Ten years ago it was still a rite of passage. As early as five years ago it was a tradition. But in the past two or so years, firms have started to question the usefulness of Martindale-Hubbell's listing of attorneys and biographies in its annual book and online, as firm Web sites evolve and Google is ever-present.
This trend has started to hit the Pennsylvania marketplace, and Martindale-Hubbell isn't taking it sitting down. The company is working with firms to create packages that work for them and is creating new services that are more with the times.
Some firms are adapting, while others are departing.
In an informal survey of Philadelphia firms by Delaware Valley Law Firm Marketing Group founder Stacy West Clark, more firms than not said they were either eliminating or scaling back their use of Martindale-Hubbell's listing services.
The cost of the listings -- firms pay by the word or "unit" -- was causing firms "enormous pain," Clark said. But pulling away from such a time-honored tradition wasn't always an easy decision.
"Martindale is kind of like an Ivy League institution," she said.
Attorneys over the age of about 45 would most likely expect to have a copy of the book somewhere in their office.
"It was kind of a right of passage for me at Morgan Lewis to all of a sudden be in Martindale," Clark said.
Although firms realize general counsel may be using Martindale-Hubbell to find outside counsel, cost-benefit analyses just aren't convincing marketers at some of the area's largest firms.
Clark said one of her clients, a four-attorney firm, was paying $7,000 a year. She said she is constantly getting questions from clients about how to save money with the service.
Firms could do anything from eliminating the birthplace line in an attorney's biography to using the free listing that has always been available that includes just the firm and attorney names.
Martindale-Hubbell has always listed all attorneys or firm names for free and has a database of more than 1 million lawyers.
Dechert and Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young have said they are opting out of the service. Saul Ewing, White & Williams and Flaster Greenberg are some of the firms looking to scale back, and Blank Rome, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, Cozen O'Connor and Pepper Hamilton are sticking with the service, according to Clark's survey.
When Jennifer Smuts joined Woodcock Washburn as its first director of marketing a year and a half ago, the firm had pretty much just accepted the cost of Martindale-Hubbell and continued to pay each year for comprehensive listings.
She said the firm was paying per word for the birthplace, bar association memberships and professional organization commitments not only for partners but also for retired partners and junior associates.
"There are a million bells and whistles with the Martindale-Hubbell list," she said. "Everything is a la carte."
The firm is still listed on the site, but it now only includes partners with minibiographies and simply lists associates' names, Smuts said.
"I want to re-invest those marketing dollars for other interactive marketing efforts," she said.
If firms are scaling back their participation in Martindale-Hubbell, Smuts said it is just a sign of the times as marketing budgets get smaller and money needs to be reallocated.
That doesn't mean LexisNexis -- the owner of Martindale-Hubbell -- isn't still useful. She said LexisNexis is a "fantastic vendor" with lots of products, and the company is willing to work with firms individually to create products that fit.
Barry Solomon, vice president of client development at LexisNexis, said the company has been rolling out new products and has been working on re-creating itself to keep up with the times.
Although it used to be valuable just to be in the "big book," he said technology and the sophistication of legal services have changed that.
In the past year, Martindale-Hubbell has gone from online version 3.0 to 4.0 with several stops in between as it talks with its core stakeholders -- general counsel, law firms and other sophisticated legal buyers -- about what they want.
"We have, in the last five years, become too focused on providing a marketing tool for law firms, for which there's so many choices on how to market," Solomon said.
Martindale-Hubbell's new focus, he said, is to become "indispensable" to corporate counsel who are looking to choose outside counsel. That, in turn, could cause law firms to realize the necessity of providing information to the service, he said.
One new service stemmed from a need corporate counsel expressed to help narrow down which of three or four attorneys would be good for a certain legal matter.
On Martindale-Hubbell, corporate counsel can keep a list of their preferred providers and track what services they provided.
If a general counsel liked using a certain litigator but wasn't sure if she did environmental litigation, for example, the general counsel could search information on her previous work and compare her to the background of a second or third outside counsel.
They can then go directly to firms' Web sites, Solomon said, so Martindale-Hubbell doesn't have to rely on having the detailed biographies on its site.
The information provided by Martindale-Hubbell is composed of the listing, practice descriptions and biographies paid for by the firms as well as additional information that the site collects on litigation or mergers and acquisitions statistics, for example.
The site also allows users to post articles, and Martindale-Hubbell will provide data to the firm that shows how many hits it received on the firm Web site from people viewing the article on Martindale-Hubbell, Solomon said.
The company has always charged "per unit," which Solomon said was a legacy from the book years. It is moving away from that standard and offers flexible packages to firms. How long a firm commits to the service will also affect the pricing, he said.
This is the year or period of transition for Martindale-Hubbell, Solomon said, and it is a long-term process that is a work in progress.
Fox Rothschild Chief Marketing Officer Jim Staples said his firm is "firmly undecided" when it comes to how it will use Martindale-Hubbell. The company, however, has been very cooperative is listening to the firm's needs and offering different options, he said.
Staples said he knows Fox Rothschild won't continue with Martindale-Hubbell as it has in the past. The firm has paid six figures annually.
Currently on the table are proposals to do away with the service or to minimize its current use.
The cost coupled with Google and firm Web sites has caused firms to rethink their commitment to the service, he said.
"Has the printed version gone the way of Encyclopedia Britannica?" Staples questioned.
Solomon said there are still several people who like the book, and he isn't ready to make any declarations on its future just yet.
There was a debate within Fox Rothschild about the benefits of Martindale-Hubbell and its historic uses, Staples said. There certainly are people in the firm, he said, who wonder whether they would miss out on prospective clients if Fox Rothschild wasn't listed.
Staples said people aren't going to go cold to Martindale-Hubbell, but may now just use it after they are given a referral.
WHAT GCs THINK
David Machlowitz is the general counsel of Fortune 50 company Medco Health Solutions in Franklin Lakes, N.J.
"Martindale-Hubbell is particularly useful if you're in a jurisdiction where you don't know anyone," he said.
For smaller companies, that jurisdiction could be a larger city like Detroit, he said.
Regardless of whether he opens the pages of Martindale-Hubbell's annual listing, Machlowitz said there is no substitute for talking with someone he trusts about an outside counsel that person has used. He said he usually gets two opinions, so no one book is going to be enough.
The other problem with the listing, Machlowitz said, is that general counsel only see what firms pay to get in the book. If he is looking for a firm with diversity and the firm didn't want to or couldn't afford to put that information in the text, Martindale-Hubbell wouldn't be useful.
For Machlowitz, it's less about finding new counsel and more about seeing improvements from existing counsel.
"The firms might be saving some money by scaling back on Martindale-Hubbell, but I'd bet money that they're wasting it elsewhere," he said.
Machlowitz said he is deluged with marketing materials from firms that don't seem to get it. The ratio of "useless marketing materials" compared with firms taking an interest in how they can improve is "1,000-to-one," he said.
Johnson Matthey Corporate Counsel Robert M. Talley said he still subscribes to the print edition of Martindale-Hubbell and uses it when looking for attorneys in foreign jurisdictions or places where he has no other contacts.
He also uses it to look up information on opposing counsel in certain matters, he said.
While firms certainly could miss out on potential work from his company, Talley said firms of any size are, generally, in the book. He said he has more trouble finding information on corporate law departments beyond the general counsel.
Although Talley said there might be a more ready medium with this kind of information, he hasn't come across it yet.