Awards: How General Counsel Utilize Awards to Identify Top Law Firms

Posted by Kristen Greer
May 16, 2024

Fortune 500 general counsel (GC) and chief legal officers (CLOs) say they base hiring outside counsel on referrals and recommendations from colleagues, mentors and peers. They also report that costs, diversity initiatives and some awards are “nice bonuses” but are not deciding factors. While GCs and CLOs may report this, data and other resources indicate that in-house attorneys do use these rankings as an additional set of eyes when considering who to hire for outside counsel. 

Reputable and long-established legal rankings and awards, such as those by Chambers & Partners, The Legal 500 and Benchmark Litigation, are not just prestigious titles. They are the result of rigorous methodologies that involve thorough investigations into top-tier attorneys and firms. These investigations rely on genuine feedback from references, industry experts and extensive research. GCs and CLOs frequently turn to these esteemed outlets when crafting a shortlist of firms or attorneys for hiring consideration, instilling a sense of confidence in their choices.

For example, London-based Chambers & Partners reviews multiple sources when determining its rankings, including case matters, lawyer interviews and direct client feedback from individuals called ‘referees.’ This comprehensive approach ensures the accuracy and reliability of the rankings. Notably, Chambers reports that ‘75% of the Fortune 500 used the Chambers website since August [2023]’, further validating their credibility.

In a feature in The Legal 500’s GC Magazine titled “In-house and outside counsel: A love/hate relationship,” the former head of legal for Michelin in Africa, India and the Middle East shared insights into their approach to selecting external counsel: “Word of mouth is one of the most important reference criteria when hiring outside counsel. We have our own due diligence procedures like looking at the ratings of legal directories like The Legal 500.”

Further evidence that in-house counsel consider these reputable awards when hiring external counsel is the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) checklist “In-House Counsel: Key Questions and Checklist for Hiring Outside Counsel.” This resource underscores the importance of law firms showcasing their awards for pro bono endeavors,  DEI initiatives and overall practices.

While referrals and recommendations remain crucial, the use of reputable legal rankings and awards is not just an additional layer of scrutiny for GCs and CLOs, but a significant one. It reaffirms their commitment to selecting the most qualified and reputable outside counsel for their organization’s legal needs. This should also reaffirm your commitment to ensuring that your firm undertakes these submissions thoughtfully and seriously to meet your business development goals, reassuring your decision-making process.

Kristen Greer is our awards & rankings manager. A former longtime global research leader at Best Lawyers, she is responsible for researching, organizing and generally supporting clients in professional awards and recognitions.