Law firm media relations & communications

March 31, 2010

The directories debate: We’re asking the wrong question (part I)

Filed under: law firm,law firm communications — John Tuerck @ 8:16 pm

The ongoing debate over the merits of law-firm directories like the Chambers guides flared anew on the LawMarketing List Serv (subscription required), a well-regarded resource for legal marketing experts. Larry Bodine, the founder of the list serv, expresses his unequivocal disdain for directories in general and Chambers in particular. In support, Bodine cites a recent Times of London article reporting on the finding of a recent survey that “only three percent [of general counsel in companies that hire firms] said that they have been influenced significantly by information in the directories.”

“Now law firm marketers can toss the vaunted Chambers directory on the heap with the soggy yellow pages dumped on their driveways, Superlawyers, Avvo and the 950 other surveys and rankings of law firms,” Bodine writes in a message posted to his list serv. “Statistically significant evidence proves that all of them generate little to no new business for law firms.” [Emphasis in original, as lawyers would say.]

Not every legal-marketing expert in the debate takes Larry’s view; some contend that a Chambers ranking can validate the decision by counsel to hire a firm, while others believe it can serve as a tiebreaker in, say, a competitive RFP with other, equally qualified firms. The general consensus, however, is that the substantial cost in time, money and effort that firms invest outweighs any benefit from a directory ranking.

I side with Larry and the others but wonder if we’re asking the right question. It’s fine that legal-marketing experts generally agree that directories like Chambers tend not to influence hiring decisions by general counsel. But the consensus view matters little if law-firm dynamics prevent or impede in-house marketing experts from stepping back and raising the issue with firm leadership of whether the benefits of participating in the directory process outweigh the costs.

The real question, then, is how in-house marketing experts can have a say in whether their firms should participate in the directory process. That question goes to the heart of the dynamics of the relationship between the law-firm partnership and professional staff, and addressing it here would result in a post longer than a Tolstoy novel. I’ll explore the answer in part II.

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