Recently Clint and I were notified that “D Magazine” had selected both of us as one of Dallas’ best criminal defense lawyers. Of course we are pleased with the honor but what does it really mean? How are such selections made?
According to the magazine they sent a mailer out to all the lawyers with bar numbers in Dallas. They asked them to designate their primary area of practice and then to nominate two lawyers outside of their firm and one within their firm as the best current lawyers in their specialty. After the votes were tallied, a panel of anonymous “eminent lawyers,” (most likely lawyers that had been repeatedly selected in the past by wide margins), met with the editors to make a final selection. The magazine assures its readers that their is no correlation between which lawyers buy an ad and those who are selected.
The process sounds reasonably fair. However, it almost certainly does not pass muster as a poll with a known margin of error. We have no idea how many lawyers participate in the poll. Even if we did, we have no agreed definition of what constitutes the “best.” We know nothing about the panel of “eminent lawyers.” We don’t know what their biases are, or what their definition of the “best” is.
Nevertheless, the list is reasonably short, the lawyers on the list are well known, and one should consider it to have some merit. It is certainly a better way of evaluating lawyers than by thumbing through the Yellow Pages or relying on the reference of an uncle who happens to know a criminal defense lawyer who attends his church.
“D-Magazine’s” list is not the only such list. “Texas Monthly” creates a list of lawyers that it designates as “Super Lawyers.” Clint and I have been selected as Texas Super Lawyers since 2004.
How does “Texas Monthly” compile its list? As it turns out, in a manner very similar to “D-Magazine’s” method. Once again, the magazine polls lawyers in their specialty. Each vote is assigned a point value, with votes within a law firm getting significantly fewer points than votes from outside one’s law firm. The magazine imposes safeguards to catch “back scratching” nominations, i.e., “I will vote for you if you vote for me,” and it discounts block voting where it appears there is a concerted effort by the members of a firm to vote for the same lawyer. The magazine also discourages “campaigning.”
Once “Texas Monthly” has compiled a list of nominees, it does it’s own research. It looks for certification in board specialties, law schools attended, bar and professional activity, etc. Similar to “D-Magazine’s” “eminent panel,” Texas Monthly has a “Blue Ribbon Panel” who are provided a list of candidates and then ranks them 1 to 10. Five percent of the total lawyers in the state are selected for the designation “Super Lawyer.”
The New Jersey Supreme Court recently concluded, [The Super Lawyers selection process] is a comprehensive, good faith and detailed attempt to produce a list of lawyers that have attained high peer recognition, meet ethical standards, and have demonstrated some degree of achievement in their field.” The Court also concluded that the purchase of advertising in the magazine in no way tainted the selection methodology. Once again, this appears to be a fair process but certainly not scientific.
Finally there is the venerable Martindale-Hubbell “A-V” rating process. Martindale-Hubbell is a legal directory that has been around for over 140 years. Every lawyer listed in their directory or is listed on their website “lawyers.com” is peer evaluated after three years of practice. Instead of voting, lawyers in a similar practice area are provided a list of names and evaluate ones that they know. A lawyer may be rated “AV” or “BV” or “rated.” “AV” means preeminent, “BV” means distinguished and rated means “ethical.” It is also possible to have no rating. Clint and I have long been rated “AV.”
Obviously, none of these rating systems are perfect. On the other hand, none of them are “bogus” or fraudulent. To be selected as one of Dallas Best Lawyers, a Super Lawyer and AV rated, is an accomplishment of which few lawyers can boast.