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NEW YORK — What is the single biggest marketing expense at many large law firms? Not hip, computer-animated television commercials. Not bold, full-page ads in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. Certainly not pens and tote bags handed out to clients and law students. Surprisingly, the largest single item on many firms’ marketing budget is their entry in the venerable Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory. A large firm that merely lists its lawyers’ names and educational credentials can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on its Martindale-Hubbell profile. And, of course, some partners insist on going a lot further, listing everything from decades-old law review articles to memberships in Mensa, the “genius” society. The long-running bonanza for Martindale-Hubbell, which is a part of the Lexis-Nexis division of Dutch conglomerate Reed Elsevier, has given rise to a growing host of competitors. London’s Chambers and Partners, which has long published a guide to British lawyers and firms, recently inaugurated its first U.S. guide with a launch party at one of New York’s swank W Hotels. Thomson’s West Group and American Lawyer Media, the parent company of The Recorder, are also angling for a piece of the action. But even as legal directories proliferate, many major law firms are beginning to take a hard line on directory spending, questioning the value of sinking so much money into listings some believe serve no greater purpose than decorating shelves or flattering partners’ egos. Large firms such as Sidley Austin Brown & Wood and Greenberg Traurig have experimented with forgoing a Martindale-Hubbell profile, and others have greeted newer directories with a skeptical eye. In an April 25 e-mail sent to all Shearman & Sterling partners after some had been asked to pay between $1,100 and $4,000 to have their biographies included in Who’s Who Legal 2003, firm marketing head Edward Burke wrote that “paid listings and biographies of lawyers, practice groups, offices and firms have become a rapidly growing cottage industry.” “The aggregate price of participating in every listing for which a firm like ours is ‘eligible’ or solicited could give rise to a seven-figure annual cost,” Burke further wrote. “Tracking the readership of these listings — not to mention the business development benefits — seems to be elusive at best.” Not all listings are paid. Martindale-Hubbell and the online West Legal Directory both have a section where lawyers’ basic information can be listed for free. In Martindale-Hubbell, the blue pages at the front of each volume present that information in abbreviated form, listing attorneys’ degrees but not colleges or law schools attended. A number of companies, including American Lawyer Media, publish advertising-supported directories geared to local jurisdictions or practice specialties. But the big national directories generate revenue by offering lawyers an opportunity to pay for longer, “enhanced” listings and profiles. Such profiles make up the bulk of the 15-volume Martindale-Hubbell directory. Timothy Corcoran, Martindale-Hubbell’s vice president in charge of marketing to large law firms, said firms pay a base rate of about $188 an inch, but he added that larger customers are able to negotiate better rates. Martindale-Hubbell has an advantage over competitors in terms of marketplace familiarity and near-universal participation. Corcoran said about 99.5 percent of major firms pay to be listed in Martindale-Hubbell. He said further that research the company commissioned by law firm consultancy Altman Weil shows that 91 percent of corporate counsel regularly consult the directory. There is no question many lawyers find such directories useful. Clyde Rankin, the head of Coudert Brothers’ New York office, said he and other lawyers at the firm regularly peruse Martindale-Hubbell when they encounter a lawyer with whom they are unfamiliar. The directory has always proven a useful reference, said Rankin, though he said he did not know how much his firm paid to be listed. “It’s always been the standard-bearer,” he said. “It’s the grandfather of directories.” INTERNET, WEB SITES On the other hand, not everyone feels the benefits merit the expense. In 2000, Chicago’s Sidley & Austin decided it no longer wanted to be listed in Martindale-Hubbell. At the time, firms of Sidley’s size were paying Martindale around $250,000, said a source familiar with the directory debate. Sidley & Austin, which went on to merge with New York’s Brown & Wood and is now the 10th largest law firm in the world at 1,400 lawyers, is presently the largest not to have a profile in Martindale-Hubbell. The Internet has made directories less important, said Sidley Austin Chairman Thomas Cole, and information about lawyers can be presented more easily and effectively on a firm’s own Web site. Moreover, the business opportunities generated by a directory listing were questionable, he said. “The way firms like ours get selected is not by someone looking in a directory,” said Cole. However, Martindale-Hubbell has not taken doubts from major firms lying down. Corcoran said the company was de-emphasizing the directory profiles, though they still constitute 90 percent of Martindale-Hubbell’s undisclosed revenue, and focusing instead on other marketing assistance it can provide law firms. The company’s Internet properties are highly trafficked, he said, and the company also hosts business development conferences and places sponsored articles by lawyers. “I don’t want to go into managing partners’ offices and talk about a book,” he said. “That’s the furthest thing from my mind.” The company recently scored a coup by convincing Greenberg Traurig, an absentee of several years, to return to the directory. Richard Rosenbaum, managing partner of Greenberg Traurig’s New York office, said the decision had been a “close call,” and the firm still felt much of the information in Martindale-Hubbell was duplicating the firm’s Web site. But he noted that many partners still had a strong attachment to the book and found it strange not being listed. “Some people felt it was like not being in the phone book,” he said. Michael Chambers, the publisher of the Chambers Guide, said his guides, though they are largely regarded as the leading legal directories in the United Kingdom, were decidedly not phone books. Chambers and similar guides such as The Best Lawyers in America, which is partnered with American Lawyer Media, have sought to carve out a distinct part of the directory marketplace by ranking lawyers and law firms by locality and practice area. Chambers said his guide had been met with some skepticism by American lawyers who thought others were buying their way in. He emphasized that a separate editorial staff of 30 conducted surveys and interviews to determine who were the best lawyers and firms in the United States. Only after the rankings had been established do the sales staff go to work, he said, calling the partners to try to get them to buy enhanced profiles. Chambers said the salespeople probably come on fairly strong. “God knows what they say,” he said. “I’d prefer not to know. I’d probably be embarrassed.” Chambers declined to say how much he charges for profiles, though he said the cost is tied to length. The profiles are the primary source of revenue for the guides, 30,000 of which have been sent for free to corporate counsel. Lawyers who choose not to pay for a profile merely have their name, their firm and the firm’s address printed in the section of the guide devoted to enhanced profiles. The direct sales pitch to partners has frustrated law firm marketing staff who question the worth of purchasing a profile in Chambers or other guides. “There’s nothing harder than dealing with a partner who’s very proud about having been selected,” said one marketing director of a large Midwestern firm. But Sidley Austin’s Cole said, regardless of the merits of purchasing profiles, such rankings and ratings, as opposed to directories, may prove more appealing to lawyers because they would appear to have a more discernible impact on business development. Another major firm partner disagreed, however. “Sophisticated clients are going to hire you because they know you or know your work, not because you’re on some list,” he said. The value of any law firm marketing effort is difficult to ascertain, pointed out Martindale-Hubbell’s Corcoran, because most law firms give credit for revenue generation only to billing partners. Even if directory profiles do not inspire clients’ choices of counsel, he said, they certainly reinforce such choices over time. Many who criticize directory costs, he said, enthusiastically embrace even more costly and speculative branding campaigns. “I can understand that,” said Corcoran. “It’s probably sexier to do things that aren’t Martindale-ish.” Anthony Lin is a reporter for The New York Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate.

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