What do doctors and dentists and lawyers have in common? Plaques. Plaques that create a wall of respect. A wall to capture the eyes and to convey worth, competence and eminence.

From time to time while waiting in the doctor or dentist or lawyer’s office, one can find an array of wall hangings which might consist of diplomas, professional licenses, articles from newspapers extolling civic or professional accomplishments, or jury verdict awards. Hanging in their plain or ornate frames, they give assurance that services will be performed by one of the best. In fact, for those who have made the grade there are laminated “Top Docs” or “Top Dentists.” Similarly, plaques are available to attorneys through plaque marketers evincing quality, certified to by various organizations. Among these are, for example, “Best Lawyers in America”, “Super Lawyers”, and even the venerable Martindale-Hubbell.

We all know of and aspire to Martindale’s highest rating of “A-V”—“a testament to the fact that a lawyer’s peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence with adherence to ethical standards of conduct.” The legal ability denoted by “A” was for decades defined by Martindale as “Very High.” Somewhere along the line that same “A” morphed into the more prestigious description of “Very High to Preeminent.”

For some time now, Martindale has contracted with a plaque-marketing firm to sell plaques proclaiming its indicia of competence and integrity. That firm, to make the plaques more saleable (for only $179.00), has done Martindale one better and markets the A-V plaque solely as the “Preeminent Rating [which] is the pinnacle of professional excellence.” Other worded plaques are offered to attorneys “to showcase your judicial AV preeminent rating” and ones which celebrate “the 20th anniversary” of having been rated at this preeminent rating level. At best such wall plaques serve to reassure clients or patients. At worst they make attractive wall decorations.

On the other hand, there are pay-to-play plaques pedaled by some ingenious groups. For example, “Lawyers of Distinction” has its most popular $775.00 membership application package, which includes a “genuine cherry wood plaque,” to celebrate you as a Lawyer of Distinction. This organization, however, at one time even accepted for membership Lucy, a teacup poodle, and issued the plaque celebrating Lucy having passed the Lawyers of Distinction vetting process. It is the pride of the attorney who playfully nominated his pup for membership. On another occasion, it also accepted for nomination from another lawyer with a sense of whimsy, Zippy DeShickeen as nominated by “Jon Stewart.”

“America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators” charges $300.00 for annual membership, the “American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys – 10 Best Attorneys” charges only $295.00 for its plaque. Even better, the “American Society of Legal Advocates” charges just $200.00 per year for eligibility as a Top 100 litigation lawyer in the state, with which designation comes the ubiquitous plaque. The “Top One Percent of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel” has a $300.00 annual membership payment and “America’s Top 100 Attorneys,” limited to the top 100 attorneys in the state, upon acceptance requires payment of a one-time membership fee of $1,000. But, alas, a plaque does not automatically go with their membership honor. A better bargain is recognition by “Top Lawyers of New Jersey,” which provides an “elegant plaque” for only $99.00 (plus shipping and handling).

The moral: If you have to pay for your designation of excellence (whether or not it comes with a plaque), don’t.