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Road to Riches? Rate Lawyers

Thanks to Mark Obbie at LawBeat for pointing out Houston Chronicle reporter Mary Flood's May 6 report, Publications Cash in on Lawyers' Egos. The publications in question are the various lawyer-ranking directories -- Super Lawyers, Top Lawyers, Lawdragon 500 and Best Lawyers in America. But her true topic is lawyer vanity and the ways these publications cash in on it. While all these publications encourage ranked lawyers to buy self-congratulatory ads, all deny vehemently any link between ad sales and rankings. (I can't speak for the other publications, but I have personal experience helping produce a directory that ran in Fortune magazine derived from the Best Lawyers rankings, and I can attest that the rankings were set in stone long before any ad sales began.) But one fact these publications do not deny, Flood writes, is that "rating lawyers is a gold mine."

"'Lawyers have the twin objectives of advertising-driven publications like these -- they have money to spend and ego to spare,' said Houston lawyer David Berg, of Berg & Androphy, who generally makes the lists.

"Berg said there is an 'element of blackmail' when lawyers get the call announcing that they've been named and can buy tiers of ads in the shiny upcoming issue. 'You're damned if you do and damned if you don't.'"

While lawyers may be confused about the rankings, Flood suggests in a blog post that followed her article that lawyers are contributing to consumer confusion by blurring the line between advertising and editorial. Flood cites her state of Texas, where Super Lawyers runs each year as an advertising supplement in Texas Monthly magazine. Texas Monthly has no say in the ratings of any kind, Flood points out, yet "many local lawyer bios brag incorrectly that they are rated as Super Lawyers by Texas Monthly." At LawBeat, Obbie says this practice makes him cringe. "It's designed to confuse ordinary readers about who's honoring the lawyers, despite the agate-type disclaimers."

My sense is that many of the lawyers who wrongly claim they were rated by, say, Texas Monthly, are not being disingenuous. Rather, like many readers, they fail to perceive the lines between church and state in a news magazine. If it quacks like editorial content, it must be editorial content. If consumers are not to be misled, magazines need to follow strict guidelines for clearly distinguishing "advertorial" content produced by sales people from editorial content produced by editors and reporters. And whoever is selling these ads, whether it is the magazine or the directory, needs to make sure the lawyers who buy them understand what they are getting.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on May 9, 2007 at 03:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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