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A few months ago LexisNexis and Internet Brands announced they would form a joint venture.

LexisNexis would contribute its Martindale-Hubbell online marketing solutions and Lawyers.com (started and run by Martindale) businesses. Internet Brands would utilize its technology platform and online marketing expertise to manage the joint venture.

The Martindale-Hubbell and lawyers.com “brands” live on, but does Martindale-Hubbell still exist as lawyers have come to know the company.

Martindale-Hubbell has been a legacy brand and company for decades. Martindale was founded in 1868 as a book by which lawyers could look up a lawyer in an adjoining Midwest state. Martindale grew to about a dozen volumes listing almost every lawyer in the United States and a good number of lawyers internationally.

Martindale, used almost exclusively by lawyers (private practice or in-house corporate counsel) to look up other lawyers, rated most lawyers and law firms on a sliding scale from AV to CV.

The Martindale rating was the gold standard. During my 20 years in law school and practice, every lawyer looked up lawyers and their rating – whether because they were on “the other side” or to find a lawyer with whom to associate.

Internet Brands was founded in 1998 as CarsDirect.com. The company now operates over 100 websites ranging from skincare to bed and breakfast sites. No question, the publicly traded company, can draw website traffic with its sites drawing 100 million unique visitors a month.

Internet Brands recently bought a few legal web companies, including Nolo. Nolo Press, which recently added a legal directory, was built as self help legal publisher. A good one – online and offline.

From the announcement of the joint venture, it always felt like something more to me. Perhaps a sale or license of Martindale-Hubbell brands to Internet Brands.

The elimination of 205 jobs by LexisNexis as a result of the “joint venture” sure made it feel like things would not be jointly operated. After all, most of the people who lost their jobs worked at Martindale-Hubbell for years.

Maybe a company is just a brand? I don’t know. But Martindale-Hubbell always felt like something more than that to me. Martindale was an impressive publisher, a legacy company, that provided lawyers a valuable service for over 100 years.

Perhaps Martindale, as we knew it, is just another victim of the Internet. Who knows?

Does Martindale-Hubbell, with its legacy directory and lawyer ratings, still exist as we knew it? What are you law firms hearing from Martindale and LexisNexis?

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.

The Seattle startup legal directory, Avvo, appears to have caught Martindale-Hubbell’s lawyers.com in the number of unique visitors per month. This per the below comparison I ran with Compete.com, a web traffic analysis service.

avvo versus lawyers traffic comparison

Avvo only trailed lawyers.com by 85,000 unique visitors in November (838,000 versus 753,000). In October the gap was even closer, a difference of 42,000 unique visitors (911,000 versus 869,000). It’s possible Martindale’s multi-million dollar national television ad campaign increased the gap slightly In November.

Perhaps more telling is the rate of growth for each website. Lawyers.com’s traffic is up 43% the last year while Avvo’s traffic is up 127%. You’d have to think Avvo is going to pass lawyers.com in unique visitors in the coming year.

This increased Avvo traffic is resulting in exposure for lawyers listed in the Avvo directory and participating in Avvo website features such as Avvo Answers and Advice. Lawyer contacts such as emails, phone calls or website visits from prospective clients totaled 160,000 last month, per Mark Britton, Avvo’s CEO.

Increased traffic is also resulting in increase sales at Avvo. I’m told their account managers have been fulfilling orders for their Avvo Pro product at a volume that was unexpected for the pre-holiday season.

Avvo may not be right for all lawyers (more focused on consumer & small business lawyers), and I have been critical of Avvo on some items, but there’s little question Avvo, with it’s rising traffic, is going to be included in lawyers’ Internet marketing buys and be a strong competitor to Martindale’s lawyers.com.

A marketing company doing work on behalf of the legal directory Martindale-Hubbell has acknowledged spamming the comment field on New York Attorney Eric Turkewitz’ blog.

