Like any business that is built on print advertising, LexisNexis’ Martindale-Hubbell has seen the Internet take a bite out of its business. The venerable catalog of lawyers has been online for a long time now, but the company says it’s now halfway through a two-year, multimillion-dollar project to transform Martindale.com.
“We’re the 800-pound gorilla, but we have to admit we’ve missed the tech curve,” says Ralph Calistri, CEO of Martindale-Hubbell. “Blogging, social networking and other technology has become important to our customers, but we have yet to offer up everything our customers want.”
Martindale is known primarily as a resource for lawyers and general counsel to find other attorneys to work with. The company wants to keep that core audience but to become more relevant to Web-savvy corporate consumers of legal services. That means more content, more interactive tools—social networking, blogs, RSS feeds—and new pricing plans.
So far the company is only beginning to sketch out its plans, but the first major rollout is called My Martindale Network, available now, which allows lawyers to connect with each other through the site; it will eventually be a full-featured social networking tool. And since April, lawyers have been able to add a video component to their practice listing.
The site also allows in-house counsel to set up their own lists of law firms with specifics for comparison on size, practice areas, experience and other qualities. The company calls its effort a baby step, but it also promises many more new functions.
Upstart websites like Avvo and Lawdragon are trying to take some of Martindale-Hubbell’s business, but few have been able to make inroads with Martindale’s high-end legal customers. However, its customers—no longer satisfied with just content and ratings in books—increasingly want a world of online information, too.
“It’s not enough just to have a rating. … You want to know what that rating means,” says Eugene Weitz, a Martindale customer and corporate counsel for Alcatel-Lucent in New Providence, N.J. “I’m concerned with communication and knowledge-sharing within our group, and I want the tools that can make that happen.”
The company realizes it may make some mistakes turning a venerable institution into an interactive Web service but believes its customers will come along for the ride.
“We have the data and we have trust that we’ve accumulated over many, many years,” says Barry Solomon, Martindale-Hubbell’s vice president of client development. “We have to keep our existing customers happy, but we also have to anticipate the new ways our customers want to use the service.”
The jury is still out on whether Martindale.com will become the online resource of choice for information about individual lawyers, in the way the print version has long been. But observers say the company is moving in the right direction.
“I agree that they’ve got a ways to go,” says Tom Mighell, senior counsel with Cowles & Thompson in Dallas and publisher of the legal blog Inter Alia. “But I think everything they’re doing is the right idea.”