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Update on Martindale’s new ‘ratings icon’ and its impact

August 8, 2004

symbol.gifA few days ago I posted about Martindale-Hubbell’s new policy on the use of Martindale ratings for marketing purposes and the rating’s icon you see here that Martindale has provided lawyers to use on hard and digital copy. I opined that Martindale probably did not spend too much time reviewing the ethics of their decision and that the move was made solely to strengthen Martindale’s brand.

Tim Corcoran, Vice President of Market Planning for Martindale-Hubbell and a heck of a nice guy, was kind enough to point on the lawmarketing listserve that Martindale did spend significant time reviewing the ethics issue of allowing law firms and lawyers to use their Martindale rating in their marketing materials. I was mistaken and the better practice would have been to not comment on the ethics issue at all or to at most pose the question to Martindale to which they could have responded.

I apologize to Martindale and my readers here for giving an opinion when I did not know the facts while still believing Martindale’s brand will be strengthened by this move.

Tim explained the new guidelines were established only after review by the Martindale-Hubbell legal advisory board – which includes the current and three former Presidents of the ABA and a former US Attorney General — and after consultation with the state bar associations, one by one by one by one.

Tim also explained the guidelines are in part a response to marketing directors who have long asked for more creative ways to promote their lawyers’ ratings.

Martindale, to its credit, has an excellent advisory board comprised of leading lawyers. That and the company’s practice of doing what casts the legal profession in good light means that Martindale’s products & services are usually going to be pretty tasteful. I also acknowledge Martindale holds a unique position because of its long standing rating’ system – 130+ years.

I understand Martindale’s desire to respond to law firm marketing professionals’ need for direction as to how their lawyers’ ratings may be used, if at all, for marketing purposes. None the less, LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell benefits from the policy of allowing firms to place a LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell on the law firm’s Web site and on the individual lawyer bio pages on the site.

Here’s where Martindale allows lawyers to include the ratings icon:

  • Printed Communications
  • Law firm brochures
  • Attorney Resumes or curriculum vitae
  • Firm or Individual Attorney Letterhead
  • Business cards
  • Professional announcements
  • Listings in other legal directories directed to attorneys
  • Internet applications
    • Websites
    • Martindale-Hubbell Lawyer Homepages
    • Email communications
    • Internet banner advertisements

    This could have huge implications for the LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell brand. Assume Martindale has 30,000 to 40,000 law firms making up 300,000 to 400,000 lawyer customers (stand to be corrected on this) and achieves a penetration rate of 25 to 50% of its customers that start using the ratings icon. That’s up to 200,000 lawyers using this LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell icon.

    Logic dictates that as more firms and lawyers use the rating icon, the more pressure there will be on others to do so. My advice to lawyers will certainly be to use the icon on their web sites and blogs.

    Lawyers, in-house counsel, consumers & business people are going to start seeing that icon with the LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell logo everywhere when it comes to lawyers – letterhead, business cards, brochures, & web sites (both on the firm pages and individual lawyer bio pages). It will not be just a lawyer to lawyer impact, as was the case with Martindale for years, as consumers and business people probably use the Internet more than any resource when looking for a lawyer.

    Also note the actual rating (AV, BV, CV) itself may not be disclosed on a Web site but must be linked back to the lawyer’s page at Martindale disclosing the rating. This could result in a lot of incoming links to Martindale, improving the search rankings of Martindale and in turn the individual lawyer pages on the Martindale site and the sites Martindale builds.

    To the company’s credit, Martindale did not require a link back to the Martindale site anytime law firms used the icon on their site. Though Martindale realized the positive impact doing so could have on the Google rankings of the Martindale Web site and the lawyer sites it builds, they believed it too self serving.

    Companies pay golfers, race car drivers and celebrities a lot of money for getting them to wear their logos for branding purposes. LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell, by virtue of Martindale’s rating system, will have achieved this type of relevant coverage without paying lawyers.

    I have a hard time believing Martindale gets no benefit from allowing the use of the rating icon like this. It’s brand just has to be strengthened. I am sure Thomson-FindLaw would love its icon all over lawyer’s hard and digital copy but they have nothing to offer like Martindale ratings.

    Martindale has done some wonderful things to leverage its brand over the last five or ten years. Look at all the new products and services Martindale offers – not the least of which is for consumers and small business people. At one time Martindale was just 13 volumes sitting on the conference room shelves and representing the background in any media coverage.

    The ability to help law firms and lawyers use the Martindale rating they have earned is going to secure and strengthen the LexisNexis Martindale brand for years to come. My guess is firms will see new, innovative and tasteful services and products from Martindale as a result.

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