Insight

Best Lawyers Through the Ages: Our past. Our today. Our future.

Best Lawyers is celebrating its 29th edition for 2023 continuing to be the original, trusted source for legal awards.

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RS

Rachel Shrewsbury

August 17, 2022 04:00 PM

Spanning four decades and thousands of technological advances that have changed the world and the way we operate, one thing has remained steadfast: the reason Best Lawyers was created and the methodology that has guided us through 29 editions of lawyer awards. Software, social media and digital communication have extended our reach and streamlined our process, but through it all, we remain rooted in our values and continue to work hard each year to honor the prolific legal talent around the country.

Our Past

It’s hard to believe that it has already been 40 years since our founders, Steve Naifeh and the late Greg Smith, two Harvard Law School graduates, got together and built the oldest and most respected peer-review publication in the global legal community, Best Lawyers. Could they have ever imagined their impact on so many people—attorneys worldwide, those clients who need a great attorney for their case, and the many hundreds of job opportunities at Best Lawyers?

One of those opportunities came in 2005 when Phillip Greer, a young professional from a small town outside of Augusta, Georgia, joined our team. Over the years, he wore many hats within the company—with each providing a unique opportunity to help grow and expand our capabilities. In 2013 he became President and in 2018 became CEO after Naifeh announced his retirement.

Over the last several years, he has led over 50 employees in offices in Georgia, Florida and New York—and oversees relationships with 78,944 lawyers and 18,667 law firms in 75 countries. But if you ask anyone here at Best Lawyers about our CEO, they’d tell you he has cultivated an authentic organization. One where he works alongside you to debug something on the website. Or have impromptu idea-sharing sessions while managing to have fun and laugh, despite being separated in home offices hundreds of miles away from one another. It’s this culture that has sustained us through difficult times and contributed to our continued growth. When we asked him what Best Lawyers has meant to him, he had this to say: “While I wasn’t part of the foundation of Best Lawyers in 1981, I was privileged to be a major key in its digital renaissance. To create the core systems that we still use today, the systems that expanded our rankings around the globe, the systems that allow our research team to analyze over 15 million data points each year. With each iterative expansion of Best Lawyers, my career followed a similar path. Starting as Lead Software Engineer and being promoted to Director of IT, Chief Operating Officer, President, and now CEO. Best Lawyers for me holds a parallel of my professional life work alongside my professional career evolution.”

Best Lawyers Founder and CEO

Our Today

Since 1981, we have produced 28 editions of The Best Lawyers in America. Since our first edition, 425 lawyers have been listed annually—which is an incredible figure and a testament to the amazing success and career achievements of our listed lawyers. We currently stand at 66,596 listed lawyers for the 2022 publication. This year was also the inaugural year for Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch, which recognizes associates and other lawyers who have been in private practice for less than ten years in the United States. So far, our Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch 2022 includes 14,480 exceptional associates practicing in the United States.

Our expanding global footprint is yet another big development over the past few years, with a global presence in 75 countries—and steadily growing. According to Greer, “the continued success and reputation of Best Lawyers starts with our foundation. From the beginning, our goal was to solve a problem—how does someone find the best lawyers for a particular matter, especially if that person is unfamiliar with the intricacy of the legal market? Trust and expertise are absolutely the keys to answering that question. To build trust, we knew that our research process had to be transparent and understandable. To build expertise, we needed to go to the source. Our purely peer-review process still holds up today, and we have been able to expand into over 75 countries based on the technology and research we have developed.”

With us today is the Best Lawyers Board of Advisors, comprised of an esteemed group of distinguished legal professionals from around the world. Almost 400 organizations are currently represented, including leaders from many of the world's preeminent law firms and general counsel from Fortune 500 and Global 500 companies. It has truly been an honor and privilege to partner with our Advisory Board, and we owe so much of our growth and success to their continued guidance and support.

