October 23, 2012

Ranking the Raters

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January/February 2010 Issue | Volume 36 Number 1 | Page 11


Ranking the Raters

In a recent report, Fear of Falling: The Effect of U.S. News & World Report Rankings on U.S. Law Schools, researchers funded by the Law School Admissions Council found that those rankings have become a routine consideration in law school decision making—and have put enormous pressure on the schools to rate high. Don’t look now, but similar pressures to rate high are coming to law firms this year from multiple directions, especially with the Association of Corporate Counsel entering the ring with its ACC Value Index.

In the world of law firm rankings and ratings, business is booming. This made one of the truly buzz-worthy presentations at November’s ABA Law Firm Marketing Strategies Conference in Philadelphia all the more fascinating. For the first time, all of the major U.S. ratings providers sat side-by-side on the same dais to present their methodologies during Ranking the Raters; Rating the Rankers: A Forum on Methodologies, Benefits and Value. Presenting on behalf of their businesses were Mark Britton of Avvo, Carl Dawson of Best Lawyers, Katrina Dewey of Lawdragon, Alfredo Sciascia of Martindale-Hubbell and William White of Super Lawyers. In addition to fielding questions from moderator Micah Buchdahl and a somewhat skeptical audience, the presenters also tackled questions from a panel of in-house counsel from companies that included GlaxoSmithKline, Toys “R” Us, Comcast, Boeing, Rita’s Water Ice and Realogy Corporation throughout the program.

Program attendees completed a brief survey about law firm rankings as well, and a sampling of responses reveals some interesting insights.

  • Most acknowledged that ratings services are here to stay but some also included notations of “necessary evil,” “popularity contests,” and “most are missing many of the truly great lawyers.”
  • Lawyer ratings’ potential impact is far higher when selling to a consumer audience. At best, corporate clients may view ratings as a secondary resource.
  • While opinions on the value of each provider varied to the extreme, Martindale-Hubbell was given the most credibility among lawyer respondents.
  • The novelty of Chambers USA is being usurped by others, who are mixing the interview model into their methodologies.

With the proliferation of lawyer rankings, it’s certainly an industry to watch—as a number of the presenters pointed out, there will be winners and losers. The question is, will the winners be decided based on best methodology or best business plan?