I was amused some months back when I was named one of New York’s personal injury “SuperLawyers.” I had some ambivalence about it since it was difficult to know much about the magazine’s methodology in making selections.
But no matter now; the company has now been sold to Thomson West and my days on the list, it seems safe to say, are numbered. I’d bet good money I won’t be on it next year.
Why? Because Thomson West also happens to own FindLaw, whose dreadful history of selling links, ripping off a certain blog name, exploiting dead victims for its dreck-blogs by a writer who appears to know little about the law, and diminishing the profession of law in general, has been a recent topic here. FindLaw gets paid big buck by some lawyers, and it has lost business as a result of my posts regarding its conduct. And if you charge $10,000 a year to lawyers, it doesn’t take more than a few lost
pigeons accounts to tick people off.
So you can bet that FindLaw will make sure that SuperLawyers keeps a healthy distance from me next year. But they really have a bigger problem than little old me.
You see, folks, FindLaw will want it’s big-paying customers to be included in the SuperLawyer listings. And since SuperLawyers thrives on the very expensive magazine ads that supplement its listings, and FindLaw has an existing catalogue of lawyers willing to spend heavily on marketing, those lawyers are real important. Some B-law grad was whispering the magic word “synergy” into the ears of the powers-that-be.
So while the purchase by Thomson West would seem at first blush to bolster the credibility of SuperLawyers, the company actually runs smack into an inherent conflict of interest that gums up the works. While it tries to build an objective rating system with SuperLawyers it is also taking big money for the FindLaw listings. And that is a big problem if you want to claim objectivity in ratings.
Over at Bob Ambrogi’s Law Sites, he writes that Thomson West intends to build a Chinese Wall of sorts between the companies. He writes:
[Christopher Kibarian, president of the Business of Law group] said that a key priority for Thomson will be to provide assurances of the independence and integrity of Super Lawyers ratings. Super Lawyers already employs a rigorous selection process, he said, one that has been recognized by bar associations and courts across the country for its credibility and sophistication. It combines peer nominations and evaluations with third-party research. Each candidate is evaluated on 12 indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement. Selections are made on an annual, state-by-state basis.
On top of that, Thomson will create an independent advisory board to ensure the integrity and independence of the ratings process.
Will it operate independently? Ask yourself this: Do you trust any company that would exploit a dead child for ad copy on a faux-blog?
FindLaw’s credibility is currently around zilch. And that means that everything that comes near it will be adversely affected. Thomson West will try to build up the SuperLawyer’s brand, which already suffers from credibility problems. But as long as they keep FindLaw’s dreck-blogs, they will run into continuing problems. And that is in addition to the conflict and credibility issues.
If Thomson West has any hope of success here it will have to figure out way to rise to a higher place. As the legal blogosphere confronts ugly lawyer commercials, ghostbloggers (more, more and more) comment spammers, and marketing hustlers of every stripe, the major companies should be trying to reassure its customers that if they are entrusted with the marketing of a lawyer (and therefore with the lawyer’s ethics) they won’t screw things up. And right now, the opposite is happening.