Legal awards winners may give quality service, but there was merit in the former rule of not presenting yourself as better than your competitors

As I write this in January, the 2014 legal awards season is already fast approaching, but there is little danger of my tuxedo requiring a press this year. I am not in the running for any accolades. Please don’t feel sorry for me. You see, I didn’t nominate myself or my firm for any awards. I didn’t complete, or instruct my marketing department to complete, a rainforest-worrying entry form espousing my many unique, innovative qualities, and I certainly didn’t spend more than £1,000 reserving a table for 10 at the glitzy ceremony where the gongs will be dished out to the great and the good.

I am simply not convinced that there is any inherent merit in receiving an award that you have to ask for and (albeit indirectly) pay for yourself. Moreover, I wonder if any firm can truly be the “Firm of the Year” if only a tiny fraction of those eligible to do so actually enter the contest.

Don’t misunderstand me. I would not for one second wish to detract from the fantastic efforts and achievements of winners past, present and future. Rigorous judging by the crème de la crème of our profession and others has ensured, and will doubtlessly continue to ensure, that all of the award winners are unquestionably the best of the award entrants. Beyond that, however, it is all surely just marketing hyperbole. There is nothing wrong with a bit of shameless self promotion, and if charities can benefit from funds raised at award ceremonies along the way, then that is all to the good. Corporate social responsibility brownie points all round!

However, when all is said and done, let us not pretend that the rationale underpinning a firm’s decision to throw its hat into the awards ring is anything other than pecuniary. A winner’s rosette on headed notepaper is a powerful marketing tool. Add a grandiose title – preferably with national connotations – and superiority can be asserted, if not actually demonstrated, over all of a firm’s competitors – even those who were not narcissistic enough to self-nominate in the first place. For me, therein lies the rub.

Until comparatively recently, solicitors were prohibited from claiming superiority for their services or practices over those offered by others within the profession. They could tell people that their firms were great, but not that they were the greatest. Practices withered or bloomed on the quality of their own client propositions, not by thumbing their noses at the firms across the road. To my mind, notwithstanding that it is perhaps commercially naive to do so, there is something rather dignified, and dare I say “professional”, about adhering to these old standards of conduct, even if they are no longer mandatory.

I wince when I receive correspondence from firms with letterheads or email signatures so festooned with award baubles and plaudits that it is hard to decipher who is actually writing to me. I am surely not alone in finding such gaudy displays of corporate peacocking neither impressive, informative nor intimidating. Indeed, when they hark back to glories of bygone eras (Scottish Technology Firm of the Year 2001) they are almost rather sad, like a balding gentleman combing over the remaining strands of his hair to hide his ruddy pate.

Other than for commercial gain, I fail to see why any solid, reputable solicitor or law firm would feel the need to prostrate themselves before a judging panel in order to win some trinket or token of public validation. A collection of happy clients and a healthy balance sheet should be a sufficient reward for any practitioner competently executing his or her duties.

Of course, I don’t know a single solicitor who only “does their job”. Without exception, everyone I have ever worked for or with has at some time or another made great personal sacrifices for their clients or gone the proverbial extra mile to get a job done.

They have done this without fuss or fanfare and with no expectation that their diligence and dedication would be recognised. Occasionally, if they are very lucky, they may be surprised by an unsolicited thank you card or small gift from a grateful client in appreciation of the excellent services rendered. When received, these are the awards that really matter. These are the awards that should be treasured.

The Author
Campbell Read is a partner in Stewart Balfour & Sutherland, Campbeltown
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