the Dog was selected to be a lawyer of distinction. (Shoutout to Mockingbird Marketing for highlighting Lucy’s noteworthy achievement!)
What’s the Big Deal?
This is where I stand on a soapbox and preach about ethics – feel free to skip to the next bold heading.
LOD, AIFLA, and the rest of the bullshit lawyer award industry are not only scams on lawyers, which is a bad thing. Not that bad of a thing, mind you, as lawyers generally have some money and caveat emptor should apply sometimes – if you’re okay with dropping a few bills on a plaque from an organization that sends transparent spam so you can use it as a “marketing tool” or “trust signal” on your site, enjoy burning your money.
But it’s about the clients, stupid. Ethics rules universally prohibit false or misleading advertising. Buying fake awards and plastering them on your site to get more clients is deceiving consumers. It is false advertising. It is unethical, especially if you know it is a scam, or if you have a nagging suspicion. American Institute is worse than Lawyers of Distinction in this regard – at least LOD is a generic-enough moniker to be harmless. (I’m a distinct lawyer! As my momma would say, “Shit fire and save matches!) AI is far more harmful, as it brands lawyers as the “top ten” women/lawyers/etc. in their state, which could actually confuse gullible consumers.
But even if you couldn’t care less about consumers, what about you? Some state bars are beginning to crack down on these dubious awards. Some are requiring lawyers, who wish to advertise their awards on their websites, to include the selection criteria on their sites as well – saying “I paid for an award that I share with a dog” won’t do much for your reputation with the bar or with clients alike.
The American Bar Association is Complicit in This Scam
I guess I shouldn’t expect more from the ABA at this point. After all, they are the same bar association that has a mail-order wine club, a travel “excursions” club, and hawks anything they can to make a few more bucks to spend for lobbying on divisive stuff that only some of their members care about. (Yes, I’m pro all rights enshrined in the constitution. The ABA is anti-gun. We can still be friends, but I’m not a paying member. Bit ironic that that description – shamelessly hawking anything to raise money to lobby about stuff its members don’t care about could also be applied to the NRA!)
Even still, this is pretty sad: I was cracking open the ABA Journal while on the can last month and saw a two-page spread for Lawyers of Distinction. And then LOD themselves started filling poor Willard Fillmore’s inbox with emails talking about how LOD was featured in the ABA Journal – “Read How Lawyers of Distinction Helps Attorneys ‘Distinguish Themselves’ at ABAJournal.com,” they say!
- These lawyers are distinguishing themselves as suckers.
- The ABA is complicit in a scam against lawyers and consumers alike, so long as they allow this outfit to advertise with them.
- If you are going to give the ABA a pass because it is paid advertising, are you willing to give Facebook a pass on the whole fake news/election meddling thing? Because those were paid ads too. And the ABA actually has a responsibility to uphold the standards of the legal profession.