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.

  • Paper map in a car with GPS? I wonder what genius of a criminal defen…..nevermind.
    MH in their response is using a tried-and-true method. It’s called “Oh, we’re fine.” It’s total BS.
    Reminds me of a local wine shop that got one out of five stars in the local paper, distributors stopped selling them wine, the valet parkers at the front wouldn’t park the cars anymore for the wine shop, just the adjacent restaurant.
    I asked “are you going out of business?” “No, we have big plans.” Two weeks later, they were gone.
    MH had it’s time and place. Lawyers.com is OK, but with google, a wise consumer finds much more than where someone went to law school and how many federal district courts to which they are admitted.

  • Later on in the Twitter conversation Mr. Lin agreed that “MH needed more social media talent”. Lin asked: “Know anyone you can recommend?”
    I responded: “Someone who knows lawyers and social media”
    Although not speaking on behalf of MH, Lin’s response shows that someone at MH is listening. They do have LinkedIn integration, which is a step in the right direction.
    Much more to do as Kevin points out. Will they survive this viral beating?

  • I agree that it’s important for MH to participate in a conversation with its customers.
    But I do empathize with the folks at MH. They can’t really come out and say, “We’re in serious, serious trouble.”
    They’re in a difficult position. Of course, responding with “marketing speak” was probably not the best course of action.
    I have no doubt, Kevin, that if LexBlog was the brunt of negative Internet discussion, you would handle the problem adroitly. MH should hire you as a special consultant!

  • Thanks for the comments guys.
    Not sure MH is really listening. We had one person who someone on Twitter doing some digging found worked at MH. A couple of us mentioned his name which required him personally to say something. Doesn’t look like corporation knows that Twitter exists.
    On blogs, MH listens to its name, but hard to tell if leadership really hears what is being discussed.
    MH need not say we’re in trouble. They could partake in the conversation taking place in social media and social networking. Imagine if their CEO put a face on the company so we would get to know her/him and the company a little. Building relationships with customers in a real and meaningful way works.
    MH has a huge investment in a social community called MH connected. The company has been talking about for over 6 months. However, rather than generate open internet discussion with the legal community and its customers, most lawyers are not allowed to test it, and are only shown marketing info and screenshots.
    The result is that only those law firms drinking the MH kool-aid and paying big bucks to MH are going to talk positively about MH connected. And those firms are not likely to have a presence in the Internet conversation.
    That’s a mess for MH Connected. Closed and shrinking customer base. No input from larger legal community on the product’s offering. No one with an effective Internet presence speaking highly of your offering.

  • Eric Johnson

    If the M-H ratings go, hopefully Law & Politics ‘Super Lawyers’ will not take center stage. It is even more suspect. Makes one wistful for the old rule prohibiting lawyer advertising. Maybe if we’re lucky the “Destructive Bits” theory will apply to Law & Politics.

  • Remember that directories like M-H and Findlaw are irrelevant in business development. See “Only 3% of Legal Work is Influenced by Directories” at http://tinyurl.com/4eqhea
    There are now 950 surveys and rankings of law firms, including Martindale-Hubbell, Chambers, Leading Lawyers, Best Lawyers, Super Lawyers, 204 “Best, Super or Top” lists, 175 largest law firm lists, 122 “Rising Star” lists, 103 Diversity-focused surveys and 90 Workplace satisfaction lists, according to research by Jaffe Associates.
    And all of them generate little to no new business for law firms, according to Acritas research.

  • Kevin – I cannot agree more with your sentiments above. I thought of responding to the response, but it really isn’t necessary. You summed it up perfectly.
    Having written the original post, I would like to say that the only contact I have had with MH has been the corporate post last Tuesday. No phone call. No conversation.
    A press release that says “we’re in social media” does not make it so.
    Social media is about conversation, and MH has never been about a dialogue.
    For many of us who have been approving the 5-6 figure expense, year after year, enough is enough.
    If the AV rating is relevent, show me how. If the directory is the LEADER over Google, prove it. And, if MH Connected is the bomb, then let it rip.

