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Q: Our lawyers were invited into Best Lawyers and Who’s Who. Are those good?

A: “Best Lawyers” is credible and, in my experience, the people who are selected generally belong there. Pick a practice area in your city where you know the names of the major players and I think you’ll find that many of them in Best Lawyers.  And in my experience, it’s also a bit of a club — where they occasionally use the books to refer business to each other in far-flung cities.  Lawyers who are in it are generally very proud of having been selected.

BTW, the most credible and useful ones are generally acknowledged to be Chambers and Partners and Legal 500. But those are thoroughly researched “rankings” more than “directories.” There’s pretty solid evidence that clients do use those when vetting prospects or seeking law firms in far-flung jurisdictions.

However I believe that most of the “Who’s Who” directories are just simple mailing lists with fancy titles. That is, if you fill out the form, you’re in. (See Lisa Simpsons’s wry yet hilarious take regarding her and Bart’s having been selected for “Who’s Who Among American Elementary School Students” here.)

They want you to be in because they sell the data of the people on their lists.  Therefore, more “honorees” means more money for them.  (In other words, you’re simply signing up to receive more junk mail.)

The “screening” process typically involves a high-pressure salesperson calling to ask whether you want the $200 wood wall plaque OR the $250 leather-bound volume that contains your name somewhere inside.

If the vultures are contacting your lawyers directly and you want to tell all your lawyers to decline to accept their invitations, here’s a form memo you can circulate internally to educate them about what’s really going on.

Who's Who in the WORLD Bad

Further, I recall reading that the creator of the first “Who’s Who” publication failed to protect the title, so absolutely anyone can create their own volume and call it a “Who’s Who.”

There’s no real “honor” associated with most Who’s Who books.

The problem for marketers is that few lawyers seem to know this, which means that many of them want to add this faux honor prominently to their resumes.

The graphics illustrating this post are actual clips from the biography of a guy I know, one of the nation’s leading experts in a law-related industry. He’s an extraordinary professional with a prominent practice. A nice guy. And his lengthy C.V. includes three entire pages of miscellaneous Who’s Who entries.  (And he wonders why he gets so much SPAM…)

Also, a recent former American Bar Association president currently details two separate Who’s Who listings on his firm’s website biography.  He’s led a powerful 400,000-member association, is a “Fellow of the College of…” at least two impressive groups, yet wastes space and credibility showcasing a meaningless accolade.

As marketers, we must explain this without embarrassing them.

It might be OK if your child wants to get selected for Who’s Who Among Third Graders or whatever but, frankly, for high-level professionals, I think listing a Who’s Who directory on their resume or biography makes them look dim.

My answer might be different for lawyers who have a personal injury, divorce, or other less-sophisticated lay-consumer audience.  In those situations, these non-credentials may be used to suggest professional expertise.

That is, you might want to hold your nose, fill out the form, get selected, use it in your marketing, and deal with the junk mail. Heck, go ahead and fill your reception area with the costly plaques and trophies. Bring another one home to temporarily impress the kids. Splash it all over your website, LinkedIn profile, and social media to dazzle the uneducated.

A number of years ago–just to double-check–we filled out the form and had our 22-year-old secretary promptly selected for Who’s Who in the World or something like that. I still feel a little bit bad about all the junk mail…

Who's Who in America Listings


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