Thursday, January 9, 2014

Martindale Hubbell: Another Legal Icon Bites the Dust. But It Was Once Worth Its Weight in Gold (and Held for Ransom)


 In August  2013 LexisNexis announced that they had entered into a joint venture with Internet Brands (the owner of Cars.com) to develop "marketing solutions" using the Martindale.com platform. Although Internet Brands is taking the lead in managing the joint venture there is no mention of Martindale on their website. Since LexisNexis owns InterAction,  the leading "contact management" product which is used in many law firms - it is puzzling why some effort was not made to integrate Martindale with InterAction and other LN sources containing rich actionable client data such as Courtlink dockets.

Blogger Kevin O'Keefe recently posed the question "Does Martindale Hubbell, as we knew it still exist?" "The answer is clearly "no," and O'Keefe wonders aloud whether the Martindale brand divorced from the legacy of Martindale Hubbell has any real meaning.  The announcement of the joint venture was followed by the layoff of most of the Martindale staff. These were the people who used to curate the surveys and data collected to evaluate whether lawyers and firms qualified for the for the "gold standard" AV rating. So what is left of the legacy?

A Reference Shelf Superstar. There was a time when Martindale Hubbell was probably the most heavily used reference book in the law library. It was not only the easiest way to locate lawyers and law firms, but it was chocked full of  other useful information. It contained summaries of the laws of all 50 states and for  hundreds of foreign countries. Need to see a sample notary form for South Dakota? Check Martindale Hubbell. Need to know the statute of limitations for breach of contract in Alabama? Check Martindale Hubbell. Need to learn about IPO requirements in Italy? Check Martindale Hubbell. Need to see the full Hague Convention on International Service of Process? You got it - check Martindale Hubbell.

The History. The Martinale Directory was created  by James B Martindale in 1868. His goal was to furnish lawyers, bankers, merchants and real estate agents with the address of one reliable, lawyer, banker, real estate office etc. in every city in the United States. In 1930 the company  purchased the rights to the Hubbell's Legal Directory which contained a digest of law for every state. The company was purchased by Reed International (LexisNexis)  in 1990. An interesting summary of the Martindale Hubbell peer review Rating system appeared in the journal Diversity and the Bar. Over the years the 2 volume set exploded into a 26 volume set containing over 1 million lawyers. It was also distributed on cd-rom, the web and on Lexis.

The Ransom Note. As I contemplated writing a blogpost, I realized that the best testament to the critical place of MH was hanging on the wall across from my desk. First you must imagine a world in which there is no World Wide Web, no Google -  your desktop is not connected to a freely available ocean of facts. On May 5, 1987 I  sent out a memo to all the lawyers at Shea & Gould pleading for the return of  the New York Martindale Hubbell volumes. This was a fairly regular occurrence. There was no firmwide email system. The style of the memo makes we wonder if it was -- yikes! -- typed on a typewriter.

The memo: "Once again both copies of the New York Martindale Hubbell are missing. Please contact the Library immediately if you know where these volumes are located." When I returned from lunch I found a ransom note on my desk. (Reproduced below) I was secretly delighted at the outbreak of pure fun mid-day.

The ransom note reads: "They're being held for ransom. If we don't receive $1 billion in small unmarked bills by one pm today, both volumes will be executed. We mean business!"

I showed it to litigation partner, Martin Shelton  who laughed and responded  "If you find out who wasted time doing this, I'm going to fire them." Then I showed it to firm's chief prankster and corporate partner, Arnold S. Jacobs of "Rule 10b-5 fame," who said "Find out who did it, I want to give them a raise." 

My best recollection is that I later discovered that it was done by two associates, a litigator and  a corporate associate. I believe they were both named "David." If only I had a 1987 copy of Martindale Hubbell, I might be able to figure it out!

I later framed the ransom note and to this day it hangs in my office as a reminder of a lost world. It is like an ancient map inscribed with exotic legends... "here be dragons."  I imagine a white gloved appraiser on Antiques Roadshow ..." What you have here is an original example of late 20th century large, law  firm associate folk art. It is virtually priceless."

