Finding a lawyer: a warning about “super lawyers” lists

Sunday’s New York Times Magazine published the annual supplement on the best lawyers in NYC, a/k/a “super” lawyers.

I may be the only person in the city (or even the world) who isn’t a lawyer yet who reads virtually the entire list. That is, I read through the specialties I know something about. And I find people I have known, or at least know of.

Although Thomson Reuters, the company that produced the list (it’s an advertising supplement, after all, not a NYT-generated thing) specifies right at the beginning how they compile it, I’m still pretty wary, but not for the reason that came up at dinner with family members last night. Nancy said, “But don’t lawyers just pay to be on the list?” They don’t. But who knows what goes on in a lawyer’s mind when he fills out a questionnaire (I assume that’s how they company gets its information) about a colleague, or a competitor, or a revered mentor. Who may have turned into a pre-senile crab.

One thing Thomson Reuters doesn’t do: it doesn’t send questionnaires to clients of lawyers on the list. So in a sense, it’s the obverse of Angie’s List, which publishes only reviews by  clients of various professionals. As I’ve pointed out, this criterion has problems. Why do you trust that your neighbor who knows nothing about plumbing can evaluate a professional plumber in any substantial way?

And when it comes to teachers, for instance, why should pupils’ opinions of teachers be given such weight in evaluating their teachers, who are trained professionals? I can envision how my classmates and I would have evaluated certain of our public school teachers who were brilliant, but not necessarily student-friendly. One of our French teachers scared the living daylights out of me. Her approach was so intimidating I was too anxious to learn much French but several of my friends absolutely flourished under her.

But the current 2012 Super Lawyers list causes me to offer a warning, in case you’re thinking of relying heavily on it to select a lawyer: according to this list, one of the Super (personal injury) Lawyers in New York is ….

William Schwitzer. Any of you who has lived with me through my Problems With Lawyers section knows exactly what I think of William Schwitzer, and knows that I have filed a grievance against him and his firm for the way they handled my case and me.

William Schwitzer is not my idea of a Super Lawyer. So what does this say about the Super Lawyers list?

It might say a lot but apparently Thomson Reuters doesn’t review grievances against lawyers and the results of these grievances when they compile the names for this list. All they claim to do is check the internet just to make sure … of what, exactly?

Later I’ll have a lot more to say about how to choose a lawyer, including how to utilize such Super Lawyer lists. I.e., carefully.

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