Prize draws

May 15, 2013

The firm’s won awards. Does that make it a good place to work?   

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So the shortlist has been published for The Lawyer Awards 2013. And firms can now only sit and wait with bated breath for the big reveal on 25 June.

Oh, how slow the weeks will seem to pass before the nominees know whether they have won an award – and with it a year of ‘brand power’.

Except for one niggling doubt. Does anyone actually care? Go into any reasonably large UK law firm, and you’ll probably see a jam-packed trophy cabinet, amassed from years of legal award ceremonies hosted by increasing numbers of publishers getting in on the awards act.

Try to recall the firms who won any particular title at any awards ceremony last year, and you’ll probably struggle. Let’s not even attempt to go back a year earlier.

Attend any one of the many glittering legal awards ceremonies and you wonder whether this really is about crediting the change-makers of the legal profession. Or whether it’s just another excuse for lawyers to feed their considerable egos with a weirdly incestuous kind of mutual back-slapping.

In fact, conversations with law firms suggest that the allure of legal awards is not the recognition of a job well done so much as the need to show up time and again to prove nothing’s gone wrong.

Factor in the process behind most awards – which means writing your own nomination and then paying to attend – and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the prize goes to the firm with the most time and PR money to waste.

Should job candidates take stock?

But while it’s easy to dismiss all such awards, it’s also difficult to ignore them.

An associate looking for the next step on the career ladder will inevitably be drawn to the interview offer from last year’s ‘Law Firm of the Year’. Make that into a list of accolades, including one, perhaps, for ‘Best Employer’, and it may be a done deal before the first interview.

Cynicism aside, there might be some value in giving awards a modicum of attention. Just don’t get too caught up in the glitz of it all.

Things to look out for include:

  • The process behind the different awards. Look for a good panel of judges, strict entry guidelines, and a solid research/editorial process that underpins any self-nomination.
  • Check out other benchmarking studies, that don’t necessarily go with an attention-grabbing ceremony. Legal Week’s ‘Employee Satisfaction Report’ and The Sunday Times ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ are conducted by detailed surveys, rather than nominations, which gives them considerable breadth and depth of insight.
  • Compare and contrast. One of the striking things about awards is how many different law firms seem to get some form of recognition. There often seems little correlation across the years or across different platforms. This suggests that winning may have more to do with the nature of the nominations as opposed to genuinely being the best. However, this also makes it easier to spot the stand-out performers.  In 2012, for instance, it’s notable that Mishcon de Reya won ‘Law Firm of the Year’ with both The Lawyer and Legal Business, came out first among the top-100 firms for quality of work and reputation in Legal Week’s Employee Satisfaction Report, and broke into the top 15 of the Sunday Times ‘100 Best Companies to Work For 2013’. It seems fair to assume that Mishcon is doing something right.
  • Read the background report to any given award. Don’t just take it at face value. A firm, for instance, might win an award for a particularly innovative project or outstanding deal in one year. This might not mean much in the long run. Another award might be based on long-term evidence of outstanding performance or growth. Both may deserve credit, but only one should make a difference to your job hunt.
  • Use your own judgement. At the end of the day, finding the right job is a personal journey. Awards may be indicators in the right direction, or they might just take you down a blind alley to a firm that isn’t right for you or your practice. Do your own research, take an open-minded approach into the interview process, and trust your own instincts as to whether a firm is the right cultural fit.

And the next time you find yourself at an awards ceremony, go right ahead and ensure you’re the loudest table, slap some backs (particularly your own), drink a magnum of Champagne and dance badly. Very badly. Then remember to wash it all down with a very large pinch of salt. CP

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