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Law Firm Surveys and Rankings Discussed, Debated at New York LFMP Program

best-usn-rankings-gray.jpgLast month, at the invitation of Joshua Peck and the Law Firm Media Professionals organization, I attended their monthly program in New York City, at the offices of Dechert. As always, the topic of “Surveys and Rankings” attracted significant interest (and conversation) from the many law firm communications and public relations people in Manhattan.

On the panel were Reena SenGupta, representing “FT Innovative Lawyers” for the Financial Times; Anne Szustek, Deputy Editor of the Benchmark Litigation survey, run by Euromoney; and Steven Naifeh, President of Best Lawyers, which also publish the US News & World Reports “Best Law Firm” rankings.

The audience questions (and skepticism) reminded me that nerves are still raw when seeing the friction that exists between these businesses and the law firm professionals that choose to participate in them (or not). Everyone continues to preach “separation of church and state” as it relates to the editorial evaluation versus the advertising opportunities that are offered. I made particular note of the Benchmark folks reminding everyone that they are journalists and researchers, not lawyers. That just makes me give second thought as to how good they can be in evaluating the leaders in litigation. I can’t say that either FT or Benchmark did anything to increase credibility, based on their presentations. If you buy in, you are probably still in. But if not, I doubt opinion shifted at all.

What I find interesting in looking at the Best Lawyers business is how they have been able to maintain their place in the rankings “market”, while shifting and rebooting to reflect the growing competition. The addition of the U.S. News law firm rankings was a brilliant response to the entry of Chambers USA to the field. In the meantime, Martindale has slowly responded to reworking AV ratings–but it was slow to react and the business both suffered and allowed competition to eat a big slice of what was their pie. The good news for Martindale and Best Lawyers is that they have stemmed the Chambers tide. As everyone shifted the way they evaluated lawyers and law firms for ratings, rankings and surveys, Chambers slowly increased the “buy” opportunities, so that the tables at awards dinners, increased publishing buys and profiles make them look like a cross between an American Lawyer “awards” dinner and an AV-rating (or “Top Rated Lawyer” as now referenced in most cases). Getting ranked, and what you do with the ranking continue to be a fluid space in law firm circles.

With the American Bar Association, I’ve worked on numerous programs related to the rankings and ratings industry. The Pennsylvania Bar Institute program I conducted in 2012, “Lawyer Rankings & Ratings: The Impact on Ethics and the Profession” was one of the best received and responded to programs I’ve conducted in the last decade. It is important to know the players and understand the business models.

The real question for the law firm in 2013 is which rankings, ratings, reviews and surveys will you participate in, and why? And which “honors” will be used for marketing purposes, and how much are you going to spend with these companies to tout those awards? The answer varies significantly, based on your practice, your firm and client base. You can’t say yes or no to all.

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