Don’t Be a Sneetch: A Seussian View of Law Firm Rankings

Star-Bellied Sneetches

It was Dr. Seuss’ birthday a little while ago, which brought to mind his story of “The Sneetches.”

You may recall from your childhood or reading the book to your kids that the Star-Belly Sneetches “had bellies with stars” but the “Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars” which led the former to discriminate against the latter. Enter greedy pitchman Sylvester McMonkey McBean, who offers to give green stars to any starless Sneetch who wants one – for a fee. When the original Star-Bellied Sneetches realize they are no longer special, Mr. McBean offers them a way to remove their stars – again, for a fee. The Sneetches continue removing and adding their stars until they are penniless, and the snake oil salesman leaves town with all their money.

The lesson, of course, is that a green star – or lack thereof – doesn’t make one Sneetch superior to another. But they were willing to fork over good money just to have a chance at standing out from the crowd, regardless of whether it mattered or not, a very human trait indeed.

We often think of the Sneetches when advising clients on whether to spend their valuable time and money putting together a submission to get on a particular law firm ranking or list. It used to be that a lawyer just had to make sure his or her Martindale-Hubbell listing was accurate. Then came Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, and Chambers (oh, my!), and a flood of lists and rankings followed. There now seems to be a ranking or list for pretty much every practice area, geography, or level of experience.

We see lawyers and firms pursue many of these lists as if they were Star-Bellied Sneetches – succumbing to peer pressure and wanting to be special. To be clear, submitting to rankings is perfectly fine if it is done with a strategic purpose. Submitting just because you fear being left out of the list, no matter what list it is, however, is not a sound investment of time and marketing budget. It will also likely drive you slightly crazy trying to keep up.

The reflex response to just submit to every ranking and list is understandable. Firms and their lawyers want to be visible in the marketplace so clients and prospects will recognize that they are worthy of hiring. But what if your target client base doesn’t know or care about Best Lawyers, or would never even glance at a glossy Super Lawyers magazine? Wouldn’t it be better to deploy resources so you appear where those clients are actually looking for information on outside counsel?

Before you enter this game – and it is most assuredly a game – a law firm would be best served by conducting some simple market research. Ask your clients and prospects which, if any, rankings they pay attention to and if they’ve ever used a list or ranking when hiring an attorney. Everything should then flow from the answers you receive. It might mean adding a few submissions to your strategy, but it could just as easily result in a few dropping off. In any case, you’ll have a much more informed, tactical approach to which rankings and lists you choose to pursue. And your clients or prospects will probably think highly of you that you asked their opinion. So many law firms don’t.

When it comes to law firm rankings, don’t be a Star-Bellied-Sneetch. A sound strategy grounded in asking clients and prospects for their opinions will serve you much better in the long run. It also demonstrates you are client-centered in everything you do.


Photo Credit: