The Lawyer Raters: In Their Own Words

Volume 37 Number 6

By

A highlight of the 2010 ABA Annual Meeting was the first-ever gathering of the major law firm rankings and ratings entities—in one place, at one time—to explain their methodologies and get ranked themselves by a panel of corporate counsel and peppered with questions by the program moderator and audience of attorneys interested in business development strategies. 

Ratings are proliferating across all the goods and services we buy, and the legal industry is no exception. Over the past several years legal rating services and lawyer ranking lists have grown tremendously. Gone are the days where one single institution determines the best lawyers or the top firms. Today, there are many different ways to evaluate legal services and it’s important that as practitioners you have a better handle on what’s happening both online and offline and understand how it impacts your reputation and your business.

Below is a summary of how the leaders of six companies described themselves in their opening remarks. A video of the hour-long panel discussion moderated by Micah Buchdahl can be found online at http://www.americanbar.org/groups/law_practice_management.html
Mark Britton, Founder and CEO

Avvo
Avvo is different because we are focused on building a win-win situation for lawyers and consumers. Prior to Avvo, most website’s offline directories adopted the ‘Yellow Pages’ model, where the recommended lawyers are the ones paying the most amount of money. Avvo is responsive to a smarter consumer marketplace by providing free unbiased information about lawyers and legal issues in a transparent fashion. It’s critical that we are transparent in how we have a dialogue with those that are using your legal services. We believe that if we get the consumers more information and better guidance, then we’ll get great lawyers more business. 

Avvo has 1.2 million lawyer records, providing consumers with a wide array of choices. We give them research tools via the largest question-and-answer forum related to legal issues on the Web. We also publish lawyer-generated legal guides so consumers can research legal issues.

Avvo receives more than two million monthly visitors and has 60,000 lawyers actively contributing to the site. This free interactive marketplace sends lawyers more than 160,000 contacts a month.

The Avvo Rating
Avvo rates 90% of the lawyers in the United States on a scale of one to 10. Ten is superb, down to one, which is extreme caution. The rating system is based on the information we know about the lawyer. The Avvo Rating is like a resume score in the same way that if I were to scan a resume of an interview candidate, I’d be able to tell quickly whether I was impressed by that person’s resume. All of the elements that go into the Avvo Rating are part of the lawyer’s free Avvo profile. 

Client Reviews
Client reviews are an important part of the free profile Avvo offers every lawyer. Anonymous client ratings are dangerous, where people just come in and can say anything about you. At Avvo, we police this strictly. Every person that leaves a client review not only follows our community guidelines, but also registers at our site, so even though we may not disclose their identity, we know who they are and we can contact them for follow-up.

Peer Endorsements
The third element of the Avvo profile is peer endorsements where other lawyers give you a virtual thumbs-up, which indicates ‘this is a strong lawyer in my community.’

Avvo is focused on getting the consumer a great snapshot of your background. No single element tells the whole story. But when you bring together the Avvo Rating and what clients and other lawyers think of you, it creates an interesting mosaic regarding your background, your resume and your professional conduct. These become third-party evaluations, which are powerful in helping you get more business. If you’re a great lawyer and you do great business, it’s reflected in the Avvo Rating, the client ratings and other lawyers’ endorsements.
Carlton Dyce, Vice President of Peer Review Rating and Client Review Services for LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell

Martindale-Hubbell
Martindale has a mission to provide lawyers and law firms with an opportunity to market themselves. Our goal for our lawyer ratings is to provide a 360-degree view of the lawyer. We utilize four components: the lawyer profile, which includes the lawyer biography and practice areas; peer review ratings; client review ratings; and fact-based data. The goal is two-fold: 

  1. To help lawyers differentiate themselves; and
  2. To help users of ratings make an intelligent choice on selecting the right lawyer for a specific matter.

Peer Review Ratings
There are three components to our peer review ratings. We’ve got the AV certification, which is the only certification mark protected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. We also have a numeric score of 1 to 5, lowest to highest, and then we have a rating term “preeminent.” 

Client Review Ratings
Our peer review ratings focus on legal ability and ethical standards, and our client review ratings focus on communication and response skills. 

Practice Area Rating
Practice area specificity allows the attorney to get a score in a specific practice area.

We also collect anonymous and confidential feedback from your individual peers. We encourage the lawyer to check his or her individual state bar rules because they are different in terms of publishing feedback, but this data can be published in addition to the rating at the lawyer’s option. 

