Should You Pay Attention to ''Best Lawyer'' and ''Best Judge'' Lists?

By Reddin & Singer

Recently, a local paper in Wisconsin published a list of judges, purporting to rank them from best to worst, based on a survey of lawyers. Lists like this come out from time to time of both lawyers and judges, presumably in an effort to educate the public regarding the quality of the legal community. It is true that not many members of the public would have any meaningful way to compare judges or attorneys, as most simply don’t have enough contact with the legal system to have an opinion. Having said that, I recommend that people who read these rankings do so with the understanding that these lists have some undeniable weaknesses that may make them less than reliable.

For example, the most recent ranking of judges was based exclusively on the opinions of the lawyers who answered the survey. In many cases, there were only a handful of responses. Obviously, if the sample size is so small as to not be representative of the opinion of the bar as a whole, one or 2 disgruntled lawyers who may have had a bad experience in that court can unfairly skew the results. Also, some of the judges had only been on the bench for a few months, while others had been acting as judges for decades. Obviously, the opinion regarding a judge, good or bad, is likely to have more weight if it is based on years of observation than one based on a few short months.

As to the lawyer lists, unfortunately, ranking lawyers has become something of a cottage industry. Barely a month goes by without someone at our firm being notified that some organization, national or local, has selected them to be on their “best lawyer” list. Typically, to accept this “honor”, you simply need to mail in your check for the “dues” to belong and you can be ranked as one of the best lawyers in Milwaukee or Wisconsin or America! Obviously, consumers should be careful in hiring counsel based on the number of plaques in a lawyer’s office proclaiming them the 2016 “best” criminal lawyer or “best” divorce lawyer or any other designation. I say this with the full disclosure that this firm has received the highest ranking from Martindale-Hubbell for approximately 20 years and both Attorneys Singer and Reddin have been ranked as top lawyers in Milwaukee by local magazines in the last year and for multiple years. We do not pay “dues” or any fee for these rankings and, to the extent that they are based on the opinion of fellow lawyers who know us, we are proud of our inclusion as among the best in our field. I would never suggest, however, that a person looking for a lawyer rely exclusively on our rankings or any attorney’s ranking, except to the extent that the ranking confirms your opinion of the lawyer’s competence.