Several members of our Advisory Board have been recognized by us since the very beginning. One such member, Donald C. Schiller of Schiller DuCanto & Fleck LLP and recognized since 1983 in Family Law, had this to say about our 40-year history together: “When Naifeh and Smith first published Best Lawyers, I was a relatively young aspiring lawyer trying to become a respected expert in the family law practice. Then out of nowhere, I was informed that after research and peer review, I was selected as one of Illinois’ best lawyers in family law and that I would be listed in Best Lawyers in America. I think Best Lawyers was the first book of its kind. No one solicited me to pay anything to be recognized nor buy an ad to be included. I was deeply honored and felt my hard work since becoming a lawyer really paid off and that I achieved my goal of being a respected expert in the family law practice. My continuing to be listed year after year is very satisfying to me and encourages me that I have been on the right track and to keep going.”

When asked how being a member of the Best Lawyers Advisory Board and being listed in the original legal referral guide enhanced his career, he replied: “There is no question that being one of the relatively few selected and my listing in the original legal referral guide enhanced my reputation considerably and likely made me a better lawyer. I was driven to prove my selection was no accident and that I was worthy of it and would continue to be. To add to that, being chosen to serve on the advisory board was a wonderful experience as well as a serious responsibility. Meeting with and getting to know outstanding lawyers from throughout the country expanded my own fund of knowledge and was a wonderful networking opportunity with the best of the best. Remember, there were no virtual meetings back then.”

Our Future

Virtual meetings, new tech and adapting to the disruptive currents in our world seem to be what’s taking form within the crystal ball. Despite the curveballs the past two years have tossed our way, we’ve continued a growth trajectory. “I joined Best Lawyers over 16 years ago with the task of digitizing and expanding the capabilities of this company,” said Philip Greer. “In those 16 plus years, we have successfully grown into an international ranking house, producing not only peer-review lawyer rankings, but also law firm rankings in the United States and a general lawyer directory for all private practicing attorneys. I see Best Lawyers continuing to grow our research, rankings and content capabilities to further meet the needs of the legal, corporate and consumer sectors when it comes to trusted sources for professional services.”

While there are many things changing, much of what has driven our success isn’t changing a bit. “For the next 40 years, I would see us expanding into new countries and languages of content, but all still built around the same core methodology,” said Kristen Greer, Senior Research Manager. “We also have a great team to be able to accomplish all that we have! Best Lawyers has been my work home for more than a decade and has given me the chance to launch new projects and bring them up to the success they enjoy today. I’ve worn many hats and appreciate that experience!”

And we can’t talk about our future without mentioning the new and aspiring attorneys. After all, “our” means these exceptional young professionals as well. So, we asked a few members of our Best Lawyers Advisory Board what advice they would give new lawyers who are just getting started in their careers, and here is what they had to say.

“New lawyers need to understand that their law diploma is a license to learn,” said James Fox Miller of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP and recognized since 1983 in Family Law. “Practicing law is a craft that can always be improved upon. Never stop learning. Never think you now know it all. I am 82, still practicing and strive each day to know more than I did the day before. Be ethical and honest. Always be prepared and always do your best.”

Emily A. Parker of Holland & Knight LLP and recognized since 1983 in Litigation and Controversy – Tax and Tax Law, recommends new lawyers “find an area of the law and people that you enjoy so that the many hours spent working are a pleasure rather than a burden.”

And so much about finding success as a lawyer is honing your skills the old-fashioned way—no shortcuts. “I tell new lawyers to watch their colleagues as well as opposing lawyers closely,” said Schiller. “Sit in courtrooms and watch hearings and trials. Learn to write well and concisely and not to be redundant and use big words just to show off. Copy the good things you see and avoid the bad. Lawyers need to achieve good results and be respected by the courts they appear before to be successful. You cannot fake it.”

We couldn’t agree more—and we look forward to the next 40 years of recognizing exceptionally gifted lawyers from all over the world. Cheers to you—and our past, present and future together.

Rachel Shrewsbury grew up in Mobile, Alabama and now lives in Huntsville, Alabama with her husband, Greg, and long haired piebald mini dachshund, Aubrie. A graduate of the University of Alabama, Rachel’s 14-year marketing career has ignited her passion for writing and storytelling.

Headline Image: iStock/ Denis Tangney Jr

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