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Published by Kevin O'Keefe, CEO & Founder of LexBlog

What Martindale Hubbell should do before it becomes an endangered species

September 19, 2009

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 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 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.

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