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Connecticut Bar Association officials are urging the publisher of the world’s pre-eminent directory of lawyers to scrap a new service by its online affiliate that, they claim, discriminates against attorneys who aren’t the first to cough up special placement fees of $250-a-month and up. In a May 13 letter to New Providence, N.J.-based Martindale-Hubbell, CBA President William F. Gallagher scorned lawyers.com’s new “exclusive banner sponsorships” as a “sharp divergence from Martindale-Hubbell’s traditionally fair and evenhanded approach” to listing attorneys alphabetically. Under the program, lawyers who subscribe to lawyers.com’s home-page listing service can enhance their visibility by purchasing key spots within the site’s online legal directory. Regardless of the spelling of their names, it will be first-come, first-served. According to a company brochure, attorneys who are the first in their county and area of practice to take advantage of the offer gain the marketing benefit of having the first listing that appears in the search results displayed to prospective clients using the Web site to find counsel. “To have a banner sponsorship listing ahead of everyone else in any given town will cause the searcher to stop with the banner entry and not proceed any further,” Gallagher protested in his letter to Carol Cooper, Martindale’s vice president and associate publisher. “Considering Martindale-Hubbell’s dominance in the field, we believe that the banner listing is unfair and discriminatory, especially with respect to small firms,” argued Gallagher, of New Haven’s Gallagher & Calistro. “One can easily imagine large firms gobbling up all the banner entries for all the preferred locations.” On June 1, Gallagher, along with CBA executive director Tim Hazen and Hartford attorney John L. Bonee III, met privately with Martindale-Hubbell Senior Vice President Louis F. Duffy to discuss their concerns. Reached last week, Duffy said that company officials have yet to address the matter, due to vacations and other commitments, but expect to do so soon. Bonee, a member of CBA’s House of Delegates, raised the issue after being solicited to sign up for the new program earlier this year, he said. Though other directories and legal Web sites hold open prominent positions for attorneys willing to pay for them, “I never thought of Martindale as the Yellow Pages,” Bonee maintained. “I thought of it as a cut above the Yellow Pages.” Martindale’s 130-year-old “Law Directory” contains more than 900,000 lawyer and law firm listings in 160 countries; lawyers.com features a database of over 420,000 lawyers and law firms. Though opponents of the new service hope to avoid a confrontation with Martindale, Bonee, of Bonee Law Offices, said they are prepared to bring their concerns to the American Bar Association’s mid-year meeting in February 2001. So far, Hazen said he hasn’t heard of other state or local bar associations that have stated similar objections. Placement fees for lawyers.com’s banner listings are based on the volume of online searches in a particular county, according to the company brochure. All Connecticut counties fall within the cheapest-the $250-a-month billing category.

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