Until recently, every law firm had a bookcase filled with the current edition of the Martindale-Hubbell directory. In a less connected era, these books helped you find local counsel anywhere in the U.S.
But the world has changed. You can find information online about lawyers in any city when you need to find local counsel.
And instead of reaching out to attorneys, law firms now reach out directly to potential clients. This approach often requires different tools, including law firm internet marketing.
With limited marketing budgets, firms allocate their resources to the places most likely to bring business to the firm. And the time needed to secure an AV rating has some lawyers questioning whether Martindale-Hubbell is worth it.
Read on to learn about Martindale-Hubbell's peer rating process and some factors you should consider when determining whether one of these legal directories is right for you.
The History Behind Martindale-Hubbell
Martindale-Hubbell developed its peer review rating in a different era. The first version of the directory was created in 1868, and it expanded to include a law digest in 1930.
Martindale-Hubbell served an important purpose. Until the first web browser in the 1990s, a lawyer in Seattle had no insight into Houston lawyers and law firms. When clients needed representation in another city, their lead counsel could use Martindale's directory to find peer-reviewed lawyers to act as local counsel.
This understanding highlights two considerations as you examine whether Martindale-Hubbell is worthwhile for your practice. First, Martindale's peer review ratings were not created for clients. They were created for fellow lawyers who wanted to refer a client to a highly respected law firm.
Second, the respect lawyers have for Martindale-Hubbell runs deep. An AV rating is highly coveted among attorneys. But in a connected world, Martindale-Hubbell no longer provides the exclusive source for information about lawyers.
How Martindale-Hubbell Ratings Work
Martindale-Hubbell bases its attorney ratings on peer reviews. Your ratings come from surveys of other lawyers who rate your legal ability and professional ethics. This distinguishes Martindale-Hubbell's attorney ratings from:
The idea behind these ratings is that other lawyers want to know what your peers think of your legal ability and ethical standards. Attorneys are more likely to be persuaded by a rating from your colleagues and judges than by algorithms or random clients.
When you work with co-counsel, opposing counsel, and judges, they have an inside view into how you practice law. And fellow lawyers have the insight to evaluate you as a lawyer.
This does not mean that Martindale-Hubbell's peer review rating gives a better measurement of you as a lawyer. Even if you have an AV preeminent rating, you still need to work well with your clients and earn positive reviews.
But Martindale-Hubbell's peer review rating provides a look at you that might not get captured in other types of rating systems.
How is the Martindale-Hubbell Rating System Composed?
Martindale-Hubbell uses surveys of your peers in the legal profession to determine your peer review rating. These surveys go to attorneys who know you well enough to rate your legal ability and general ethical standards. These lawyers may include:
- Attorneys in your legal field, regardless of their geographic location
- Attorneys outside your legal field familiar with your work
- Judges familiar with your work
These surveys ask your peers from the legal community to provide feedback on your ethical standards. The survey then asks these other attorneys to rate you on a scale of one to five in five categories of legal ability:
- Legal experience
- Legal knowledge
- Communication ability
- Analytical capabilities
The company uses these surveys to calculate your peer rating.
The Old Rating System
Formerly, the company had three levels of awards based on your score and your years of practice.
A "C" rating was given to attorneys rated "fair" for their legal abilities. A "B" rating was given to attorneys rated "good" or higher for their legal abilities who had been practicing for at least five years. An "A" rating was given to attorneys rated "very good" for their legal abilities who had been practicing for at least ten years.
The company combined the legal ability ratings with a rating for ethics. This rating was binary — either you got it, or you did not. If the company added a "V" rating to your peer review rating, you received feedback from peers that you had "very high" ethical standards.
Thus, a lawyer could have six different peer review ratings as a result of the survey process:
- AV rating (very high legal abilities and ethical standards)
- A rating (high legal abilities)
- BV rating (good legal abilities and very high ethics)
- B rating (good legal abilities)
- CV rating (fair legal abilities and very high ethics)
- C rating (fair legal abilities)
An AV rating was the highest rating possible under the old system.
