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Friday, 16 September 2011

Professional Listings: When Less is More

We live in the golden age of professional rankings and listings. Let's be honest--we all relish being ranked high on the most well-known listings; should our ranking fall, we make great efforts to rectify that for the next ranking year. Professional rankings are not, however, merely personal matters. It has become de rigueur to include favourable listings on both one's general firm website as well as on one's own webpage. One prefers to be ranked by better-known rating agencies because, it is presumed, the goodwill in the name of the listing will redound to your benefit, the better to market yourself with.

This presumption was put the test earlier this week, however. The occasion was a visit to an overseas law firm for the purpose of making our mutual acquaintance. What is interesting is how I came to arrange such a meeting. The story goes like this. Several weeks before the trip, I received an email from the firm (I seem to be on its email distribution list), advising that three lawyers at the firm had been designated as leading female lawyers for a certain region in the U.S. (there is apparently such a listing).

Notice carefully--this was not a notice that 5 (or 10 or 15 or 50) of the firm's lawyers had been named by one of the high-profile list, but a listing that, on its face, was much less "prestigious". And yet, it was precisely this less "prestigious" designation that caught my attention, leading me to read more about one of the designees, whose IP practice is similar to mine, leading further to arrange to meet this lawyer and several of her IP colleagues.

During our meeting, I was upfront about how I had come to arrange the meeting, and my contact lawyer at the firm then made a fascinating observation: I was not the only person who had reached out to her by virtue of this email notice about her recent listing. In fact, it appears that she had never before received so many inquiries in response to a listing, despite the fact that she is also listed on all of the major professional listings in her IP area. As a marketing tool, therefore, it would seem that this more modest designation had greater marketing impact than public notification about other, more high-profile listings.

On the long flight home, this incident got me to thinking. What exactly is the marketing value of inclusion on professional listings? After all, I am not a marketing Luddite and I am certain that professional listings have value. But because of the meeting, I was forced to think more sharply about what these benefits are. A number of thoughts came to mind:

1. A well-regarded listing is valuable in providing an iprimatur, backed by its goodwill and reputation, about the collective status of a law firm. If a valuable trade mark/service mark provides search-cost benefits to the public, who come to rely on the mark, then the value of the professional listing at the collective level services as a sign of presumed quality of the law firm.

2. There is a similar, but not identical effect, regarding the ranking of individual lawyers. My instincts tell me that decisions about individual lawywers are less influenced by rankings than about the choice of a law firm more generally; after all, personal relations also play a large, perhaps decisive role. However, I assume that at the margin such rankings might also affect decisions at the more individual level.

3. Both (1) and (2) describe situations where a person seeks information about a firm and relies on the listing for validation or support. However, and this is based merely on anecdote, reliance on such listings for pro-active marketing and promotion appears to be of less value. There is a certain over-familiarity with the "club" of professional listings, the result of which is that when it seems that "everyone" is listed, the impact of any given listing is diminished.

4. Ironically, therefore, inclusion of a listing tht is unfamilar, and has a unique quality to it, will be more likely to attract my attention. What is working here is not the reputation and goodwill of the professional listing, but the drawing power of the contents themselves. Assuming that one actually reads such contents, there is a greater likelihood that they may have a positive marketing and promotion effect.

More on Luddites here.


Anonymous said...

Just who creates these listings? How are they impartial and where is the support for their claims? Have these great lawyers received points for success in competitive actions, trials, prosecution, freedom to operate opinions? Did these particular great females achieve success in female-only trials or where they mixed events?

And the reason people take notice of these lists is because they see themselves as part of this self-selecting club. It is all self-serving tosh.

Mark Anderson said...

Neil, some thoughts on the value of professional rankings appear on our blog, IP Draughts, at

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