Senior marketers have been questioning the value of Martindale-Hubbell listings with increasingly loud and passionate voices. For AmLaw 100 and 200 firms, the cost ranges from a bare-bones listing in the $20,000-40,000 range to a comprehensive contract that costs well into the six-figures. And many firms have eliminated it altogether, saying “Enough is enough.” In fact, in a meeting in Houston last Friday, an AmLaw 200 executive director said, "nearly everyone on my ALA listserve across the country have dropped Martindale."
Martindale costs serious money, and it’s no wonder that the skepticism of marketers about return on investment is mounting. Martindale has never done a good job of aligning its offerings with the changing face of legal marketing and business development – especially for large firms. (As an aside, it recently eliminated the most popular and successful large firm program, Counsel to Counsel, because, I was told, Martindale executives are "focused on small law." More on this development in another post.)
Interestingly, when Chambers and Partners fully entered the U.S. market with its directory last decade, it had credibility out of the box. (According to its website, Chambers has been researching the U.S. legal market since 1999, but the U.S. directory followed later.) Because of Chambers’ solid methodology, numerous interviews with buyers of legal services about lawyers, practice groups and law firms that started in the U.K. in 1989, senior marketers and law firm management of U.S.-headquartered global firms approved the Chambers’ expenditures (and enormous investments of time each year by the marketing team - time commitments that are amebically growing) – almost without a second thought.
Last month, I participated in an American Lawyer Media webinar moderated by Elizabeth Lampert about the value of surveys, directories and rankings, which included speakers from Chambers, Best Lawyers and Morrison & Foerster. My part in the webinar was to give the corporate counsel perspective, and answer the question, “Do corporate counsel pay attention to these rankings and use the directories?”
In our world of business, we understand the rules of supply and demand. When there is market and client demand, it’s good to increase the supply of services to meet that demand. It’s a simple maxim. We now have a supply of 150 to 450 (or more) annual law firm surveys and rankings. Mine isn’t a perfect list (on the low end of that range), but I counted 38 experience or practice-based rankings, 17 lawyer rankings and directories, and 90 surveys sponsored by magazines, publications, the NLJ, ALA, ABA, NALP, Corporate Board Member and many other organizations.
What demand suggested that we needed this blizzard of statistics? A need by clients for more information? More transparency? Or do they actually cloud the true picture of a firm?
Of these 150-plus rankings and surveys, I am told by marketers that Amlaw 100-200 firms respond to an average of 25-50 requests each year. These include surveys measuring substantive experience like the Thomson League Tables and American Lawyer, feel-good surveys such as Best Places to Work and Working Mother magazine type submissions – practice and lawyer elevating ones, such as Chambers, Best Lawyers and SuperLawyers – and that is just scratching the surface.
What good are they to the law firm? At the Marketing Partner Forum last month in Miami, one leading consultant posed to the audience, “What’s the ROI on this investment of money and time on all these surveys and rankings?”
And I ask:
- Do they boost the reputation of the firm in the eyes of clients?
- Do they attract new business from prospects?
- Do they grow revenue or increase profits?
Firms typically have two diverging approaches to the individual lawyer rankings: “We will build a campaign around it and ensure that as many lawyers as possible are noticed and ranked.” Or, “Hell no – it’s frivolous and not worth the paper they’re written on.”
Most firms fall in the middle – choosing those that best elevate core practices and boost the reputations of top lawyers.
Can anyone reading this post claim that the Martindale, Chambers and other surveys and rankings have driven new clients to your firm? Or that a prospect chose your firm over another one because you had a top ranking and they didn’t? (Please post a comment if you have such a story to tell.) Note that I am not including the Thomson League Tables reporting here - I think buyers of legal services of those financial transactions do pay attention to those lists.
Ask yourself this: Do your clients and prospects read your website press releases about your 40+ lawyers ranked in this directory or that? Your website analytics will reveal how often those pages have been visited and you may be able to tell how long your visitors lingered on those pages.
How far is the divide between what lawyers want when it comes to rankings - and what buyers of legal services care about?
I first asked the questions of corporate counsel in 2007, when I interviewed more than 60 counsel in global companies around the world about how they use law firm websites. I specifically asked whether they use Martindale, Chambers and other rankings in evaluating outside counsel.
Then I asked “Do you notice law firm posts about rankings on their websites?”
In the 2007 survey, corporate counsel were using Martindale occasionally to evaluate firms and find new ones in new cities or regions where they hadn’t done business before, but no respondents said they used Chambers to find or evaluate counsel. Since 2007, conversations and interviews have suggested that after these in-house lawyers have created their short list of lawyers or firms, they may validate the referrals or seek supplemental information from Martindale and Chambers, in particular. But they also seek it from the law firm website, a Google search and LinkedIn.
In the last four years, I have had three-dozen or more discussions with corporate counsel about how they use law firm websites and what they notice on the home pages, lawyer bios and practice pages. Chambers is getting noticed only incrementally more and no one has ever mentioned Best Lawyers.
Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan LLP wanted to test the referral traffic from these three directories to their website so the marketers could make smarter investment decisions – Sutherland wanted to know, are these directories producing any tangible return? Andrea Christman, Director of Communications, ran a calculation (that she calls “unscientific,” but in my view, it’s directionally correct) of the total cost of the directory listings divided by the number of visitors referred during calendar year 2011. This resulted in a cost per website visitor (or RFI - Referrals from Investment - instead of ROI). Then she determined the cost for each ten seconds that visitors spend on the Sutherland site based on how many total minutes they stayed on the site.
I have always said that Martindale is consistently a high referrer of qualified traffic to law firm websites – even AmLaw 100-200 firms. Read my January 4, 2010 blog post called, “The Efficacy of Martindale.com as a Referrer to your Website.”
Christman found this to be true. Martindale’s per visitor cost to the firm was $12 and the cost per ten seconds of page-viewing cost the firm 52 cents.
The per visitor cost of Best Lawyers and Best Law Firms was $61 and $5.00 per ten seconds.
And the per visitor cost of Chambers was $538 and $17 per ten seconds.
Interestingly, the Martindale visitor stayed on Sutherland.com 2.8 times longer than the Google-referred visitor, and the Chambers-referred visitor spent almost 5 times longer on the site than Google.
Sutherland now has one more metric on which to evaluate its directory investments beyond what corporate counsel have said in interviews.
Any ROI calculation should be weighed against the political and cultural preferences of your partners, your reputation management goals and other factors that have nothing to do with ROI. But if you want to answer the simple question, “What are we getting for our investment of money and time?” – You now have one way of getting to a simple answer.