Turkewitz blogged about the Martindale spamming. Martindale’s marketing company in a ‘heart felt’ apology left in a comment to Turkewitz’ post acknowledged they had done the spamming. Martindale remains silent.

Spamming blogs is done by shady marketing and SEO companies by leaving gibberish comments on blogs along with the name and url address of a company in the accompanying fields. It’s done to garner links to a target site (martindale-hubbell.co.uk in this case) in order to improve the target sites search engine performance.

How low does this type of marketing go? Per Turkewitz:

Is it possible to go lower than a spammer on the web? Probably, but I haven’t seen them use pornography to market the law firms that have hired them.

So what does this mean? It means that the most ‘venerable brand in the legal community’ is now using one of the lowest forms of Internet ‘marketing’ that exists: This is the cyber-equivalent of trespassing on someone’s land (their blog) for the sole purpose of plastering its advertisements. Nice.

It’s bad enough that Martindale, once viewed by me as a top shelf company, is pulling this crap. But I agree with Turkewitz that lawyers buying Martindale’s service are partly to blame for outsourcing their marketing to companies who use such tactics.

I’ve written befefore about attorneys that outsource their marketing also outsourcing their ethics. This happens when one of the bazillion attorney search search sites that have popped up are hired to do promotion for lawyers. The lack of care when it comes to ethical violations or other abhorrent conduct can happen regardless of whether the search site is large or small.

When it comes to protecting your reputation, this is one simple rule for lawyers to follow: No one cares as much about your reputation as you do. So when you entrust others to do your work, you are virtually guaranteed a lower standard of care.

Turkewitz is spot on in asking lawyers and law firms who use Martindale-Hubbell:

  1. How would you rate M-H?
  2. How do your clients feel about spammers?
  3. Since you’ve hired M-H as an agent to market for your law firm, how do you feel about your agent being a spammer?

I’m afraid many lawyers don’t give a darn. They’ll pay whatever to get the next client, no matter how shady the means and no matter that it pulls our profession down into the gutter.

But I’d hope that some you as upstanding members of our profession who care about the legal profession and its reputation would examine what you’re buying when it comes to Internet marketing and who you are buying it from.

What do they do to earn your money? Do they also believe in our legal profession and for the good things it stands for. If not, I’d hope you’d spend your money elsewhere.

I received word from a law firm marketing and client development professional that, effective this January, the LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell lawyer directory is increasing the charge by 1,200% for displaying lawyer ratings for lawyers who don’t subscribe to Martindale-Hubbell.

For decades Martindale-Hubbell displayed a lawyer’s and law firm’s peer reviewed rating free of charge. First in hard copy volumes and then online.

An ‘AV Rating,’ the highest a lawyer or law firm could attain, was aspired to by young lawyers and law firms, and was widely viewed as a significant factor to consider when selecting a lawyer or sizing up an opponent in the case of another lawyer.

Lawyers and law firms were rated whether they were a subscriber to the Martindale directory or not. Subscribers paid thousands of dollars (hundreds of thousands of dollars for large law firms) to have profiles of their firm and lawyers displayed in what was generally accepted as the premier lawyer directory in country.

Two years ago, Martindale started charging an administrative fee of $50 to display the rating. If a lawyer or law firm didn’t subscribe to Martindale-Hubbell by paying a pretty significant fee, you pay the admin fee or your rating would no longer be displayed on what was being billed as the most widely viewed lawyer directory.

Starting in January 2010, Martindale will apparently no longer display a lawyer’s or law firm’s ratings, at any charge, unless the lawyer or law firm is a subscriber of the directory.

The below is an email which this legal marketing professional tells me was sent to them by LexisNexis Martindale.

As of January 1, 2010, the Ratings display will be taken down for any non-subscribing attorneys or law firm. Moving forward, the only options for Ratings display/subscription status are: 1) our three subscription packages (Standard, Enhanced or Platinum) or 2) our individual lawyer non-sub package which is currently priced at $599 an attorney. This policy change dictates that one of these subscription options is needed otherwise the attorney rating will come down effective Jan 1, 2010. There is no longer an admin fee as a solo option.