The Current Rating System
Martindale has changed its peer review ratings to have only three levels. Instead of individual letter grades for legal abilities, the current ratings use descriptors. Under the current system, an attorney can earn a peer review rating of:
- AV preeminent rating (highest rating)
- Distinguished rating (excellent rating)
- Notable (strong rating)
Roughly speaking, an AV preeminent rating corresponds to an AV rating. But a distinguished rating seems to include the BV rating plus B-rated lawyers with "excellent" ethics. Likewise, the notable rating seems to include the CV rating plus C-rated lawyers with "strong" ethics.
Can a Lawyer be Reviewed by Clients Using Martindale-Hubbell Ratings?
Wondering how to get a Martindale-Hubbell AV rating? The Martindale-Hubbell peer review process does not include reviews by clients. Only members of the legal community can submit surveys for the company's peer review process.
The company still calls its peer review process the "gold standard in attorney ratings." However, it also acknowledges that peer review scores may provide valuable information to other lawyers but only limited information to potential clients.
Since 2017, Martindale-Hubbell has offered clients the ability to submit lawyer reviews through the company's online directory. These can be seen in the Martindale lawyer search. A lawyer receives a "Client Reviewed" badge for use on the lawyer's website after receiving their first review.
Additionally, the company gives ratings to firms that receive multiple positive reviews from clients on the company's website. The ratings are based on the number of reviews received and the average score. The company offers three ratings:
Platinum means an attorney received at least ten reviews with an average score of 4.5 out of 5.0.
An attorney receives a gold rating for receiving at least six reviews with an average score of 4.2 out of 5.0.
Attorneys receive a silver rating if they receive at least three reviews with an average score of 4.0 out of 5.0.
How to Get a Client Review Rating
To get a Martindale-Hubbell AV rating, you must have a profile on Martindale's website. You must direct your clients to your profile on the website. There, they will search for your name in the category for the legal issue you handled for them.
For example, if you have a personal injury law practice, they will search for your name in the personal injury category.
Once they find your name in the search results, they will complete a survey that asks them to rate you on a scale of one to five in four categories:
- Quality of service
- Communication ability
- Value for money
Reviewers can also leave comments with their reviews. According to Martindale-Hubbell, the client's review, including the comments, will appear on the site within 24 hours after submission.
Remember that these Martindale-Hubbell reviews are for individual lawyers, not law firms. If multiple attorneys in your firm worked on a client's case, each individual attorney must ask for an independent review.
The review rating published on Martindale's website is the average of all review scores received over the preceding two years.
Check out our resources on reputation management for attorneys to learn about the consequences of bad reviews and how to deal with them.
The Benefits for Law Firms of Getting Martindale-Hubbell Ratings
Martindale-Hubbell peer review ratings can provide you and your law firm with substantial marketing benefits. Being an AV-rated lawyer is a sign of professional excellence to other attorneys.
Attorneys recognize the rarity of Martindale's highest rating and will feel more comfortable referring matters to you. They understand you have both the legal skills and general ethical standards to handle their client's matters competently and ethically.
A Martindale-Hubbell AV preeminent rating is also impressive to potential clients, even if they do not completely understand the ratings process. Just saying that you earned the highest rating from a lawyer rating authority carries some weight.
Martindale-Hubbell review ratings from clients can also persuade potential clients of your legal knowledge and expertise. A prior client's experiences with your work indicate how you will handle a new client's case.
According to consumer surveys, 77% of potential customers always or regularly read online reviews when looking for local businesses. Your potential clients expect you to have reviews. And nearly half of them trust online reviews of you and your law firm as much as they trust personal recommendations.
Your Peer Rating Can Also be Used on Other Platforms
In addition to the impact ratings have on a potential client, Martindale-Hubbell ratings can also positively impact your digital marketing.
