On the heels of being informed this week in a letter from Best Lawyers that I have been selected by my peers as a Best Lawyer in Georgia, I have another topic that rises to the top of 10 major developments in law firm sales and marketing since I began my tenure as one of the first Sales Directors in the legal profession in August 2001:  lists, rankings and directories.  Big disclaimer:  I am not a lawyer, and I am not licensed to practice law anywhere, let alone Georgia, which I visit a couple of  times a year.

Yes, I know that some sort of clerical error led to the letter noting my “selection by my peers” as a Best Lawyer, and we all make mistakes.  My point is not to cast aspersions on Best Lawyers, but rather to point out the larger development — that over the last decade we all have witnessed an escalation of the lawyer-ranking industry, and that it all may have very little meaning.  On the whole, lawyers are competitive and achievement-driven people, and they are deadly earnest about being included on virtually any imaginable competitive list.  Consequently, law firm sales and marketing departments are drawn ever more into the tedious business of a) helping lawyers get listed and ranked or b) explaining again and again at considerable professional risk that directories and lists are the  least productive of the many channels available to gain professional recognition and win new business.  BTI Consulting’s considerable 2010 research into Rankings and Ratings for Law Firms spells this all out with great clarity.  I continually supplement my understanding of BTI’s results with one-on-one first-hand discussions with buyers of legal service, who uniformly confirm BTI’s findings.  Another disclaimer here:  rankings and ratings may have utility in attracting lateral candidates; I have no knowledge of their utility in that arena. I contend only that they virtually are useless in pursuing new business. 

Despite the low sales productivity of ratings-and-rankings activity, many ultracompetitive lawyers insist that their sales and marketing departments invest time and treasure in the effort.  Some marketing departments even have hired individuals whose full-time (or nearly full-time) job is to handle lawyer rankings.  The rest of us deal with it on a catch-as-catch can basis, probably adding up to at least one FTE per department.  While many lawyers do not understand the low sales productivity of such pursuits, it is conventional wisdom in the legal marketing community:  Witness a now-viral spoof by Allen Matkins’s CMO Adam Stock of a fictional encounter between an earnest marketing professional prescribing productive business development activity….and a lawyer focused on ratings.

As my friend Mark Maraia points out, when it comes to law firm sales, Relationships Are Everything – still!  The only way I can see to counteract the siren song of ratings and directories is to use the more-productive channels to help lawyers initiate so many new relationships, build them over time, and monetize them that rankings and ratings disappear in a cloud of dust.  We’re not there yet, by a long shot.