The new offer is $599 for an individual lawyer profile that includes the following:

  • Offers the individual lawyer unlimited online content, including the inclusion of membership in organizations, awards, publications, etc. Allows for complete control over the length and depth of the online profile content without restrictions. The more content provided, the more information prospective clients have to make a decision when selecting counsel. And, the content is searchable – over 1.7 million searches are conducted on martindale.com per month.
  • Offers individual lawyers the opportunity to take advantage of the many resources of Martindale-Hubbell.
  • Is available to lawyers who wish to further showcase their expertise and credentials to their clients, prospective clients and other legal professionals that trust martindale.com when selecting outside counsel.
  • Offers added functionality on Martindale-Hubbell Connected allowing the lawyer to create groups and invite others to join the group; create blogs and forums; and build their individual network.
  • Was created in response to lawyers that asked to subscribe individually on martindale.com even though their firm had cancelled their MH subscription.
  • Display’s the lawyer’s Peer Review Rating online.
  • Allows the lawyer’s Chambers icon to display.
  • Allows the subscribing lawyer to take full advantage of Client Review Ratings online.

No question lawyers and law firms receive more as a subscriber to Martindale than those who merely paid an admin fee for their ratings to be displayed.

But it’s questionable whether law firms see as much value in the above features as Martindale does. In which case, aren’t these firms going to feel they are being blackmailed into remaining as subscribers? With the advent of the Internet bringing law firm websites, Google, blogs, social media, and so many other Web 2.0 marketing alternatives, law firms no longer seeing the value of heavy annual Martindale subscription prices are leaving the directory.

Martindale may also be shooting itself in the foot here. Martindale just released a survey on the value of ratings, particularly reliable ratings. But having a pay-for-play ratings service, in which many good law firms are going to choose not to play, is going to make the Martindale ratings more and more unreliable.

How do you compare law firms and lawyers by ratings when the directory won’t disclose the ratings for half of the lawyers and firms? How do you send out LexisNexis sales people touting the above survey on the value of lawyer ratings as a reason to subscribe to Martindale at the same time you’re sabotaging your own ratings system?

Martindale’s been a great company and directory. They have an asset of gold. Detailed and reliable lawyer and law firm profiles provided by law firms for decades because they trusted Martindale. I fear Martindale is tearing this relationship of trust to the ground.

While you still can Martindale, why not leverage this asset of lawyer profiles in an innovative fashion that conforms with where the Internet has taken us?

  • As I posted earlier, get your ratings everywhere immediately through an open API.
  • Include peer reviewed ratings on all lawyer and law firm profiles free of charge.
  • Contact other websites in the legal profession who would pay to use your detailed and reliable ratings. Getting reliable lawyer profiles that law firms work hard to keep accurate is no small feat. You’ve done it for years with a talented editorial team.
  • Like Google and other smart companies, focus on your core strength. Yours is having a talented editorial team that profiles lawyers and law firms.

The legal profession needs you, Martindale. There are emerging lawyer directories (Avvo, Justia, Nolo, Super Lawyers) taking hold who offer significant value to lawyers and to the American public, but there’s still a place for a premier directory for the American lawyer and the nation we serve.

It’s not the time to respond by saying “We’re a new company. We’re listening to law firms, in-house counsel, and consumers – we have surveys to back it up. We’re looking at all sorts of new things. The profession will be surprised and pleased with what’s coming.”

We’ve heard that for almost 10 years from Martindale executives who have come and gone. It’s time for real leadership and decisive action.