Martindale-Hubbell owns several platforms, including Lawyers.com, Avvo, and Nolo. Your Martindale-Hubbell peer review rating will appear across the company's network of platforms. The more places you appear, the easier it is for consumers to find you.
More importantly, since Martindale-Hubbell owns all these platforms, your ratings badges from peers and clients will appear on these sites with your profile.
Your profile and ratings will also help your law firm search engine optimization (SEO). When search engines look at websites, they rank a site more highly if other authoritative sites link to it.
By appearing on Martindale's network of platforms, you have highly authoritative sites linking to your website. In short, your website will tend to rank higher on search results from Google and other search engines if you have ratings from Martindale-Hubbell.
How a Law Firm Becomes Part of the Martindale-Hubbell Rating System
You do not need to be a subscriber to Martindale-Hubbell to get ratings from peers and clients. But you do need to create an attorney profile. This attorney profile will allow reviewers to find you to submit a rating. It will also grant you access to Martindale's peer reference nomination tool.
When you create your attorney profile, you can also create a law firm profile and profiles for the other attorneys in the law firm. Having multiple attorneys in your law firm who are peer review rated can elevate your visibility, particularly if they are AV rated.
Once you have a profile, you can start the process of getting a Martindale-Hubbell peer review rating.
1. Contact Martindale's Customer Support Team to Request a Rating of Your Legal Ability and Ethical Standards
You need access to the peer reference nomination tool to submit your peer references to Martindale-Hubbell. You get access by contacting the company's customer support team by phone or email message. You can find Martindale's contact information on its website.
Martindale's customer service team will email you a link to access the nomination tool.
2. Compile and Submit Your Peer References Using the Peer Reference Nomination Tool
You will make a list of your peer references. To submit them in the peer reference nomination tool, your references need to:
- Have profiles on Martindale-Hubbell's website
- Include current email addresses in their profiles
If someone you want as a reference does not have a profile, they can create a free profile on Martindale's site. If their profile does not include a current email address, they can contact Martindale to update it. Alternatively, you can ask Martindale to update it from public sources, like the reference's site.
You need at least 18 references. But Martindale recommends having 20 to 25 references in the reference nomination tool.
3. Contact Your Peer References
Once you submit your references to Martindale-Hubbell, the company will reach out to them by email message. This email will explain that you are seeking a Martindale-Hubbell peer review and provide a link to the survey.
Martindale-Hubbell recommends that you contact your peer references after submitting their names in the tool. According to Martindale, your colleagues are more likely to respond to the email and submit ratings if you contact them first.
Without some advance notice, your references might delete the email or fail to respond simply because they do not know why they received it.
You have some margin for non-responses if you submit more than 18 references. By submitting more than 18 references and contacting your references, you should get enough responses for Martindale to give you a rating.
Attorneys often ask the same questions as they contemplate whether it is worth pursuing a Martindale-Hubbell rating from peers and clients. Some common questions and their answers include:
Is Martindale-Hubbell Worth It?
No one can tell you whether your time is worth pursuing Martindale's ratings. But you should consider what is important to your clients. An AV rating may put you at the top of the list for outside counsel.
If you represent individuals, they may not care what the legal community thinks of you. They want to see reviews from people who went through the same thing they are facing.
Pursuing Martindale's ratings requires a very low investment of time. In an hour or so, you could substantially complete your part of the ratings process by submitting a full list of references to rate you. This investment might generate far more business and billings than you could have generated during that one hour.
On the other hand, you might not want to raise your profile. Maybe you rely primarily on referrals or have a niche practice where you get all of the work you need. If you fit into these categories, you may be happier without Martindale's ratings, which could raise your profile and overwhelm you with work.
Lawyer and law firm marketing is not an easy process. You have many competitors, and it is often difficult to stand out. An AV rating and platinum rating can distinguish you from other lawyers in your practice area.
To learn about these and other ways to market your firm and get the clients you seek, contact a professional, high-performance law firm digital marketing agency.