Martindale-Hubbell, as I understand it, will now allow law firms to say in marketing materials the firm has been rated by Martindale but without disclosing the actual rating.
There is a good discussion taking place on the law marketing listserv as to why Martindale may have allowed the limited use of the rating info, the use off the actual rating as opposed to just saying the firm is rated and the possible ethical constraints of allowing a law firm to to say it is better than another law firm that a disclosure of the actual rating may imply.
Thought I would share my view on why Martindale is liberalizing its previous policy of not allowing the rating of a law firm to be displayed at all- a policy that is being violated by thousands of law firms.
Martindale has a strong brand and knows it. Martindale can sell more things for more money in the legal marketing/directory space than any company so long as their brand remains strong. The more Martindale can do to strengthen that brand the longer it can hold its market share. Having that emblem all over the net saying that particular firm is rated by Martindale, the stronger the brand.
Imagine being the J.D. Power of law firms. Frankly, I do not have a clue as to what a J.D. Power seal connotes next to a company’s name, other than it means this company must be good. I even liked seeing it on the doorway of the plane when I stepped onto a Continental flight. If Martindale achieves that status when non-lawyers see the Martindale name or emblem, that’s a hell of brand to leverage in selling products & services to lawyers.
If Martindale can get lots of firms to put this “We have been rated by Martindale-Hubbell” with some sort of tagline or emblem as to what Martindale is that is a great piece of marketing. If they can get firms to include a buried link in the text/logo that would even be better so that even the sites Martindale does not develop have links to MH. (Search engines ranks sites higher the more incoming links they have)
Martindale is a good company with some very fine people working there (I spent 18 months as a VP of Martindale after they acquired my company). A Martindale rating also means a lot to other lawyers. On this one though, I think the ‘rated by Martindale-Hubbell’ is more for Martindale?s brand than a service to law firms.
Will Hornsby of the ABA mentioned on the listserv that Martindale may have limited the use of the rating to just saying a law firm was rated so as not to imply the firm was bettter than another law firm – a possible ethical violation.
I love Will Hornsby and there is no one I respect more when it comes to the issues of ethics and marketing. But I would be shocked if Martindale spent a lot of time considering the ethics implications of the use of the rating. Though Martindale is cautious and tasteful when it comes to the services & products it sells to lawyers, Martindale is a corporation with huge pressures to squeeze money out its brand in the legal marketing space. Nothing wrong with that but that is what drives things.
In addition I am not sure it is in Martindale’s interest to rate lawyers for non-lawyers use, something that disclosing the actual rating on marketing materials would do. Martindale wants to sell as many products and services to lawyers as possible. If they have a ratings system that everyone starts to follow, and that God forbid included input from the actual consumers of legal services (corporations and lay people), Martindale stands to upset a lot of their law firm customers.
Though a ratings system that is used by non lawyers and is displayed all over the net may be good for Martindale in the long run, I do not think Martindale is ready for that leap of faith today.