Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings: Pay-to-Play or a Ransom Demand??

Before I begin my take on the current incarnation of the Martindale-Hubbell® Peer Review Ratings ™ system and its relationship to Martindale-Hubbell ® Connected, I’d like to make a few things clear:

  1. Anything I am about to say is nothing I haven’t said to Martindale-Hubbell and LexisNexis ® (the parent company) representatives directly, in private conversations, over the past several years.
  2. I have a lot of affection for the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings.
  3. I do not want to see this 140 year old brand die.
  4. These are my PERSONAL opinions and in no way shape or form reflect the opinions of my firm’s partnership and individual attorneys, or any guest bloggers of The Legal Watercooler.

In addition, it is NOT my intention, in this post, to address Martindale-Hubbell’s new Peer Review Ratings program, which I promise to address in a later post. Let’s just say that I think it’s a really, really, REALLY bad idea to start everyone off as an AV 5.0 and (potentially) re-review them DOWN over a 10-year period (according to Martindale-Hubbell’s Transformation Timetable).

For many years I have watched Martindale-Hubbell struggle with how to modernize and commoditize their 140-year old directory in a Web 1.0, and now a Web 2.0, world. The current incarnation seems to be based on the desire to have law firms subscribe to and fund Martindale-Hubbell Connected, a service whose end-users are in-house general counsel and private practice attorneys. Law firms will benefit as they will be part of Martindale-Hubbell’s Legal Network, which includes open directories such as www.martindale.com and www.lawyers.com.

From my vantage point, it is clear that Martindale-Hubbell is holding a lawyer’s AV Peer Review Rating hostage to drive “paid profiles in the Martindale-Hubbell directory,” which will give access to the “premium functions” within Martindale Connected, their answer to LinkedIn, Legal OnRamp, and other social networking sites. (Note: I cannot find a listing of what the “premium functions” are online. If someone has a link or a copy, please feel free to add to the comments section).

This is a pretty strong statement and here’s why I stand by it:

1. At the current time, more than half my firm’s partners are AV Peer Review Rated, with no input or effort by our firm.

2. Martindale.com, the directory of lawyers we have known to trust for the past 140 years, has a listing of over one million attorneys. According to their Web site:

Free access to the world’s leading network of legal contacts
The centerpiece of the site is the Lawyer Locator, which provides instant access to the entire Martindale-Hubbell Legal Network. Users can search over one million lawyers and law firms in more than 160 countries by a variety of criteria — including name, geographic location, practice area, firm size, languages and more.

3. My lawyers are automatically included in this “leading network of legal contacts” whether or not they are Peer Review Rated. However, if my lawyer is Peer Review Rated I MUST PAY for their rating to show.

I want to make this really clear:

  1. Martindale’s network of lawyers includes hundreds of thousands of lawyers who are not subscribers to their services. I do not have the ratios of who is in the system v. licensed lawyers, but, for the most part, it appears that most corporate/business lawyers are included.
  2. Martindale rates attorneys of their own volition. In fact, Martindale will rate any lawyer; you just have to submit their contact information.
  3. An attorney does not have to be a subscriber to Martindale’s services, or any of the services provided by their parent company, to be rated by Martindale.
  4. However, when it comes to posting the rating information in their free on-line directories, where they are freely including my attorney’s contact information (and where I do not have the option to opt-out) Martindale WILL NOT disclose an attorney’s rating unless a firm pays 1) a full subscription fee to Martindale.com which can cost tens of thousands of dollars for the smallest of firms; or 2) a $59 “administrative fee” to add the AV Peer Review Rating to an individual attorney’s profile.

Oh, by the way, the $59 administrative fee, which has been available for the past two years, will be phased out as of 2010. Their beta test of charging $599 for an individual attorney to personally subscribe (in case their firm chooses not to) is also gone. So, my only option will be to pay for a full subscription to Martindale.com if I want my attorneys’ ratings to show.

In my opinion, this is the equivalent of either 1) pay-to-play; or 2) a ransom demand where my attorneys’ Peer Review Ratings are concerned.

Currently, I can include in my firm’s marketing materials and Web site that my attorneys are AV Peer Review Rated. However, this is a trademark owned by Martindale. For many, many years we were expressly FORBIDDEN to post the AV Peer Review Rating in any printed marketing collateral without a very long disclaimer, and on our Web sites. The ban on posting to Web sites has been lifted, but for how long??

I have about nine more months before I need to make my decision – do I subscribe to Martindale or not? However, I am preparing my 2010 budget right now. I can assure you one thing is certain: I will NOT be increasing my Martindale-Hubbell spend from $2500 to what will most likely be 10 times that amount or more.

And I have a special note to General Counsels or anyone using Martindale.com or Lawyers.com:

If you utilize the AV Peer Review Rating as part of your vetting process when hiring outside counsel, please know that your search results are incomplete, and, worse yet, misleading.