  • Here’s an interesting new development. I blogged a summary of the Martindale situation on my blog last night. By this morning I had a response from Martindale-Hubbell – from their vice president Laxmi Wordham, no less. Read it here: http://tiny.cc/z5tmy.
    Laxmi’s response seemed quite sincere and certainly speedy – perhaps they are learning from the last few weeks. But what makes me wonder is why they haven’t had any further dialogue with you, Heather and other bloggers who discussed this earlier? My blog is as yet quite new, my influence slight. I’m not the one they should be trying to convince. Hmmmm!

  • Dave Danielson

    At the risk of stepping into the fire without the proper protective suit, I would like to add that there are a number of us who are monitoring the conversations on the blogs – probably better than most would suspect. We are guilty of getting buried in the day-to-day and not spending the time needed to participate in the conversation so I felt I should raise my hand (to any who are interested) and offer a view from LexisNexis – and hopefully some ongoing conversation. I agree – as a company we are still not fully engaged in Twitter. We have some people on it but not actively, yet. As a guy who was supporting Usenet servers in my basement in the mid 80s, I have to admit that I don’t yet see the importance of broadcast IMs – with the exception of emergency/crisis situations like the recent unfortunate events in Mumbai – BUT, I’ll assume that means I have something to learn..b-)
    I am working in the Sr Management team within M-H and can assure you that we are not blind to the challenges we (and the market) face. We are determined to improve, demonstrate value and bring innovative marketing/business development tools to the legal community. Are we there yet, of course not. Have we come a long way in the past 12-18 months? I think so. It’s easy to find an area that I missed in this broad statement but in general, I feel positive about the changes and improvements. Please don’t confuse marketing spin with delusion. It shouldn’t be surprising that a little spin leaks out in some of our (and other) responses. Our collective “conversational tone” will come along with a little more comfort and time.
    So why am I writing? I monitor many blogs but haven’t participated as I should – guilty as charged. I would like to offer to anyone publicly or privately to send me a note if you are interested in comments on any of the many messages, themes, issues that might be in the social network community that relates to M-H. I can’t promise an immediate blog response from all of us at M-H but that is more a reflection of a number of long hours and not a disrespect of the social networking community. But, I will try to be one voice to those that would like to engage in a conversation about change/value. Criticism is easy – discussion about needs/improvements/market realities/etc. are more challenging but are definitely the kind we(I) need to hear.
    Thanks for bearing with my ramblings but I hope this helps in some small way to contribute to the discussion. I will be more involved – to the extent that my thoughts seem interesting. I hope that discussions like the forums that Kevin and others provide will offer a way for us to hear the things needed to continue to improve and then to see products that result from that knowledge.
    Regards,
    Dave Danielson
    VP Strategy and Alliances
    LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell
    david.danielson@lexisnexis.com

  • Thanks for the comment Dave. I understand the sincerity of what you’re saying as well as your well intentioned efforts to respond in the future.
    But isn’t this the gist of your comment?
    * Unlike innovative companies (Comcast, Dell, Southwest, Kodak to name a few) LexisNexis Martindale does not see the need to fully engage in a conversation with your customer base via tools like Twitter and blogs.
    * Unlike these other innovative companies, LN Martindale is too buried in day-to-day business to spend the time needed to engage in the conversation with your constiuents.
    * That you’re following blogs closer than net users think and we just don’t know it because unlike innovative companies you don’t engage in the conversation in a way where people would think you are listening.
    * That rather than LN MH making a comittment to start engaging in the conversation, you’ll personally accept ‘notes’ from people, but because of ‘long hours’ you can’t guaranty a quick response.
    This is an indictment of LN MH, not you personally Dave.
    MH talks a good game when it comes to Web 2.0. MH wants law firms to committ huge dollars to MH’s social networking community.
    But unlike companies who get it, LN MH will not commit the resources, both to learn and to staff, a team (perhaps 1 or 2 people) to effectively use the social media tools at hand to engage in a conversation with your constiuents (customers, prospective customers, and their influencers -blogs/twittter users).
    If LN MH does not get it when it comes to its own client development and PR affairs, how can you ask law firms to believe in the services and products you provide? You can’t.
    You’ve got great people working at that company. I got to know many of them when my last company was aquired by LN MH. Let those people engage in conversations online. Why not let those employees, in fact push those employees, to blog, comment on other blogs, use twitter etc to enage in the online conversation?
    Martindale-Hubbell, a proud company with a great legacy is taking a beating online and in public conversations at conferences. The majority of law firms and lawyers think you’re irrelevant and a dinousaur. The only way you’re going to turn that opinion and deliver better services and products is to immediately and vigorously engage in the conversation as innovative companies do.
    I’m presenting on one of the panels on Web 2.0 marketing/client development at LegalTech in New York in a few weeks. I understand LN and perhaps MH is participating on those panels. It’ll be a great opportunity to continue the discussion.

