I received word from a law firm marketing and client development professional that, effective this January, the LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell lawyer directory is increasing the charge by 1,200% for displaying lawyer ratings for lawyers who don’t subscribe to Martindale-Hubbell.

For decades Martindale-Hubbell displayed a lawyer’s and law firm’s peer reviewed rating free of charge. First in hard copy volumes and then online.

An ‘AV Rating,’ the highest a lawyer or law firm could attain, was aspired to by young lawyers and law firms, and was widely viewed as a significant factor to consider when selecting a lawyer or sizing up an opponent in the case of another lawyer.

Lawyers and law firms were rated whether they were a subscriber to the Martindale directory or not. Subscribers paid thousands of dollars (hundreds of thousands of dollars for large law firms) to have profiles of their firm and lawyers displayed in what was generally accepted as the premier lawyer directory in country.

Two years ago, Martindale started charging an administrative fee of $50 to display the rating. If a lawyer or law firm didn’t subscribe to Martindale-Hubbell by paying a pretty significant fee, you pay the admin fee or your rating would no longer be displayed on what was being billed as the most widely viewed lawyer directory.

Starting in January 2010, Martindale will apparently no longer display a lawyer’s or law firm’s ratings, at any charge, unless the lawyer or law firm is a subscriber of the directory.

The below is an email which this legal marketing professional tells me was sent to them by LexisNexis Martindale.

As of January 1, 2010, the Ratings display will be taken down for any non-subscribing attorneys or law firm. Moving forward, the only options for Ratings display/subscription status are: 1) our three subscription packages (Standard, Enhanced or Platinum) or 2) our individual lawyer non-sub package which is currently priced at $599 an attorney. This policy change dictates that one of these subscription options is needed otherwise the attorney rating will come down effective Jan 1, 2010. There is no longer an admin fee as a solo option.

The new offer is $599 for an individual lawyer profile that includes the following:

  • Offers the individual lawyer unlimited online content, including the inclusion of membership in organizations, awards, publications, etc. Allows for complete control over the length and depth of the online profile content without restrictions. The more content provided, the more information prospective clients have to make a decision when selecting counsel. And, the content is searchable – over 1.7 million searches are conducted on martindale.com per month.
  • Offers individual lawyers the opportunity to take advantage of the many resources of Martindale-Hubbell.
  • Is available to lawyers who wish to further showcase their expertise and credentials to their clients, prospective clients and other legal professionals that trust martindale.com when selecting outside counsel.
  • Offers added functionality on Martindale-Hubbell Connected allowing the lawyer to create groups and invite others to join the group; create blogs and forums; and build their individual network.
  • Was created in response to lawyers that asked to subscribe individually on martindale.com even though their firm had cancelled their MH subscription.
  • Display’s the lawyer’s Peer Review Rating online.
  • Allows the lawyer’s Chambers icon to display.
  • Allows the subscribing lawyer to take full advantage of Client Review Ratings online.

No question lawyers and law firms receive more as a subscriber to Martindale than those who merely paid an admin fee for their ratings to be displayed.

But it’s questionable whether law firms see as much value in the above features as Martindale does. In which case, aren’t these firms going to feel they are being blackmailed into remaining as subscribers? With the advent of the Internet bringing law firm websites, Google, blogs, social media, and so many other Web 2.0 marketing alternatives, law firms no longer seeing the value of heavy annual Martindale subscription prices are leaving the directory.

Martindale may also be shooting itself in the foot here. Martindale just released a survey on the value of ratings, particularly reliable ratings. But having a pay-for-play ratings service, in which many good law firms are going to choose not to play, is going to make the Martindale ratings more and more unreliable.

How do you compare law firms and lawyers by ratings when the directory won’t disclose the ratings for half of the lawyers and firms? How do you send out LexisNexis sales people touting the above survey on the value of lawyer ratings as a reason to subscribe to Martindale at the same time you’re sabotaging your own ratings system?

Martindale’s been a great company and directory. They have an asset of gold. Detailed and reliable lawyer and law firm profiles provided by law firms for decades because they trusted Martindale. I fear Martindale is tearing this relationship of trust to the ground.

While you still can Martindale, why not leverage this asset of lawyer profiles in an innovative fashion that conforms with where the Internet has taken us?

  • As I posted earlier, get your ratings everywhere immediately through an open API.
  • Include peer reviewed ratings on all lawyer and law firm profiles free of charge.
  • Contact other websites in the legal profession who would pay to use your detailed and reliable ratings. Getting reliable lawyer profiles that law firms work hard to keep accurate is no small feat. You’ve done it for years with a talented editorial team.
  • Like Google and other smart companies, focus on your core strength. Yours is having a talented editorial team that profiles lawyers and law firms.

The legal profession needs you, Martindale. There are emerging lawyer directories (Avvo, Justia, Nolo, Super Lawyers) taking hold who offer significant value to lawyers and to the American public, but there’s still a place for a premier directory for the American lawyer and the nation we serve.

It’s not the time to respond by saying “We’re a new company. We’re listening to law firms, in-house counsel, and consumers – we have surveys to back it up. We’re looking at all sorts of new things. The profession will be surprised and pleased with what’s coming.”

We’ve heard that for almost 10 years from Martindale executives who have come and gone. It’s time for real leadership and decisive action.

  • I’ve received 3 “last chance” emails about the $50 fee recently. When I thought about it though, I’ve NEVER seen Martindale-Hubbell as a referral source for my site or blog in my analytics and no client has ever listed them as the referral source.
    I’m using the $50 to take a referral source out to lunch. I think it’s better spent that way.