Martindale-Hubbell lawyer directoryConstance Ard’s blog post asking ‘Martindale Hubbell Listings An Endangered Species?‘ is the prevailing view of legal professionals. Despite LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell’s surveys indicating that it’s still the preferred legal directory of the masses, the vast, vast majority of professionals (both in law firms and corporate counsel) I speak with believe the Martindale-Hubbell legal directory is no longer of much value. The person on the street is much, much more likely to go to Google than Martindale’s lawyers.com to look for a lawyer.

The results of a small survey on a law librarian listerv Ard follows are telling.

Of the 34 librarians who responded for their firms, 15 have cancelled their listings, five are in the process of deciding whether or not to list, and 14 have retained their listings.

Why the cancellations? Per Ard:

In the golden age of distinguished law firms, Martindale Hubbell listings were a given, the ratings were a powerful marketing tool and the directory was a great tool for finding local counsel.  Now the ratings don’t matter so much and there are many ways to find local counsel.  The given isn’t a given any longer and the cost-benefit analysis is proving that the cost just isn’t worth the investment for more firms each year.

This is not a new occurence but as more firms are giving up their listings, it makes it easier for those firms who benchmark against certain firms to justify the cancellation internally.

Martindale is trying to add value to law firm customers with its Martindale-Hubbell Connected, beefing up its Law Digest, and adding an expert directory. But that’s not going to be enough to keep law firms paying tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for a Martindale subscription listing. Plus Martindale’s core business is a lawyer directory including complete and professional lawyer profiles, not peripheral products and services adding marginal value and revenue.

What if Martindale-Hubbell made it’s legal directory freely available to anyone, including other websites and web services? It could be done via an Open API which would allow web developers to embed Martindale’s directory in third party services and websites.

If Avvo wants to build a valuable lawyer ratings site for consumers and small business people providing other valuable legal resources to the public, let Avvo embed Martindale’s directory in Avvo’s website. If Justia wants to build the most complete resource for free legal information in the world, let Justia embed the Martindale directory in Justia’s website. If LexMonitor wants to build the most complete review of lawyer blogs and journals, let LexMonitor embed Martindale’s directory in the lawyer profile section at LexMonitor. Same for any other service or product.

Sure makes it a lot easier for third party websites to gather detailed law firm and lawyer information. Plus Martindale is arguably the best at keeping such information up to date and accurate. All at no expense to such other companies.

Third party sites would be free to pursue their own business models for reveune whether it be advertising, law firm sponsorships, or selling other products and services to lawyers or the public. Martindale would not share in any of that revenue.

How does that work for Martindale? If I am a lawyer or law firm and I know that Martindale’s directory appears everywhere, I want to keep my Martindale profile complete and I am happy to pay heavy subscription costs to Martindale.

Martindale could also cut heavy expenses it’s incurring to draw people to their websites. TV Ads for lawyers.com running on CNN, FOX, and elsewhere? That’s nuts. How many successful web services (Amazon, Google, Zappos) do you see running such Ads? Buying Google sponsored links for all the Martindale websites is expensive.

Building a community like Martindale-Hubbell Connected is laudable. But it’s expensive and time intensive. Maybe there are other companies who do it better at no expense to Martindale. Maybe it’s Legal OnRamp.

An Open API of its directory sure seems like a credible solution for Martindale.

Also seems to work for other companies. Companies have been coming along for years thinking they are going to put Martindale-Hubbell out of business by building a better lawyer directory. Martindale-Hubbell still pulls in $200 or $300 million a year. And the road is littered with companies who couldn’t outlast Martindale, which has been around since 1867.

Also understand Martindale-Hubbell is owned by LexisNexis. LexisNexis needs demographic info on lawyers and law firms so it can sell legal products to the lawyers and firms in a targeted fashion. LexisNexis getting rid of a service that collects this demographic info, especially one where customers pay to provide their demographic info to LexisNexis as the vendor, is highly unlikely.

Am I crazy? Is it too late for Martindale-Hubbell to take such action? Would third party sites go along with this? LexBlog runs LexMonitor and my thinking today is we’d be inclined to include Martindale profiles.