  • Dave Danielson

    Kevin,
    Thanks for the notes – fair comments in a number of areas but I would offer the following. If I’ve added a few pounds over the last 20 years (my wife is a great cook) – that doesn’t mean that i don;t understand that i need to exercise more.
    My comments were intended to suggest that even though we might be tied up in day-to-day urgencies, there is a growing understanding of the need to be more engaged in the social networking community. But, because I cannot speak for anyone but myself, I thought i should raise my hand as a willing participant in the community representing the thoughts/ideas of M-H. I figured I owed it to the community to speak out and clearly identify myself.
    Kevin you and the social media community will always have the benefit of moving faster than M-H corpoate will but we are moving in you direction. I (and others0 are encouraging those of us who monitor but do not comment – to be more “verbal” and participate in the community. As of Jan 9th, I can’t say that this means we will be good in this effort but instead, we will endeavor to get better. I also agree with you, Kevin, that we need to get a broader group of people who make monitoring and commenting on blogs/twitter a priority, not an afterthought. Hopefully others will be more vical too but again, I thought it was proper to raise my hand.
    Today, we are overly focused on transforming the product line and have not done enough to communite with the community. We should definitely balance communications better with “heads-down” development. Fair Enough. I’m curious, because you know LN/MH internally, what do you think would be the right approach? (number of people, monitoring what conversations, etc.) It’s not that I don’t know the answer to this – just wondering what you would say.
    thanks –

  • Dave Danielson

    Kevin – also specifically addressing the questions you raised:
    Kevin>> Unlike innovative companies (Comcast, Dell, Southwest, Kodak to name a few) LexisNexis Martindale does not see the need to fully engage in a conversation with your customer base via tools like Twitter and blogs.
    Dave>> I think we do see the need but was acknowledging that we haven’t done enough. I expect that you will see improvement in our attention to the social networking community.
    Kavin>> Unlike these other innovative companies, LN Martindale is too buried in day-to-day business to spend the time needed to engage in the conversation with your constiuents.
    Dave>> that was simply a statement that the reason we were not as aggressive as we should be (acknowledged internally) was that we were “busy”. this is never a good excuse – I peoably should have left it out.
    Kevin>> That you’re following blogs closer than net users think and we just don’t know it because unlike innovative companies you don’t engage in the conversation in a way where people would think you are listening.
    Dave>> I expect we will improve here. I was only attempting to assure the readers that we were not ingorant to the community – just not participating as much as we should.
    Kevin>> That rather than LN MH making a comittment to start engaging in the conversation, you’ll personally accept ‘notes’ from people, but because of ‘long hours’ you can’t guaranty a quick response.
    Dave>> This is where I have to state desire and all of us will find out in the coming months whether M-H really engages in the community discussions. I, for one, would like to engage and my personal ackmowledgement that I might not be as prompt as I would like to be was only a thinly veiled way to try to buy an extra 24-48 hours or respomse time ..b-) I thought it was important to openly state who I was, and offer my email for those who wanted to write personally. I would prefer to participate in discussions online within view of the community but wanted to make all options available. I will personally work to be more engaged. I am encouraging my colleagues to do the same. Some are organizing around being more regular participants in the community – but again, i would only commit myself.
    I hpe this helps –

  • Megan

    Anyone have a list of law firms that do not participate in Martindale-Hubbell?