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Just over two years ago, I created the inaugural Australian Law Firm Rankings, which worked on the basic assumption that the bigger and the more notable a law firm is, the more people would be wanting to talk about it. And what better way to measure this than to ask Google.

Here are the rankings updated, for 2011.

There have been some slight changes in methodology, in an attempt to focus the search results down to the pages that truly matter. Starting with what we used for the 2009 rankings:

"law firm name" law

this has been supplemented by search terms that remove pages from the law firm’s own web site and from some particular web-based directories (the list of which is arbitrary and could well be improved). For example:

"Allens Arthur Robinson" law

For law firms with an ampersand or a plus sign in their name, additional search terms were inserted to allow for variations in spelling, like so:

("Gilbert + Tobin" OR "Gilbert and Tobin" OR "Gilbert & Tobin" OR "Gilbert Tobin") law

Now, without further ado:

Law Firm  Pages  Partners1 ’09 
1 Clayton Utz 78,900 201 6 Up
2 DLA Phillips Fox 72,400 149 10 Up
3 Minter Ellison 66,100 291 4 Up
4 Blake Dawson 57,400 175 8 Up
5 Freehills 48,500 202 1 Down
6 Mallesons Stephen Jaques 46,600 186 2 Down
7 Allens Arthur Robinson 37,900 177 3 Down
8 Corrs Chambers Westgarth 25,700 108 9 Up
9 Maddocks 23,500 53 12 Up
10 Baker & McKenzie 21,200 90 13 Up
11 Norton Rose2 19,800 146 5 Down
12 Middletons 18,900 67 17 Up
13 Sparke Helmore 18,500 49 16 Up
14 Cooper Grace Ward 16,000 24
15 Holding Redlich 15,600 55 14 Down
16 Henry Davis York 10,100 52 22 Up
17 Gilbert + Tobin 9,470 55 15 Down
18 Piper Alderman 9,170 57 21 Up
19 Hunt & Hunt 7,130 55 7 Down
20 Arnold Bloch Leibler 6,990 29 20
21 McCullough Robertson 6,490 46 19 Down
22 HWL Ebsworth 5,320 120 27 Up
23 Kennedy Strang3 4,970 72 31 Up
24 Griffith Hack 4,890 30
25 Gadens 4,470 125 11 Down
26 TressCox 4,270 35 23 Down
27 Davies Collison Cave 2,990 36 24 Down
28 Hall & Wilcox 1,780 30 28
29 Thomsons Lawyers4 1,250 47 30 Up
30 Lander & Rogers 815 47 26 Down
31 Moray & Agnew 596 59 29 Down
32 Macpherson+Kelley 340 51
33 Colin Biggers & Paisley 324 29

1 The number of partners is the projected figure for 2 January 2011, as reported by the Australian Financial Review on 10 December 2010, page 47.
2 Norton Rose merged with Deacons, which was #5 in the 2009 rankings.
3 Kennedy Strang is a group of law firms (Kemp Strang, Russell Kennedy, Thynne & Macartney, Lynch Meyer). The reported page count is the total count for these law firms.
4 Thomsons Lawyers was called Thomson Playford Cutlers at the time of the 2009 rankings.

To get a feel for the “noise” in the page count, that is, the number of pages in the result set that do not actually refer to the law firm in question, I manually examined the top 30 search results for each law firm. For only three firms was 1 out of the 30 pages identified as spurious; the other law firms had no spurious results. This, of course, doesn’t mean the signal-to-noise ratio remains constant as one progresses towards the tail end of the search results; Google’s algorithms, by now, are probably quite good at getting the more relevant pages to appear in earlier search results.

Mandatory reading (for those of you who have read this far and have taken everything seriously): xkcd on using Google to measure things

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These rankings have been updated for 2011!

Other law firm rankings go by revenue, the number of partners, or some other measure of bigness. But in this Web 2.0 world, shouldn’t we be looking at what the unwashed masses have to say? In that vein, I am proud to present the 2009 Australian Law Firm Rankings.

The basic idea is that the better the law firm, the more articles there should be on the Internet that refer to them. This is similar to the idea behind PageRank, although I can only find out the PageRank of a firm’s website to the nearest integer, which is insufficiently fine-grained.

