av-martindale-hubbellI received the following inmail through LinkedIn yesterday from Washington DC IP Attorney, Elliott Alderman.

Hi Kevin,

Do you have any thoughts on the Martindale ratings? I keep getting contact about the AV rating system. Do you think it is worth the time and effort?

Hope you are doing well.

Thanks,

Elliott

I thought my response as well his exchange would be worth sharing with you.

No doubt an AV rating still means something. The question is just how much.

I know during my years of practice my up and coming law firm took a lot of pride in achieving our obtaining an AV rating for our firm and our lawyers.

As time goes by, my feel is that though the AV rating is one factor, a lawyer’s identity on the Internet will become considerably more important than that which comes from an AV rating alone.

Is the lawyer viewed as a thought leader in their niche? Can I see this thought leadership from the content the lawyer shares on their own blog or on guest posts on another’s blog? Do their blog posts engage influencers and amplifiers (association leaders, reporters, leading bloggers in their field and locale) so the lawyer and their content gets seen by these folks – which gives them the ability to network with these folks? Is their content getting shared by other people on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and the like as well as cited in other blogs and news cites.

The ability of a lawyer to build relationships and enhance their reputation using the Internet is something lawyers did not have just 10 years ago. It took much longer to be known as a lawyer’s lawyer – a lawyer who got their work by word of mouth and referral.

An AV rating from a venerable and well respected company such as Martindale-Hubbell was more important when it took longer to build that strong word of mouth reputation and where we didn’t have a place like Google to go to 1) look up the lawyer and 2) to look at the trail the lawyer has left – people citing the lawyer, people sharing the lawyer’s content, seeing that the lawyer has spoken to this group or that group, that the lawyer is quoted by reporters here and there, and how they interact on LinkedIn. It’s this trail which can quickly seen by people that’s a pretty nice ‘good housekeeping seal of approval’ — something that could be stronger than an AV rating from a company which some people don’t know.

There is value to the AV rating. Martindale-Hubbell has information as to how in-house counsel and other lawyers do respect and respect the rating in the consumer hiring process. With the Internet and all it offers the impact of the rating alone may be diminished by all the other information available to the consumer of legal services.

I asked Elliot what he thought.

I agree with you that the social media world provides more balanced, broader feedback. It gives the opportunity to interact on a broad, fluid platform. And the immediacy of the discussions is revealing of analytical strengths and weaknesses. There is also viral validation, or rejection.

What prompted my question, and I am still not sure of the answer, is the public perception of ratings like Super Lawyers and AV. First, I guess it depends upon who is the consuming public. For M-H, I would assume older corporate counsel. They believe in the integrity of the source and the validation process, and may never access the Internet for additional information. Second, I suspect that younger individuals, startups, and the like, have either never heard of M-H, or trust Google and the Internet for everything. Third, I think increasingly among tech-savvy and younger lawyers, there is the perception that ratings outside of social media are purchased, rather than earned.

Anecdotally, I was the general counsel of a company for a while, and hired and supervised outside counsel. I had worked with some of the lawyers before. Others were referrals or hired by reputation (mostly word of mouth). For the ones that I knew, a rating was irrelevant. For the referrals, several were AV-rated — some were terrific; some were mediocre.

As you say, maybe the best way to cover all the bases is to use social media plus traditional rating services.

Elliott

So there you have it.  The Martindale-Hubbell legal directory held in high esteem for over 140 years still playing a role a role with its AV ratings. But with the Internet, consumers of legal services do have so many more factors to take into account in addition to an AV rating, including a lawyers internet identity achieved through social media activities.

Thanks Elliot. If others have questions, fire away. I am happy to respond as best I can.