I’m anxious to get the thoughts of Martindale, law firms, and web service providers with legal oriented websites. Let me know what you think about an Open API of the Martindale-Hubbell lawyer directory.

Those of you who follow Robert Scoble know that over the last few days he’s been deleting people people he follows on Twitter (down from over 100,000 to less than 2,000).

The reasons, among probably others. Too much spam via direct messages from people he follows back after they follow him. And there’s no way to get to know 100,000 people.

Robert’s one of the guys who’s taught me what I know about blogs, social media, and how people relate to each other online. (no side comments about that’s why I am so dumb) He’s on to something with his deleting followers on Twitter.

You have no idea how much crap I get from people I follow who start following me. Who was the idiot who started teaching that Twitter is a targeted direct mail campaign tool. People without any money or common sense use as Twitter direct messaging as an alternative to calling me unsolicited at my office or home offering me products and services I have no interest in.

And I’m not only talking about the clowns who get as many Twitter followers as possible so they can claim to make ‘Thousands of Dollars a Week’ sending out direct messages. I’m talking about the LexisNexis’ and Martindale-Hubbell’s of the world who when I followed one of their Twitter accounts, I got an automated direct message hawking one of their publications or services.

Scoble says he’s “unfollowing idiots like @techstartups that send auto DMs. I +hate+ that practice!” I’m doing the same.

Historically, I’ve followed a Twitter philosophy of following people I learn from, people I want to learn more about, organizations in the legal industry, mainstream media, and people with a real name (not a company or pseudonym) who began to follow me.

I felt it common courtesy to follow those who followed me. Following thousands of people I never tried to see everyone’s Tweets. But it did allow folks to reach out and direct message me (you cannot direct message someone who doesn’t follow you on Twitter).

I’m now unfollowing people who send me these type of automated direct messages after I follow them. They’re junk. And they’re coming from people who haven’t gotten to first base in understanding how Twitter is used as a relationship building/client development tool.

  • Today was so exciting! Made $124 in 20 minutes! if ur interested, go read: http://earning-freedom.com – from Christopher Missick
  • Thanks for following Martindale-Hubbell Careers. Please come visit us at www.martindale.com/careerce…. Feel free to DM for any questions or just to share ideas. – from MHCareers
  • Hi! Tweet me one fun fact about you, and I’ll tweet you one fun fact about me. – from Julia Kline
  • Thanks for following please check out my blog http://hublawyer.com/ Will be great if you can add some comments on it. – from Christopher Hardin at LawInfoBlog
  • Thank you for following! For quality legal resources you can count on http://www.lawinfo.com from lawinfo
  • Thanks for the Follow! Get a Free Credit Report: http://adjix.com/fubc – from Bellevue_News
  • LexisNexis® New Zealand is a leading global provider of content-enabled workflow solutions to professionals in law firms, corporations, government, law enforcement, tax, accounting, academic institutions and risk and compliance assessment. – from LexisNexis_NZ

Unlike Scoble, I’ll probably continue to follow thousands of people on Twitter. The majority will be legal professionals, both those who follow me and those who I find on Twitter who are not already following me.

I like most lawyers and legal professionals. I think they’re good people and Twitter allows me discover more about them and to exchange thoughts outside of email. It also makes sense being CEO of a company offering a service to legal professionals that I’d like to build relationships with more legal professionals.

But I’m on board Scoble’s campaign of unfollowing the Twitter spammers of the world. You ought to start unfollowing them too. Viral action of the masses does more to bring social etiquette to the net than anything else.

Just exchanged Twitter messages with New York Attorney Scott Greenfield. I explained to Scott that if he had been able to attend the LexisNexis sponsored LegalTech panels on blogging and online networking, that Scott would not have been able to resist calling BS on the panelists.

