The Death of AV (Update: MH Responds)
It's unclear that MH will stop listing its AV ratings, but apparently the bunch of folks at MH that decide on ratings have been told to seek new opportunity elsewhere. That doesn't bode well for the rating system as a whole.
What does this mean? Who knows. Way back when, when Martindale-Hubbell was the only game in town and lawyers really didn't have much access to information about other lawyers from other places, an AV rating provided some level of confidence that the lawyer was respected within his local legal community. Whether well deserved or not, it gave some degree of security that the lawyer wasn't a total mutt.
Today, things are different. The internet provides a wealth of information about lawyers, and we can gather as much info about a lawyer from Seattle as we can about the lawyer in the next office. Location is irrelevant. Information is everywhere. The old AV rating (and why did they ever pick "V" rather than "+"?) is more of a nostalgia thing than a meaningful indicator of competence, right? Well, not exactly.
For better or worse, we took the Martindale Hubbell peer review ratings seriously. We may have been wrong to do so, but we did. Unlike the fluff of marketing ploys like SuperLawyers, there was a degree of faith in an AV rating that meant something across the boards. We believed it to be real. Maybe we just needed to have something to believe in, but we did.
New players entered the fray in the meantime. Avvo made a big splash with its numerical ratings, but was subject to severe criticism from within the bar for its secret algorithmic methodology that burned younger lawyers and experienced lawyers who couldn't be bothered to play its game. Then Avvo gave up whatever credibility it might have had by selling paid lawyer advertising on the same page as its putatively consumer-useful informational pages, reducing itself to just another "business model." And I thought Avvo had such promise.
Perhaps MH lost it's purpose to Google, since searching a lawyer's name provides far more information than MH ever could. But aside from information overload, there is no way to determine the accuracy of this wealth of information, or to put it into some succinct useful form. In exchange for volume, we gave up reliability. There's little way to tell whether our bits of information garnered from searching is the product of meaningful assessment or ignorance, or even hatred and deception. There's a lot of junk online.
It's understandable that Martindale-Hubbell, the dinosaur, moved too slowly to adapt to a changing world and was doomed. It's just not clear that anything better, or even equal, exists or will come into being in the future. Current evidence suggests that it won't, and that we will be saddled with too many SuperDuperLawyer websites or Avvo-type magic-ratings, but no one in whom the profession can put its trust.
So the Martindale-Hubbell age has past. What are we going to do now?
Update: Martindale-Hubbell has responded to "the rumors" of the death of its ratings, claiming the reports of its demise "have been greatly exagerated." So what does it mean when you fire all the people who handle the ratings? They say they are "fully committed" to continuing the ratings, plus a whole lot of other new initiatives that will bring "transparency by practice area, narrative feedback and validated data from third parties that provides examples of an attorney’s experience." What that means is anybody's guess.
To provide even more focus, we will name a new VP/ Product Champion of Ratings who will help us spread the message about our transformation. We are also increasing the current number of Martindale-Hubbell Specialists in the market in order to educate our firms about all the new offerings, including enhanced ratings services. We are adding a product marketing team for a more consistent flow of information and wider communication and we have expanded the current responsibilities of our inside Ratings Support team.
After careful consideration and a long period of deliberation, this change also included a change in the role and responsibilities of the ratings specialists. While this was a truly difficult decision, it is one that we felt necessary to best meet client needs.
After cutting through the rhetoric, I believe that this means they fired all the ratings people and replaced them with marketing people, who will now spread out across the country to bring us transparency through marketing. After all, there is no better way to "meet client needs" then sell them stuff.