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Ranking the Raters: Making Sense of Attorney Ratings

October 2009
Lawyers and the people hiring them can't help but confront the many attorney rankings and reviews out there. These lists are undoubtedly tough to resist: they all appear objective and scientific. So, how do you compare and contrast the lawyer rankers?

So you want to hire a lawyer? Chances are, your first instinct is to scour the Internet in search of some indication of which attorney, or firm, is the best bet. You may find a LinkedIn.com profile containing the humdrum basics about a firm or an attorney’s work and educational history, stumble across a mention or two of the firm in an online article, or hone in on a list that supposedly ranks the best of the best. Which source of information will you pay the most attention to?

Lawyers and the people hiring them, whether consumers or companies, can’t help but confront the many attorney rankings and reviews out there—they seem to crop up everywhere. And these lists are undoubtedly tough to resist.

But hiring a lawyer is not like dating online—the last thing you want to do is consult six attorneys before finding one that you can imagine seeing again. And for better or worse, there is no lawyermatch.com (at least, not yet). Partnering with a lawyer is a serious matter and, to make a smart choice without wasting time, you need as much quality input as you can get.

By some estimates, hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of people consult lawyer ratings sites each year to determine, among other factors, whether their lawyer or potential lawyer has ever been hit with malpractice claims or been disciplined. But should publications and companies boasting exclusive ratings and reviews be trusted?

The first thing to keep in mind is that each rating service—all of which are private, for-profit companies—use different and unique criteria for determining a rating, which can make head-to-head comparisons difficult, if not impossible. This means that confusion is almost inevitable, not only for the person shopping for legal services, but perhaps even on the part of lawyers themselves. What makes a lawyer or a firm ultra hot on one list and not worth a mention on another?

The burning question, then, is to determine which rankings are worth paying attention to, and why. But how do you cut through the clutter and determine who you can trust? And, if you’re an attorney, how do you decide which lists and websites are worth targeting?

At the Law Firm Marketing Strategies Conference in November, a panel of the industry’s five leading rating and ranking services—Avvo, Best Lawyers, Lawdragon, Martindale Hubble and Super Lawyers—will demystify the process. (All rating and ranking services were invited.) Each company, whose presentations will be slotted at random, will be given equal time to explain how its ratings are created and to discuss how its methodologies and resulting ratings and reviews provide value to users.

In addition to the conference audience, a dozen in-house counsel will be in attendance to ask compelling questions of the panelists and to complete a short survey. The resulting data will be compiled and published, with the understanding that respondents’ names will not be divulged in connection with their comments and scores. Audience members will be given a similar survey to complete and, time-permitting, will have the chance to ask the panel questions of their own. Micah Buchdahl, Chair of the ABA Law Practice Management Section, will moderate the program.

The goal of this lively, interactive session is to leave attendees with a far better sense of which ratings are worth considering when making the decision to hire a lawyer. Likewise, the companies represented on the panel will obtain honest feedback that will allow them to better market and position themselves in what has become a very competitive industry within the legal arena.

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