Legal Directories in the Age of Google

Legal Directories in the Age of Google
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Legal Directories in the Age of Google

Will online self-promotion and marketing make the legal directory obsolete?

By Heather Suttie, National, February 2012

Prudent budgeting usually results in a number of expenditure items being put on trial for their lives. In the case of marketing, these trials tend to be conducted by fire. There are a myriad of ways firms waste money. The two worst are to drop a match on a pile of cash or appear in legal directories indiscriminately and because other firms do.

Let’s be clear: Directories are profit-making vehicles for their publishers. To date, directories have been successful because they appeal to a competitive type of personality who either enjoys measuring themselves against others or who can’t stand not being measured against others. Either way, directories tend to appeal to egos and afford an opportunity to see one’s name or firm listed as a person or firm to watch either in print or online.

There are slews of directories. According to US-based Jaffe Associates, in 2008 there were more than 950 surveys and ranking services geared to law firms. These included the usual suspects: Chambers Global, Martindale-Hubble, Who’s Who, Rising Stars lists of all descriptions and every kind of Super, Best, and Top list imaginable splintered into numerous legal practices to boot.

Some have been around for many years. Chambers Global turned 22 this year while one of its competitors, The Legal 500, is two years older. This represents a whole generation of lawyers who grew up thumbing through these tomes when they began appearing in print form well before the advent of the online age.


Generally speaking, directories have been on a downslide for years. In 2007, London and New York-based Acritas surveyed 500 corporate counsel about what sources influence their consideration in hiring external lawyers. Only five per cent found directories relevant to this type of decision and only three per cent said they have been influenced significantly by directory information. Instead these corporate lawyers said they relied on referrals from outside law firms, colleagues, personal experience, the reputation of a firm, and publications and articles.

It’s taking a while but some firms are smartening up. For example, roughly 30 per cent of AmLaw 100 law firms are no longer listed in Martindale-Hubbell. One of them is Axley Brynelson LLP of Madison, Wisconsin. Managing Partner John Mitby says, “In 2010, we decided to reinvest the $25,000+ we usually spent on Martindale-Hubbell in communications channels we did see results from, including social networks, outdoor and video. In just the past five months, our website traffic increased 20 per cent. We’re receiving more quality cold email inquiries and subsequent new clients.”

For firms that simply must appear in select directories, many have chosen not to pay-to-play. In other words, they no longer pay for the privilege of submitting firm member authored articles, bios or photos. After all, why should a firm contribute content to an entity that charges what amounts to a publishing fee and also requires payment from anyone wishing to read it?


Firms that are technologically forward in their online presence are ahead of the game. With a firm’s website being its number one marketing vehicle, the addition of content that would have formerly been included in directories combined with solid search engine optimization techniques will result in a do-it-yourself directory that features only you.

The pluses of this kind of promotion is that it costs very little in comparison to what has been traditionally paid to directories and this type of online content is controlled by you rather than any third party – paid or otherwise.

In addition, as Axley Brynelson’s results show, firms that employ social media tactics as well as mobile sites, news feeds, blogs, podcasts, and other online components are seeing measurable returns. As Mitby points out, people aren’t searching for lawyers in directories. He says, ”They’re searching for lawyers via Google or recommendations.” He’s right. Many legal directories began in a pre-Google age. Now Google is the world’s directory of everything and costs nothing.

That said, if the day ever comes when instead of being provided with directories of “firms to watch” we’re offered a directory of “firms to watch out for”, it would certainly make for a more helpful and entertaining read.


Heather Suttie is a legal marketing and business-development consultant. She works with a range of firms — Global to Solo, BigLaw to NewLaw. Reach her at +1.416.964.9607 or


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