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  1. I’d be interested in knowing what your decisions was on re-upping with Martindale following your 10/31/09 blog post on the issue. I am in complete agreement with your consternation as to where Martindale has gone in recent years. My most recent experience and observations below tell it all.

    I realized two years ago that I had been paying hundreds of dollars extra each year for a CD ROM of the Martindale directory – a completely worthless and never used tool in this on-line world. For the past two years my staff and I have had to spend time and effort getting the charges for the CD ROM reversed after notifying MH that we did not want it.

    When a MH representative called me recently to confirm my 2010-11 subscription,I was told (when he got to the point of telling me the cost for the subscription) that my overall charges were $50 lower than last year as he had opted me out of receiving the CD ROM. In the ensuing conversation, the rep agreed with me that the CD ROM was of little use to anyone and commented that MH was looking to replace the revenue stream from the CD ROM charge because everyone was “opting out.” The $50 dollar savings was a fraction of what MH was charging for the CD ROM, so in essence, there was a material increase in their base subscription price!

    Then there’s Peer Review Rating Tool Kit (PR Kit). This is the deal where you pay MH an annual fee of $350 (as of this year) for a “license” to use its ratings logo with your rating designation in your firm’s promotional materials. After investing considerable time and money a couple of years ago on a firm web site, I decided it was worth the money to highlight my AV rating on the main page of the site, and bought the PR Kit. Upon reflection, I have two problems with this.

    First, MH has created a profit center out of its rating program. In doing so, it has created a financial incentive to (a) rate more lawyers AV (few are going to pay to highlight anything less than an AV rating), and (b) a disincentive to lower the rating of an existing AV lawyer who is a subscriber to the PR Kit. This taints the entire ratings concept, and devalues the AV rating.

    Second (and I find this even more offensive), if you place the electronic Peer Review logo provided by MH on your web site, it serves as a live link to a page that provides an explanation of the Peer Review ratings to the visitor. The explanation is informative, BUT the last line on the page contains a live link to the MH home page with an invitation to go there for more information. As one who draws website visitors from many sources (but seemingly none from MH — see below), the last thing I want on my site is a live link to MH, through which my visitors are led to the competition! An interesting approach: I pay MH $350 for the privilege of having a link on my web site back to the MH website. Hmm.

    What makes the above even more offensive is that at the end of my call with the MH representative, I was asked if I would be interested in another service (can’t recall its name) which would result in my website’s URL in my on-line MH and Lawyers.com profiles being made into a live hyperlink to my website. I was speechless. Silly me. I had updated my profile after establishing the web page, and in so doing assumed that the address would be presented in the form of a live hyperlink (such is the case on various other free legal-related and other web sites on which I have registered). But it turns out that the automated task of putting a live link to my website on my MH profile is just a bit more than MH can afford to do for the meager $2040 annual listing price for my 2 lawyer firm. No…. the one time, automated task of creating that link would cost an additional $550 per year!I opted out, and am thinking seriously about opting out altogether next year. More and more, MH appears to have reacted to the realization that it is a dinosaur by morphing into a parasite. Maybe we should all leave it to consume itself.

  2. Heather, I am not as intimately familiar with all the MH details, but they seem to be missing the mark trying to keep their subscribers after the paradigm has shifted. See my blog post a while back: Martindale Hubbell Blown to Bits?

    http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/amy/2009/03/23/martindale-hubbell-blown-to-bits/

    Thanks for you perspective on this!

    ~Amy

  3. Gregory – what a thoughtful comment, and I feel your pain. Martindale has been allowing firms to have a $50 per listing so that their peer review rating shows. This is the last year that they are offering that option.

    I’m not entirely certain about where they’re going for 2011. I’m a member of the Martindale-Connected network, but I don’t get a lot of value out of it. It has not reached a critical mass and what I have found it’s the same people from Twitter/LinkedIn/Facebook, so not really worth my time. I think that the Groups section of LinkedIn has more value for attorneys, but we’ll see how that continues to develop.

    Kevin O’Keefe posted an interesting article link today about the demise of stand-alone social networks. http://is.gd/dOKQ6

  4. Correct me if I’m wrong but it seems to be peer reviewed with a “preeminent” rating only requires an attorney to give names of peers whom they know or ask in advance for a favorable review. Any review should be at random and without notice. This could be misleading. My information came from the Martindale-Hubbell website as it clearly states an attorney may request a review and submit names of attorneys and judges to review them.

    I see some are randomly chosen, so an attorney who wins against other attorneys may not receive high peer reviews due to a winning record and making other attorneys angry… The attorney with a lower score or no score may actually be the better attorney because they focus on the client and work over marketing.

    What protections are in place to prevent this?

    • There is nothing that can be done.

      BTW, since writing his post, MH has been sold … again. It really has lost all credibility as a brand.

  1. September 22nd, 2011
  2. November 26th, 2011

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