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It’s hard to say “No, thanks” when being complimented.


[At the bottom is a template memo you may circulate within your firm to
explain to your lawyers why you will not be buying an ad in a vanity directory.] 

I’ve written extensively about “Vanity Directories” like Who’s Who and other debatable, spurious, or pay-to-play “honors” that resemble “AwesomeLawyers’ International Hall of Fame.”  This is mostly because I resent spending precious marketing dollars on activities that are not proven to generate revenue. Here’s an actual quote from a marketing friend before he started a new vanity directory:

“I’m selling ego to lawyers, Ross. I’m going to make a fortune.” 

For more information on that subject, my most-popular rant on that topic is available at Attorney at Work.

I’ve been in-house as a marketing director and marketing partner when a steady stream of proud lawyers would stop by my office to proudly announce that they’d been “selected” for some major honor I knew to be dubious.  They would then ask to spend my marketing budget to buy a costly ad in the publication, which they’d been assured would likely generate new clients.

I needed to nip these requests in the bud.

I eventually circulated a memo designed to decline these frivolous expenditures — without hurting the lawyers’ feelings. Since then, the memo has become popular with legal marketers and Fishman Marketing law firm clients, who all seem to have the same issue.

Anyway, below are (1) my thoughts on this topic, and (2) the sample Memo you may circulate in your own firm to explain why you will be declining to pay for these advertisements or listings.

There’s some evidence that buying ads in these publications may actually hurt your reputation with sophisticated clients. Some especially opinionated general counsel have told me directly that law firms who buy these ads “must run their firms badly if they waste their money on these ridiculous directories,” and “obviously do not understand how we hire lawyers.”

Declining invitations.

Without commenting on the credibility of any specific “Gosh, You’re a Wonderful Lawyer”-type publication, we know that a small handful of them are quantitatively valid, others are qualitatively arguable, and the rest are bogus, high-pressure, pay-for-play, ego-driven, money-grabbing advertorials that exist purely because the rapacious publishers know that some lawyers will buy anything if you (1) stroke their egos, and (2) tell them that their competitors have already bought one.

No offense intended — lawyers don’t get their egos stroked very often, and it’s always nice to have someone tell you you’re special. Plus, because they’re not professional marketers, they don’t encounter these types of publications very often; they just don’t have the same experience that in-house marketers do.

I wrote the following memo to stave off the assaults by the countless illegitimate vanity directories that have sprung up, and to persuade your lawyers to decline to participate after they have been “selected” — without embarrassing them or making them feel duped.

As we know, often many lawyers in a firm will be simultaneously offered the “honor” of being listed in a useless directory or promoted on a low-traffic website. Many of these publications’ high-pressure salespeople have been trained to avoid the law firms’ more-experienced marketing professionals and instead contact the “honored” attorneys directly, and play to their egos and insecurities.

Of course, there’s no harm in letting the lawyers feel good about themselves for having been selected, even for what we suspect is a marginal honor. I just don’t want them wasting scarce marketing resources buying the $10,000 display ads or $3000 individual listings (multiplied times your eight selected lawyers), or the leather-bound book, or crystal trophy, or mahogany wall plaque — unless those purchases appropriately advance the firm’s marketing plan and don’t suck dollars away from legitimately strategic and revenue-generating activities.

Therefore, I don’t tell them that I had my 22-year-old secretary selected for the same honor, e.g. Who’s Who in the World or something like that (I honestly did once, just to check). When I was marketing in-house, as soon one of my lawyers mentioned having been selected, I’d immediately contact the directory publishers and see who else from my firm “earned” a spot on their list. Then I’d circulate the memo below to each of them.

Feel free to use it yourself, if you think it’d help.

Good luck.



TO: [Names of “Honored” Lawyers]


RE: [Name of Directory]

Congratulations on being selected for inclusion into [Name of Vanity Directory]!  If you have not heard from them already, you can expect to be contacted shortly to purchase an expanded biographical listing or print ad in the latest edition [or website].

According to their promotional literature, [insert information from their website discussing their selection methodology, for example: “Thousands of licensed attorneys were mailed questionnaires that inquired, ‘To who would you refer a close friend who had been hit by a car?’ Multiple mentions by local attorneys results in a nomination”].

This organization declares as its purpose [insert quote here, e.g. to provide clients and prospects with the names of skilled attorneys who can handle their local legal matters.”]

Candidly, most publications like this were created simply to sell [$3,000 individual biographies and $10,000 print ads] to the nominated lawyers. Although I believe it is a legitimate honor to have been selected for inclusion in [Name of directory], I strongly discourage our paid participation in these magazines.

There is no hard evidence that any actual executives or in-house lawyers actually read these materials, or use them to hire their lawyers. Our sophisticated target clients seek relationships and referrals; they don’t hire names out of an advertorial.

Do not succumb to their high-pressure tactics or veiled threats that “Your competitors are already buying their listings, and grabbing the best placements. What would your clients think if they saw your competitors being listed and not you? We’ve heard of some lawyers losing valuable clients because of it. You must act now.”  There is no actual evidence of this ever happening, and it stretches credibility to even think that it might.

The law firm marketing community is very aware of, and universally condemns, this type of vanity publication, and their waste of marketing funds that could be used for more strategic purposes (see e.g. the “Attorney at Work” article at We are delighted that your personal achievements have earned you this honor.  Feel free to add it to your firm biography or LinkedIn profile, but the advertisements do not fit into the firm’s marketing or strategic plans.

If you receive a call from them, I would ask that you either (1) firmly decline to participate, or (2)  direct the salesperson to me. Please feel free to call me for more information if you have any questions.