There is no shortage of awards schemes aimed at the legal sector. The Brief finds out how to pick the most suitable ones to enter, and to give yourself the best chance of winning.

Whether as a firm or an individual solicitor, being able to describe yourself as “award-winning” can pay dividends from a marketing perspective. Even something as simple as having a “shortlisted” logo to an email signature can provide a significant boost in a competitive marketplace.

Many of the most prestigious legal awards are free to enter, although the cost of attending the presentation ceremonies can be steep (but in many cases this is open to negotiation).

However, nobody wants to waste their time, so how should lawyers, and the businesses for which they work, approach writing submissions to give them the best chance of being shortlisted, and potentially winning?

Submission guidelines

Victoria Moffatt is a non-practising solicitor, and founder and managing director of the specialist PR consultancy to the legal sector, LexRex Communications. She and her firm have drafted winning and shortlisted entries for many of the legal sector’s top awards, and she has written this blog on the subject.

She says the first consideration is to be careful about choosing the most appropriate awards to enter. It is, she points out, worth noting that that there are “good” and “bad” awards.

She says, “The best ones are independently judged and avoid the ‘pay to play’ model. The best are typically run by regional law societies, media houses, regional or sector-focused organisations, or other trade organisations.”

Once you have decided which awards you are interested in entering, she continues, you should carefully consider the available categories and the requirements of each.

“As a basic first step, you must ensure that you are eligible to apply,” she says. “Next, take a detailed look at what the submission requires – this is often a written entry with a requirement to answer one-to-three questions. There is usually a word count, which is typically up to around 2,000 words.

Do make sure that you actually answer the questions or meet the requirements of the category, don’t just write what you want to say about your firm or team.

Many awards schemes also provide the option of providing supporting evidence. There is a balance to be struck here between providing too little, and being outgunned by your competitors, and overwhelming judges with pages of detail that they will never have time to read.

Discussing supporting evidence, Moffat says, “Sometimes a PDF of collated evidence is enough, some awards want video content.”

The judge’s perspective

Ruth Shearn is founder of RMS PR Marketing & Design, which has a long track record advising legal sector clients. She has also been a judge for the Manchester Legal Awards for 12 years:

Shearn tells The Brief, “Over the years, I’ve read over 2,000 submissions into categories ranging from Trainee of the Year to Large Firm of the Year, and everything in between. It’s quite a task – enjoyable and interesting, yes, but also incredibly frustrating at times.”

She has the following advice for anyone submitting an award entry:

  • Answer the question: read the criteria before you start. Address the question and avoid going off at a tangent.
  • Avoid cut and paste: you have probably written entries for legal directories or other awards. Fine. However, simply copying and pasting from those will not impress – your submission needs to address the criteria at hand.
  • Evidence matters: back up your claims by providing concrete examples. Quantify your achievements by including numbers and specific details which will add credibility.
  • Pass the tissues: the judges are human so don’t be afraid to engage them emotionally. Let your passion and enthusiasm for your work shine through. Use examples to highlight the commercial – and personal – impact of your work.
  • Language, Timothy: you might be a lawyer or marketing professional who likes lots of words, but the judges appreciate brevity. Avoid jargon and use clear, concise language.
  • Different is good: think about what – genuinely – sets you apart. Saying that you have great people who provide a great service doesn’t quite cut it. It could be a really simple, seemingly small thing but it could make a big difference to your entry.
  • Stick to the rules: pay attention to the qualifying period, word count and deadline. You will probably be penalised if you stray outside the stated criteria.
  • Seek feedback: before you press enter, get a colleague to proof your entry. As well as spotting any typos, they’ll come at it afresh – just like a judge - and might identify areas for improvement.

Face Time

Some awards rely solely on written submissions. For others, including the Manchester Legal Awards, this is just the first step, and shortlisted candidates are then invited to a face-to-face interview to determine the winner.

In many cases this will be at a set time, on a set day, so it worth ensuring that you, or an appropriate colleague, are going to be available on the day in question before you sit down for hours to craft the perfect submission.

It is important to go into the interview well-prepared. If possible, find out beforehand which judges will be attending, and do some research into their backgrounds.

It is also well worthwhile asking any colleagues or contacts who have been shortlisted in previous years about their interview experience. Just like a job interview, the better prepared you are the more relaxed you will be and the better you will perform.

The long game

Winning or being shortlisted for an award is just the beginning, as Moffatt points out. She says, “Make sure you think about marketing an award shortlisting or win, and remember that the shortlisting has an equal value PR-wise to a win.

You can share the shortlisting across all of your channels in the run-up to the awards ceremony, and generate a lot of likes and comments. Everybody loves good news!

“The win itself, if you are successful, is really the cherry on the top. So do plan carefully how you’ll market your shortlisting and win, and ensure you don’t miss easy opportunities to shout about the accomplishment.”


RMS PR Marketing & Design

LexRex Communications

Connect with Ruth Shearn via LinkedIn

Connect with Victoria Moffatt via LinkedIn