That would have been especially true as to the presentation by John Lipsey, VP Corporate Counsel Services for LexisNexis, who appeared to run a standard PowerPoint he uses as an intro to Martindale-Hubbell’s long discussed, but never launched, social networking site, Martindale-Hubbell Connected.

LexisNexis sponsored the Web 2.0 trek at LegalTech New York. As such, LexisNexis, I am told, got to pre-approve all speakers on the panels at the sessions. I was invited and accepted to speak on one the Web 2.0 panels months ago but was ‘apparently bumped off the panels‘ by LexisNexis when LexisNexis reviewed those invited to present.

The result of LexisNexis sponsored panels was taking exciting topics such as blogging, social networking, and social media and turning them into pretty boring sessions. I’ve seen record attendance at similar sessions the last year for legal professionals in Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Portland. At each of those events no one left and many crowded the stage to ask panelists questions.

At LegalTech’s LexisNexis online networking session at least 25% of the crowd exited early, with many more who would have liked to. With 10 minutes to go in a 75 minute session, an attendee raised their hand and asked for one example of how online networking could be used for client development and if one of the presenters had a good example. 65 minutes in and you’ve left the audience asking what good could come of using mediums that Fortune 200 companies and lawyers are using in innovative and exciting ways for business development, PR, and customer service.

Watching the Twitter discussion about the panel became the most entertaining part of the session. (@GabeAcevedo: @LTNY online networking panel. This is not what I expected. Must either leave/kill self soon as possible.) If we would have followed one person’s tweet suggestion that we take a sip of water each time a panelist said Martindale, we’d have drowned.

If I’m not familiar with blogging and attended the LexisNexis sponsored blogging session to help make the decision on blogging, I’d pass. Law firms talking of printing out blog pages to get copyright protection. Law firms matter-of-factly not allowing comments on a blog because of liability and ethics fears that were never challenged.

At non legal technology and new media conferences I attend, these type of sessions would never be allowed. They’re looking for innovators. They’re looking for excitement. They’re looking for people who don’t try to spam the audience with presentations discussing their own products, let alone stack panels with promoters of your products and with people who do not challenge sponsors.

If non legal technology conferences pulled the BS pulled in the LexisNexis sponsored online networking and blogging sessions, conference attendees would have revolted. Attendees would have called BS and conference spam right from their seats in the audience. Panelists would have been put on the spot. Discussion, some heated, between the panelists and the audience would have ensued.

Perhaps that’s too much for the legal profession. But at a minimum, we in the legal profession should demand more. It’s not enough that bloggers are critical and that the twitter discussion makes fun of the panels. Email conference coordinators and demand better. Email the conference presenters and the CEO’s of their companies, especially those promoting their products from the stage and complain. Comment on the presenter’s blog posts telling their readers how great the presentation was. Voice complaints through comments on their corporate blogs.

It’s clear LexisNexis has no shame on this front. They also have a vested interest in keeping a muzzle on innovative thought leaders who may shine a light on less costly and more effectively client development solutions than those sold by LexisNexis.

Incisive Media put on a heck of a conference in LegalTech. There must have been two or three hundred exhibitors. Networking between attendees was great. But to put this conference over the top, let’s shoot for the best when it comes to innovative presenters. Don’t limit speakers to those vetted by LexisNexis or other companies. Don’t let presenters use the stage to market their wares.

Ultimately, it comes down to the us in the legal community as a whole to speak out and demand more. With the advent of blogs, Twitter, and online transparency we’ve never had a better chance. And don’t just send me side notes and emails because you feel intimidated to speak out (I receive many), speak up.

Imagine open and engaging education sessions about social media, effective Internet client development, online word of mouth marketing, effective PR online, effective blogging, and online networking. It can happen if we demand it.

And if the traditional companies such as LexisNexis, Thomson Reuters, and Incisive Media won’t serve it up, we’ll put on alternative conferences bringing in the best and brightest.