Late 20th c. law firm associate folk art.

6 comments:

  1. I remember those bygone days. Wish I had worked with such fun, creative people then! Thanks for making my day!

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  2. Your post is both hilarious and profoundly sad at the same time. Reading it brought to mind the recent report that more than half of the URLs cited in U.S. Supreme Court cases point to dead pages. Your ransom note is a scream!

    Just this morning I happened upon another, less entertaining, example of the past glory of Martindale. I’d recently been asked to find a copy of the “Lawyer Statistical Report,” compiled by the American Bar Foundation. This has long been one of the most authoritative statistical compilations on the U.S. legal profession, but it seems to have fallen on hard times. The most recent compilation available dates from 2005, and that one wasn’t even made available until early last year.

    I got the volume and paged to its preface, which begins, “This Lawyer Statistical Report covers the United States lawyer population as of the year 2005. It is the thirteenth Lawyer Statistical Report published by the American Bar Foundation since 1956. Like all previous reports, the statistics presented in this report were derived from baseline information provided by the publishers of the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory. The American Bar Foundation is indebted to them for their long-standing commitment and invaluable contributions over time to publication of this and all earlier reports.”

    Is it any wonder that the A.B.F. is having trouble compiling statistics on lawyers?

    Bill Mills
    New York Law School

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  3. Coincidentally, I'm researching legal directories for my next "Practicing Reference" column.

    We are used lawyers advertising on billboards and in ads during Friends reruns--but there was a time when the bans on lawyer advertising were so strong that there were tight restrictions on what a directory could list. The ABA had a Special Committee on Law Lists for years.

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  4. When I graduated from law school I received a card asking me to supply M-H with my lawyer information. I did, in 1982. Sometime in the late 80's or early 90's I received a notification from M-H that I had achieved the AV rating. Interestingly enough, I have never practiced law, though I kept my Bar dues up as an active member until I left the state in 2002 (I've since moved to inactive status). I imagine it was from recomendations given to me by attorneys in the firm where I worked, because I periodically used to receive lists of attorney names asking my opinion of them, often for attorneys in the firm where I worked.

    This past year I started to receive emails from a LexisNexis affiliate informing me that my name was now among those listed in the "Judicial Edition AV Pre-eminent 2013" (of something, I have not been clear on what) and offering to sell me a plaque for $180, discounted to $149.

    I don't know what M-H is doing, but apparently the marketing arm of some affiliate is still trying to capitalize on vanity by offering these tokens. And no, I did not buy the plaque. Instead, I captured the image, printed it on a color printer, and thumbtacked it to my wall.

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  5. Thanks for the memories! As a former NYC law firm librarian,( in Jean O'Grady's time period), protecting the circulation of the NY volume of MH was always a challenge. The set was a true legal gem of great information on foreign laws and arbitration. I enjoyed browsing through the foreign laws, daydreaming of visiting that country. Attorneys would be surprised when you told them, what they were looking for was in MH. We always saved the NY volumes, in case the current year of "missing"!

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  6. Thanks, Jean. Your entry reminded me of how valuable a reference tool it was, back in the day. In the front page of each state, were the counties and the municipalities within them. In 2004, I had to do a 15-year spread of all the attorneys who'd been employed in my current firm. Having gone to great lengths to get the '95 and '96, I decided to keep all and now have 20 year's worth of NY/NJ M-H's (and STILL use them). The 50 state law digests were invaluable. When M-H pulled that component, sold it and you had to buy each state digest separately on Amazon, the bell began to peal funerally for the Directory.

    Last week, I opened the box with the 2014 Martindale Hubbell set. I think they're only 5 or 6 volumes, and that includes foreign law firms. Firms stopped listing in the "white" pages back in about 2003 to save money (and because their clients and other lawyers were finding the firms on the Internet). But at that point, the set had expanded ridiculously to 15-20 volumes, with a special bound volume for "advertising" by then. My firm also used to be responsible for updating the digests for its state. The Summers were wild, frantic times...but gone now for 8 years.

    Alas, poor Martindale-Hubbell. We knew you well.

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