Martindale-Hubbell has over 300,000 attorneys with a peer review rating and about 11,000 attorneys with a client review rating. In this competitive marketplace, Martindale feels that we can still help lawyers differentiate themselves and that our AV certification mark is still the gold standard in the legal community.
Carl Dawson

Best Lawyers
Best Lawyers was first published in 1983, founded by the Harvard Law grads who were hired by a publisher to produce a book called “What Every Client Needs to Know About Hiring an Attorney.” Because attorneys know each other’s work and because they are quite candid about each other, it was decided that if you ask enough people the right questions, you’ll get something close to the truth. 

Best Lawyers is still an advertisement-free publication. From the beginning, Best Lawyers has been excerpted in various city and regional publications to let people know about the local attorneys who represent the best in their profession, based on detailed evaluations by other lawyers.

Methodology
The peer review methodology lets you know who the voting pool is. The listees in the previous edition are asked to give their opinion on the quality of the work of nominees and other listees. You have to be voted into the books each year. There’s no sequential ranking within the book. It represents about 3% of private practice attorneys in the United States.

Recently we announced a partnership with U.S. News and World Report, which is known for its institutional rankings, to power its list of Best Law Firms. U.S. News came to Best Lawyers because of our strength in the legal marketplace and our reputation built on providing rankings of individual lawyers.
Katrina Dewey, CEO

Law Dragon
In the age of Google, there’s only one ranking that really matters and that’s your online search ranking, where your professional identity comes up when a potential client searches for you online. The tools of the past—reputation, referral, word of mouth—still matter but are increasingly imbedded in your online identity through Law Dragon and other sites that offer evaluations, news articles and profiles of lawyers and judges. 

Americans are sitting at their keyboards Googling for lawyers over 1.3 billion times each year. That’s 2,437 searches for lawyers each minute on Google alone. Each search is an untapped need for someone out there who needs your help. And that’s why my partners and I—lawyers, journalists, publishing technology and business professionals—established Law Dragon. 

Law Dragon is an online legal media company that publishes legal news, expert columns, lawyer profiles and lawyer evaluations. We also publish an annual magazine called the “Law Dragon 500 Leading Lawyers in America,” as well as its companion, the “Law Dragon 3000.” We publish this information on a free, open architecture site because we believe that everybody should be able to read about lawyers and the law. We also believe that Law Dragon contributes to the knowledge base about lawyers and best serves our clients and profession by freely sharing that information with Google and other search engines. Law Dragon lawyers, those we write about who are our clients who receive evaluations, often get found in search results.

We’re trained reporters who use an eleven step process available at LawDragon.com. We conduct online balloting through our newsletter and database of 300,000 lawyers. We conduct independent research using more than 100 experts who vet each and every candidate. We do our own editorial assessment of an individual’s contribution to the profession, we check their state bar standing and we ask ourselves, is this somebody that we really embrace as representing the best of the legal profession? We believe we have the best methodology to determine which lawyers are superior and act as a trusted filter to the millions of people right now Googling for lawyers. But no matter how far we’ve come in the ability for an individual to search for a lawyer, the true issue remains as it always has been: the law is a profession about clients who are served rather than about those who render the services. We are merely here to bridge that gap.
Catherine McGregor, Managing Editor

Chambers
Chambers is a global and independent ranking organization, currently publishing eight legal directories in print and online and covering every country reflecting today’s legal market. We also publish two directories aimed at law students in the U.K. and the U.S. seeking a position with a law firm.

Law firms can use Chambers when attracting new clients as well as cross selling. We research practice area and jurisdictional basis creating a specialized ranking that reflects your expertise. Increasingly we use referrals from other laws firms on a national and international basis. We’re being used more often for recruitment and retention of partners and as a useful way of benchmarking against the competition.

Methodology
There are three factors to our methodology: the work you’re doing, what your clients say about you and what your peers say about you. We’re measuring lawyers’ ability to best serve clients in a particular market and practice area in the years ahead. We do our research on a 12-month cycle that culminates in the production of a printed guide.

We make reference to the lawyers’ most recent work, which is the way many corporate clients evaluate their lawyers.

Our team of experienced researchers conducts in-depth client interviews over the phone and in person. Further research is undertaken with third-party industry experts, including accountants, bankers, barristers, advocates, regulators and placement agents.

We compile detailed client research when we talk directly to your clients. We also conduct independent client research and compile client advisory panels on a regional/global basis that provide insight on legal purchasing trends and the sort of law firms they’re seeking to hire in the current economic environment. Finally, we spend hours collecting information about your firm and individual lawyers within your firm to provide research that is unmatched in the legal industry.

