October 23, 2012

Law Practice Magazine

March 2006

Volume 32 Number 2 | PAGE: 38 | BY: Ann Lee Gibson


Ann Lee Gibson responds:

Ah, yes (sigh). I'm counting to 100…. Okay, I'm ready to talk now.

"Who's Who" used to mean something-decades ago, perhaps 50, 60, 90 years ago, when there was only one publisher producing those kinds of things. That was back when there wasn't an Internet or even a telephone handy to call a friend and ask for advice about which lawyer to select. But these days there's the National Registry version of "Who's Who" and the United Registry version, plus Black Publishing's version, and the National Federation of Independent Business, and Who's Who Legal, and Who's Who Among American Lawyers (which starts with the "Auto Accident" category). Ad nauseum.

Of course, there are the original "Who's Who" collections by Marquis, now owned by Reed Elsevier. Frankly, if I were trying to get into any one of these directories, I'd certainly try to get into the old-time Marquis version, the Who's Who of American Lawyers (now in its 14th edition), which does sell its information to other information aggregators. Apparently, it's not that difficult to be accepted-you can even nominate yourself for this honor. Or you can nominate a friend who can, in turn, nominate you (sigh).

Unfortunately, prospective clients can't search www.marquiswhos who.com online unless they subscribe to the service. But how many prospective legal clients are going to pay to search a service to learn about an individual for whom they could just do a free Google search? Of course, if prospective clients owned a hard-copy set of the double-volume Who's Who of American Lawyers-it costs $395-they could search it by merely flipping pages. Like that's gonna' happen-not!

All these "super/mega/who's who/folks are outstanding"-type directories are great moneymakers for the vanity presses that publish them. But business clients, especially in-house lawyers, don't look at these directories. In most cases, they can't look at them because they don't have copies or online access to the information. Maybe they haven't even heard of them. Actually, depending on the client's sophistication, lawyers even mentioning in their resumes that they are listed in one of these vanity press tomes can actually lower their estimation in the eyes of a client. Reason: Many sophisticated clients think these listings are just what they are-tacky vanity press.

In the harshest terms I can summon, most of these directories are a complete waste of money and a big joke. However, having said that, it's always possible that a non-lawyer client would be impressed by the words "Who's Who" on a lawyer's resume. If those are your kinds of prospects, then I guess any "Who's Who" will do.

 Of course, partners should work hard to make sure they're included in the few universal and well-respected directories like Martindale-Hubbell or Chambers USA. In-house counsel actually do consult those directories, since they're online, free and easy to find.

A few exceptions to my pronouncement not to waste your money on vanity press directories do exist. Some practice niches-think of bond law and The Bond Buyer's Municipal Marketplace-pretty much require that a lawyer be listed. There are other practice areas, including insurance law, that have special listings that are useful. Rather than recite them all here (and I don't know them all), here's my best advice.

There's a very good rating directory developed by Leigh Dance and Deborah McMurray, two respected legal marketing consultants, who have reviewed and opined about all the legal directories they could get their hands on. The North American Guide to Law Firm and Lawyer Directories costs $295.

I know. It sounds a little funny to buy a directory of directories. But if I were still in-house, I'd pay $295 of my own money just to have something I could show partners to help them understand how and why most of these things are a waste of time and money-and might even be detrimental to their business development efforts.

Ann Lee Gibson, PhD , is principal of Ann Lee Gibson Consulting. She consults with law firms on business development initiatives.