Anyone who was around in the late 90s will recall the term “convergence”.
A buzzword in the Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) industries, convergence described an increasingly fluid world in which the definition of what was technology, media, or telecoms, was becoming blurred.
It sounds dated in 2013, but something similar is happening in the legal directories world.
Already in 2013, we have seen Thomson Reuters acquire Practical Law Company (the PLC Which Lawyer directory a casualty of the deal), and Rocket Lawyer acquire LawPivot.
Directory publishers often view the market through a simplistic competitive lens. Whether it’s the “rivalry” between Chambers & Partners and Legal 500, or Martindale/Lawyers.com (owned by Lexis Nexis) and FindLaw (Thomson Reuters).
It’s natural to see the world this way when you’re in the day-to-day trenches. You don’t always have the luxury of taking a step back.
But the external challenge for legal directories is increasingly from products and services which may not be considered legal directories at all – cost comparison websites, user-generated content, social media, D.I.Y online legal providers, search engine optimization, alternative business structures, and various legal technology products. The boundaries are constantly blurring.
Then there are the internal challenges.
When marketing directors and partners are deciding whether to spend money on legal directories, it isn’t as simple as dividing up an amount allocated to legal directories on specific products and titles. This is how the directories often see it – money for our competitor means less for us, and vice versa.
Rather, law firms look at budgets more broadly and figure out whether directories as a whole are the best use of their time. The competition is the array of other ways to spend marketing dollars – events, pitching, seminars, email marketing, technology products, blogging, and good old fashioned pressing of flesh.
Given these challenges, I think the legal directory industry as a whole has a mutual interest. Rather than worrying about the competitor down the street, we all need to think about what we can do to serve buyers of legal services and lawyers more effectively and efficiently. A rising tide lifts all boats.
Related to this, I don’t subscribe to the view that there’s too many directories – a view usually advanced by beleaguered marketing staff creaking under the weight of submission demands. It’s like saying there’s too many different models of car.
The global legal services market is a $750 billion industry, and there are 3.5 million lawyers in the world. A market of such size can accommodate a wide range of directory-style products focused on different segments.
A personal injury lawyer in small-town Tennessee will engage with different directories than a capital markets lawyers at a large transactional firm in Frankfurt, Germany.
As someone who both advises law firms on how to engage with legal directories, and publishes an online directory, I’m naturally a supporter of legal directories – in the broadest sense.
There’s some great legal directory products out there, both from well-known international publishers and smaller niche companies.
The basic concept of legal directory – to help those interested in finding lawyers make informed choices – remains a sound one.
Legal directories satisfy a basic need for information. They shine light in areas of darkness, and provide transparency in a profession that has long been opaque.
And they allow clients, prospects, referral sources, and those interested in knowing more about lawyers, to make side-by-side comparisons of lawyers and law firms in a market, which, despite consolidation, remains highly fragmented.
Criticism often centers on the suggestion that large, sophisticated clients do not use directories in a meaningful way. Of course, referrals and personal networks will always trump directories in a ranking of factors influencing client behavior.
But many clients do consult directories for research, backup, reassurance, or in unfamiliar markets and practices where they haven’t a clue where to start looking. Whether that’s by going to the directory directly, or via a search engine.
At the same time, there are millions of smaller businesses, organizations and individuals without any knowledge of the legal market at all. They need help as well.
As a lawyer said to me a few years ago: “people complain about directories but if they didn’t exist, we’d all be saying ‘what the market really needs is a legal directory’”