The legal community, lagging other professions, as well as the people and organizations to which we provide legal services has so much to gain through innovation across our industry. Innovation needs to begin with real teaching and evangelizing to the masses in our profession. Let’s bring it about for the benefit of us all.

Martindale-Hubbell, dealing with a crisis to a core element of their product offerings (lawyer ratings), showed the legal industry they are ill equipped to participate in social media.

Martindale-Hubbell did respond to Internet discussion (blogs and twitter) that the company may be eliminating its long standing lawyer ratings. Despite laying off all of the commpany’s ratings specialists, Martindale says it has Big Plans for Martindale-Hubbell Ratings.

Problem is that Martindale-Hubbell responded with a blog post that is little more than marketing spin and refused to participate in Internet discussions with its customers. From the language in a National Law Journal article reporting on the subject, Martindale issued the same response as a ‘written statement’ to the media.

Look at some of the language in the Martindale blog post. Could you imagine someone who understood blogging and social media using puffery like this?

  • Industry’s most complete, objective and reliable ratings.
  • Broad and ongoing transformation of [company] offerings.
  • We are very excited about this new, robust ratings…
  • [I]nformation only Martindale-Hubbell is uniquely equipped to provide.
  • [M]oved to a team support structure for more effective and efficient ratings services to clients.
  • To provide even more focus, we will name a new VP/ Product Champion of Ratings…
  • We are adding a product marketing team for a more consistent flow of information and wider communication and we have expanded the current responsibilities of our inside Ratings Support team.
  • [R]est assured we are still committed to our rich ratings tradition…
  • [W]e still consider our ratings to be the gold standard in the industry…
  • We’ve got big plans for Martindale-Hubbell Ratings – stay tuned.

And then for Martindale to say:

…[W]e continue to communicate with clients about all of the changes at Martindale-Hubbell, and as recently as last week we communicated our new ratings support strategy.

Doesn’t look like Martindale communicated news of the changes to Heather Milligan, director of marketing at Los Angeles-based Barger & Wolen, whose blog post first reported the lawyer ratings specialists layoffs. Milligan received an email directly from one of the fired ratings specialists, a group she described for the National Law Journal as ‘long-term lifers with Martindale-Hubbell.’

In addition to blogs, Twitter discussion on Martindale’s possible elimination of ratings, and Martindale’s value in general, was rampant.

The only Twitter response came from Jon Lin, Director of Product Management at Martindale-Hubbell.

I don’t represent Martindale here, just myself, so you won’t hear too many MH views. Sorry to disappoint.

The response to Martindale’s traditional PR response has not been kind.

The National Law Journal, responding to Martindale’s statement, acknowledged ‘Martindale-Hubbell ratings have been highly regarded in the past,’ but reported ‘These days, though, general counsel can check out attorneys a lot more easily than in the past via Google, the Internet and blogs.’

New York Attorney Scott Greenfield, whose blog is one of the most widely read on the net, says it’s anyone’s guess what Martindale-Hubbell means in saying it’s ‘fully committed to continuing the ratings, plus a whole lot of other new initiatives that will bring transparency by practice area, narrative feedback and validated data from third parties that provides examples of an attorney’s experience.’

After cutting through the rhetoric, I believe that this means they fired all the ratings people and replaced them with marketing people, who will now spread out across the country to bring us transparency through marketing. After all, there is no better way to “meet client needs” then sell them stuff.

There’s a dozen or more negative blog comments about Martindale and its ratings by lawyers at Greenfield’s and my blog posts on the subject.

And the response to Martindale’s statement from lawyer influencers on Twitter has been equally unkind to Martindale.

  • Big Plans for Martindale-Hubbell Ratings? Nice if they could speak English, not ‘corporate talk.’
  • I, too, have pulled my ad from Martindale-Hubbell. An entire year, NO clients and only a handful of visitors.
  • I pulled my Martindale-Hubbell subscription last year. They’ve become as relevant as a paper map in a car with GPS.
  • Who cares @ Martindale-Hubbell? Doubt any client of mine has ever heard of it or seen it.
  • Martindale-Hubble’s AV rating for me has never done a bit of good. Results for clients counts!!

