Are Martindale-Hubbell and Lawyers.com Dead? Why Every Martindale Client Should Care
In August 2013, LexisNexis and Internet Brands, a California-based new media company that also owns Nolo, announced the formation of a joint venture that merged the assets of the LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® Internet marketing solutions business and the Lawyers.com consumer website with Internet Brands’ existing online marketing services for lawyers through its Nolo legal division.
Internet Brands, which started as CarsDirect.com, creates lead generation websites in nine vertical markets: Automotive, Careers, Health, Home, Legal, Lending, Licensing, Shopping and Travel. It is owned by Hellman & Friedman, a private equity firm, and is publicly traded on the NASDAQ exchange under the INET symbol.
Legal marketing insiders were naturally curious about what this “joint venture” would mean for the established and well-regarded Martindale-Hubbell ratings system and for Lawyers.com, a major consumer law site which at one time had four million unique visitors per month, and which also provided a well-known website development and SEO services to thousands of attorneys nationwide.
Have Martindale-Hubbell and Lawyers.com really been “shut down”?
Then in October 2013, a big axe fell when LexisNexis announced that 205 people who had previously worked for Martindale-Hubbell and Lawyers.com were being let go. Although there was no formal announcement by either JV partner, Law Technology News reported on the layoffs and quoted an email from LexisNexis Legal & Profession CEO Michael Walsh saying that, “Going forward, these roles will be carried out by the El Segundo-based Internet Brands team in California.” However, no one has been able to confirm if any additional employees were hired by Internet Brands to perform the thousands of monthly tasks required by Martindale or Lawyers.com clients.
For the thousands of law firms that have contracts with Martindale and Lawyers.com, there are several critical questions that remain unanswered:
What has happened to the thousands of law firms who have monthly website and SEO contracts? Is any work actually being done on their sites?
How is Internet Brands producing the SEO, social media, or blogging content for the thousands of loyal law firms who continue to pay for these services every month when everyone who did the work was fired?
How do changes get made to attorney’s websites when the New Jersey building where all the workers who did this work is currently sitting empty and on the market?
Why should law firms continue to pay for a listing on Martindale when nothing is being done to drive traffic to the website?
A quick check of the Internet Brands website earlier this month showed it didn’t mention either Martindale-Hubbell or Lawyers.com! This made us even more curious about the future of these established brands. We reached out to Internet Brands to request an interview and within days of our call, both brands suddenly appeared on their website.
We spoke with Rod Stoddard, president of the Martindale-Hubbell joint venture, who said that most of the laid off LexisNexis employees that served Martindale-Hubbell and Lawyers.com were “shared services” employees that LexisNexis found they no longer needed, citing the layoffs as a reorganization effort within LexisNexis.
Who remains to do the work?
Stoddard also said that more than 350 people from LexisNexis moved to the joint venture and that “everything is the same, we are only trying to make it better.” However, that directly contradicts what we heard from several former Martindale / Lawyers.com employees who are now looking for jobs. They couldn’t name anyone who had “moved over” to the joint venture. Furthermore, there are reports that Martindale is not taking on any new web contracts which would lead us to believe that nothing is “the same.”
Stoddard noted that the deal (which seems more like a buy-out than a joint venture) closed in November 2013, and that it is still “early days.” He said Internet Brands is very good at technology and Internet marketing, and the plan is to grow both the Martindale-Hubbell and Lawyers.com brands. From the outside, this sounds like corporate spin as there are no signs of life at either website and the blog at Lawyers.com—which was responsible for the majority of the traffic to the site -- has not been updated since October 31, 2013, when everyone was laid off!
What will happen to Martindale clients?
Based on their history, it is more likely that Internet Brands will probably discontinue the original website and SEO services offered and turn Martindale and Lawyers.com into a pay-per-lead service, just like they did with the revered publisher Nolo.
Stoddard also said that the joint venture is in the process of rolling out a different technology platform to make service and fulfillment better and to streamline the ratings process for attorneys and make it more relevant for consumers. He also said that all current client websites were being audited for improvements.
Whether or not the Martindale-Hubbell and Lawyers.com brands will survive long-term is in doubt, as are the contracts that they have with thousands of law firms throughout the country. Meanwhile, the concern by attorneys who are paying every month for content, social media and SEO for their Martindale / Lawyers.com website grows.