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For the last few months, I’ve been teasing my law firm marketing friends about our Litigation Department of the Yearcontest. If their firm won, the credit would go to their lawyers. If their firm didn’t, we’d all know who was at fault. I’m not laughing anymore. A couple days ago, we received a telephone call from a firm public relations person who was weeping. Her firm hadn’t won. None of her lawyers were being featured. And she was afraid for her job. We felt badly for her and thought worse about the bullies for whom she worked-for a little while longer, anyway. Litigators: The fault lies not in the stars or in your marketing departments. We judged these contests based on the records you compiled and submitted. It didn’t help if your entry failed to explain the importance of your work. And it didn’t help if you ignored the rules. As promised, we read and assessed all the submissions-some of the 120 or so were perfect-bound four-color extravaganzas; others simple typewritten memos. The winners and finalists came from both schools of presentation and everything in between. (Note to the CD-ROM entry: It crashed our machines.) Three of us-Alison Frankel, Susan Beck, and I-have helped judge each of our three big-firm competitions. We were all struck by how close the contest was this time, which is another way of saying that no firm immediately stood out. And that made our work more difficult. Our process is pretty simple. We read and grade all the submissions. As in previous years, we were able to narrow the group down to about two dozen firms, on the basis of just the papers. Then my reporting colleagues looked more closely at those entrants, interviewing opposing counsel and clients. We met again to hone the group further. That process continued until we reached five. Ideally, we would have found a firm that did extraordinary work in each of our six categories: pretrial, trial, settlements, appeals, pro bono, and a catchall for other matters, including arbitration. Instead we found firms with truly remarkable records in a few of these areas and fine, if not always exceptional, results in the others. That let us into the fruit-salad muck: How do we weigh the importance of a string of U.S. Supreme Court victories versus a string of standout trial results versus a series of world-class settlements? With difficulty. We spoke with dozens of clients. In many cases, they had used several of the leading competitors during the past two years and were in a position to compare them knowledgeably. Also, we queried dozens of opposing counsel, some of whom managed to find positive comments to offer. And we used our own judgment, taking into account the stakes involved, the throw-weight of the cases, and the skill with which the firms argued their cause to us. As you begin to prepare for the next round two years from now, I offer two observations. First, the submissions of the winners and finalists were notable for their clarity. Complex cases can be explained clearly and powerfully. The winning entries all did. Second, be kind to your marketing folks. You may have reason to fault their other work; we can discuss that in a different venue. But if you didn’t convince us in this contest, it’s bad form to kick the support staff. We congratulate the winners and wish the rest good luck, next time. If you have questions or comments, you can reach me at [email protected] .

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