After Martindale’s response do I expect them to continue ratings? Sure.

But what we’ve seen here is a total failure of a company that wants the legal profession to believe Martindale is a leader in client development for law firms.

If LexBlog was the brunt of negative Internet discussion it would have been a four alarm fire for us. I would have been actively posting on my blog, commenting on other blogs and using Twitter to get the truth out. I would never have considered sending a ‘written statement’ filled with PR spin to the National Law Journal and also allowing that to served as a blog post. And after doing so, I would not have considered ignoring ensuing Internet discussion.

Informed client development companies today know you can’t have someone who is at the core of the company’s offerings (Director of Product Management), respond to Twitter discussion about your company’s products with a ‘you won’t hear company views from me.’

Sure it’s hard for large companies to adapt to social media and the transparency the Internet demands today. But strong corporate leadership requires staying abreast of changes and developing new policies. It requires a realization that marketing today requires participating in a conversation with your customers. Martindale-Hubbell has failed here.

Upon seeing Martindale’s response, I was originally going to just update my original post. But I feel an obligation to comment on a company’s failures when the company wants American lawyers to see them as a leader in Web 2.0 and to charge accordingly.

Discussion of whether Martindale-Hubbell is dropping its lawyer ratings system is running rampant on Twitter today. The original discussion on Martindale-Hubbell lawyer ratings began on the blogosphere last evening.

In addition to well respected legal voices on the blogsphere and Twitter, the discussion involves some major players. Heavy influencers of opinions within the legal industry. Virtually all are asking if Martindale-Hubbell ratings are dead.

  • Bloggers from American Lawyer Media.
  • Law.com, the flagship online presence for the National Law Journal and American Lawyer Media, is asking on Twitter ‘[I]s Martindale-Hubbell dropping its AV Ratings?’
  • Marketing professional with the International Lawyers Network.
  • Law librarian at multi-national large law firm.
  • Influential contributer and leader within the Legal Marketing Association.
  • CEO of Avvo, an upcoming lawyer ratings website.

Perhaps to no one’s surprise, LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell has decided to ignore the discussion. Or worse yet, does not know how.

I’m not sure LexisNexis or Martindale-Hubbell has anyone using Twitter. On an inquiry from a Twitter follower yesterday, I asked if anyone at LexisNexis, parent of Marindale used Twitter. No one responded.

Worse yet for Martindale-Hubbell the discussion is generating negative comments about the company on other fronts. One well respected legal knowledge management professional commented that maybe eliminating ratings was to emphasize Marindale-Hubbell Connected. But he said ‘Conected,’ Martindale’s upcoming social networking site which he tried is ‘a mess.’ Others are commenting that Martindale-Hubbell has been dead in general for a long time.

Martindale-Hubbell’s lack of understanding of the impact of social media is telling here. How can Martindale credibly ask firms to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in subscriptions so the firms can participate in Martindale’s upcoming social networking site when it appears to influencers in legal marketing that Martindale is a ship without a rudder and not capable of handling social networking/media in dealing with its own affairs?

Bill Pollak (@wpollak), CEO of Incisive Media (owner of American Lawyer Media) is a regular participant in Twitter discussions. Bill’s proven that an innovative leader in the legal field can effectively use social media.

A Twitter discussion got going over the last weekend dissing an article in the National Law Journal about the risks in using Twitter. Bill jumped right in explaining the point of the article. Not only was the issue diffused, but Bill was perceived as someone who wants to listen to and get to know his customers.

For a graphic on the Martindale-Hubbell discussion for just the last few hours, see the Martindale-Hubbell Twitter Search below.

Martindale-Hubbell lawyer ratings Twitter