In most sophisticated jurisdictions, a ranking like Chambers is a trusted secondary source. We do not charge for using our rankings in any kind of marketing material. In fact we find it’s a great way of broadening and deepening our brand by having others use what we spend so much time producing.
William White, Criminal Law Specialist

Super Lawyers 
Super Lawyers launched in 1991 as a publication in Minnesota called “Minnesota Law and Politics.” The national expansion of Super Lawyers began in 2004 and is now published in all 50 states. Most recently we were acquired by Thomson & Reuters.

There’s no pay-to-play element in the Super Lawyers selection process. We go through the full selection process every year, which is jurisdictional in scope. Our list is not comprised of just large law firms. We find those lawyers who fly beneath the radar and may not have a big marketing and public relations apparatus behind them. Ultimately, we look for evidence of peer recognition and professional achievement

Methodology
We compile and research the candidate pool, and then send the candidates through a process of peer evaluation. Lawyers can nominate but they also can evaluate each candidate based on a series of criteria and they can submit written comments. Our process is not a popularity contest. Lawyers can be “unpopular” in the sense they don’t get any nominations, but can be discovered by our research department’s year-round culling through virtually every legal periodical in the country, looking for lawyers who are doing great work. We put each lawyer through our peer evaluation and “blue-ribbon” review process. 

We take a snapshot of the lawyers with the highest point totals across 70 areas of practice, and invite them to serve on a blue-ribbon panel. Those lawyers can then evaluate other lawyers who have been nominated in their category. In the final selection process, narrowing to 5%, we divide lawyers by firm size category. In most jurisdictions we have four categories of law firm size, from solo to the largest firm category. We know not every consumer can afford lawyers in the larger firms so we have good balance of firm size on our list. We do a discipline record and general online discipline check. We contact the lawyers and do our due diligence to make sure we have the right practice area and contact information.

Overall there’s a lot of emphasis on the consumer when it comes to rating services, but a lot of new business and your best referrals come from other lawyers. Super Lawyers is the only rating service that sends a physical magazine to virtually every lawyer in the nation. Our print presence is important in our focus and determination to reach the most important referral audience, the lawyer community.

Takeaways
When considering different rating systems, it’s important to think through your marketing strategy and who are you looking to target. Not everyone markets to the same pool of people. For example if you have a referral practice, getting your information to Martindale first might be the way to go. If you’re trying to get in front of consumers and trying to get in front of people who are really purchasing your legal services, you should prioritize the consumer-focused marketplaces like Avvo.

Want to do well with rankings and ratings? There’s no trick, secret or cost associated with this. Be a good lawyer and you will build the reputation. Put your best foot forward and get your information out there.


What to do if you get a poor rating

There are a number of steps you can take with each rating organization if you receive a bad rating or none at all. One thing you don’t want to do, however, is sit back with your firm’s reputation on the line.

First, call the rating organization to double check that you were not confused with someone else. If there was no mistake, then ask how you can improve your rating within the organization’s rating methodology: A simple question that may go a long way. If you were to call Chambers, for example, you’d learn the company asks for references, but has a policy allowing researchers to only call an individual at a company eight times per year. Therefore, you may be better positioned if you provide multiple reference contacts at the same client company.

It is also a good idea to monitor your rating and communicate with several rating organizations quarterly. Avvo ratings, for instance, are developed through a mathematical process that can be impacted if you simply update your Avvo profile with current information about yourself. You may also be able to improve your rating by emailing a rating organization a sentence or two about yourself and practice.

The more information you provide about yourself, the more information the agency will have on hand when formulating a rating. But also make sure you send pertinent info that highlights your best practices. If you submit to too many sections, your feedback can be spread thin, so it’s typically better to focus on one area of practice.

 At Chambers, common reasons for not being ranked include lack of client feedback and a lack of evidence of relevant work. So it might benefit you to alert clients they may be receiving a call from a ranking agency and to refer agencies to clients you’ve worked with directly. If you are hoping to be ranked and guidelines are available, it will behoove you if the work you’re describing relates specifically to what the agency is looking for.

Remember, these ratings aren’t set in stone, and there’s room for improvement. Some ratings agencies are actively looking at a firm’s most recent work. Thus, a low rating may improve after new work is done by researchers. At the same time, ranking a firm on its latest work prevents the firm from resting on its laurels.

The bottom line is if you receive a poor rating, it’s best to be proactive. While some of these factors may be out of your control, there are certainly steps you may take to help ensure you’ve done all you can. It’s your reputation, after all, and ratings can impact your business development efforts.

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