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.