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.

  • Hi Kevin,
    The story of a transforming service is always a fascinating one. The product strategists and owners of our times are facing with one interesting challenge: we’re to cater for those who have visions of sophisticated APIs as well as those who don’t know what an API is. The magical decade of internet brings us the same information in multiple delivery mechanism: books, files, wikis, APIs. Not contradicting – complementing. Many audiences, many consumption behaviors, many services – the three components that make up our daily work-life.
    In my comment on Constance’s blog I have referred to a comment which answers a similar question to that raised in ‘Answer Maven’, where Martindale-Hubbell’s Dave Danielson details the various ways in which Martindale-Hubbell information and data are powering other services and uses and makes a point of listening to audience to further develop our products. Martindale’s products are developing and changing, collaborating with other services to maximize benefit to the user, e.g. seeing shared LinkedIn connections on your listing and profile – and this is just a small example.
    It’ll be hard for me to write a post without referring specifically to Connected. Connected is indeed just part of the bigger set – and though is only formally launched in March this year, it growing very quickly: from 3,000 to 17,000 members in very few months, hundreds of user generated groups, and we’re starting to see some great bubbling forum conversations. Yes, we have more we can do with it, and we’re working daily to make it more useful and exciting for our members.
    There is so much we want to and can do, so the more we hear from our audience, those who blog as well as those still prefer using a rollerdex, the better. Specifically I really want to hear about more detailed use cases for using the Marindale-Hubbell services and information in different ways. Looking forward to read comments to this post.

  • Thanks for the comment, but what is Martindale’s position on an open API? How about opening up the directory to all web sites and application developers? Seems to me that would do more to increase the value of a subscription and spread the use of Martindale beyond what Martindale is capable of. The increased traffic MH would get for free would be huge.
    Many of those alliance partnerships LexisNexis’ Dave Danielson dscusses have been in place for years. All the while the target audience of LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell believes the directory is of declining value.
    If Martindale has to pay those alliance partners anything for the lawyer directory being displayed at partner sites, that also increases the subscription prices MH is charging lawyers. An open API would not cost anything.
    MH Connected does have over 10,000 registered users, but many of those users, like at other places, register to see what’s there and then move on. I don’t hear a whole of buzz at legal conferences or in law offices about the value of Connected. Connected may grow and offer some value in time, but it’s not going to alter the thinking of a managing partner who has decided to stop paying MH $150,000 per year.

  • As indicated above, APIs in general are indeed coming soon. And not just APIs but other mechanisms and tools are planned for to allow quick, easy, better use of the products.
    New technology and user behavior of the conversational and aggregated web is making us Product Planners feel like kids in a candy store – APIs is one of many things we want to put our hands on. And with the myriad of information tied to different services – and I can think of many only with Connected – there is a lot that can be developed and offered: listings, articles (hundreds a month), community content, groups, reviews, ratings, etc. The key thing is to develop something that will be of real service to the product users.
    As we’re baking our new surprises, I’ll reiterate my last comment and ask to use this opportunity to hear more specific use cases and user needs from our audience in general and the readers of this blog specifically.

  • Thanks for clarifying. Then a site like LexMonitor will soon then be able to feed lawyer profiles from MH into our application? Not just to diplay the MH directory on the site, but to actually seamlessly display profile info from the MH database?

  • Detail and timeline are to be defined as a result of dialogue with our different users – there are many different APIs we want to develop and this is a very specific use case. Similarly to API’s, we’ve heard requests for other cool features (hey, you don’t expect me to share ALL of our surprises in one weekend, right? :-) ), so the question becomes one of priority, detail and timeline. Again, to be determined by users needs and feedback. The more we hear from more users – the better.
    In fact, as we’re blogging, our team is engaging with our users to get feedback on current and future offerings via usability tests, face-to-face conversations, listening and responding to legal blogs, forum convos and tweets – armed with that feedback we can develop the best offering to service our members.
    BTW, tomorrow I will be visiting the Social Media Risks and Rewards conferences in NY. This could be a great opportunity for some more fruitful and direct dialogue on product features. Kevin I know you are not attending this, but if any of the readers are attending the conference and have ideas, feedback and suggestions for APIs or in general – tomorrow could be a great opportunity to discuss. Send me a tweet (@alinwagnerlahmy )or a message in Connected, if you want to meet.

  • This is not really a specific API request. Martindale-Hubbell’s asset is its lawyer directory. To develop an API for anything else would be rather silly.
    You can talk to users and do usability groups, but why doesn’t Martindale open up its directory to everyone and all developers via an API? That’s a business decision that doesn’t need a lot of feedback from lots of people.
    As you know Ali, I like what you are doing, but it seems you’re dodging the question here. Perhaps someone else at MH can share their thoughts.

  • Thanks for bringing up this interesting topic. Martindale-Hubbell is indeed open and interested in developing APIs, including lawyer profile information as well as relationship intelligence from Connected. In fact, I recently hired a new product manager and APIs is a significant part of his responsibilities. Are APIs important to improving the relevance of Martindale-Hubbell? Sure. Will APIs be the magic bullet for Martindale from a commercial/financial perspective? That I’m not so sure about, but I would love to have a stampede of 3rd party sites banging down my door for our APIs and be proven wrong.

  • Laxmi Wordham

    Kevin, you pose a very intriguing idea. We agree with you that providing Martindale data to everyone would be valuable. As Alin acknowledges we are in the process of working on APIs (ratings, profiles, articles, MH connections) and working with partners to make those APIs available on multiple platforms. This will come in 2010. The usability testing that Alin mentioned is to ensure we have the right display and matching in place. But we are excited about the potential this can offer to our customers (law firms) and our users (Corporate Counsel and other buyers of legal services).