I put each of the law firms’ full names through Google in the following format: "law firm name" AND law The name is combined with the word law because firms like Gadens have rather common names that could be used in other contexts.1 The search is restricted to Australian sites, because international firms like Baker & McKenzie would be unfairly advantaged – these rankings are meant to be for the Australian market.

Ranking Law Firm Page Count Partners2
1 Freehills (*) 20,000 214
2 Mallesons Stephen Jaques (*) 19,600 197
3 Allens Arthur Robinson (*) 19,500 197
4 Minter Ellison (*) 18,600 286
5 Deacons3 18,200 133
6 Clayton Utz (*) 17,300 223
7 Hunt & Hunt 15,200 56
8 Blake Dawson4 (*) 14,800 182
9 Corrs Chambers Westgarth 9,700 120
10 DLA Phillips Fox 8,010 164
11 Gadens 6,210 109
12 Maddocks 6,160 53
13 Baker & McKenzie 5,950 91
14 Holding Redlich 5,720 49
15 Gilbert + Tobin 4,830 54
16 Sparke Helmore 4,760 57
17 Middletons 4,260 64
18 Dibbs Abbott Stillman 3,330 68
19 McCullough Robertson 3,300 39
20 Arnold Bloch Leibler 3,260 28
21 Piper Alderman 3,080 56
22 Henry Davis York 2,510 50
23 TressCox 2,170 48
24 Davies Collison Cave 1,800 34
25 Herbert Geer 1,530 47
26 Lander & Rogers 1,400 42
27 HWL Ebsworth 1,310 99
28 Hall & Wilcox 1,290 27
29 Moray & Agnew 910 53
30 Thomson Playford Cutlers 335 37
31 Kennedy Strang 252 95

1 This is very rough and some irrelevant hits might still be returned. However, it appears to be “good enough” via inspection of some of the hits found.
2 The number of the partners is stated at 2 January 2009, and sourced from the Australian Financial Review, 12 December 2008, page 46.
3 “Deacon” is a common word and the search with this law firm’s name was particularly problematic with many irrelevant hits; the page count is therefore probably higher than what it should be.
4 Full disclosure: I currently work at Blake Dawson as a summer clerk.
* The firms with an asterisk are the Big Six law firms.

For comparison, I used the same methodology on UK firms, this time switching the domain to .uk. Clifford Chance, with 236 partners in the UK, returned 19,000 hits. Linklaters, with 227 partners, was second, with 12,800 hits. Thirdly, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer scored 12,500 hits; it has 219 partners and counsels, roughly counted from their website. Interestingly, this is the same order as reported by The Lawyer Global 100 2008, which ranks law firms by total revenue!

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You may know that I write for the Wikipedia Signpost, and recently, I wrote an article for it on the comparison between Wikipedia and Google Knol. In the end, the article I wrote was substantially overhauled by the editor because it was an opinion piece biased towards one view – intentionally. Although opinion sometimes does make it into the Signpost, the editor felt that was not the time nor place for it, and so he rewrote most of it in a more objective style. So it’s old news, but instead of wasting (somewhat) good prose, here it is:

Google usually makes a noisy entry wherever it dares to tread, and this week’s announcement of Knol, a site that will host user-generated articles was no different. Wikipedians, however, should have nothing to fear.

Knol, which is currently only accessible to a select few who have been invited, will be a site that hosts user-generated content on a wide range of subjects. The term knol was coined by Google to mean a unit of knowledge, and refers to the entire project as well as individual articles. While the jury is still out on whether Knol will be successful, or whether it will even make it to a public launch, the obvious comparison that has sparked the Internet alight is with Wikipedia.

There are some immediately apparent differences between Knol and Wikipedia. The most important one is that Knol is not a wiki. Content pages will be owned by a single author and that sole author has the responsibility of maintaining its content; users can participate by suggesting edits, or by rating or commenting on the article, but that’s about it. There is no Wikipedia-style collaboration model; in fact, it is difficult to see how there can be much of a strong community. The single author approach admittedly has its attractions, though; an author’s reputation lives and dies by his or her words, and this builds trust into the equation. However, as many have noted, this denies Knol one of the more valuable aspects of Wikipedia articles, that controversial articles are likely to have been edited by a variety of users who have had to compromise to produce a relatively neutral and balanced piece of work. The competition between different Knol pages will not necessarily result in greater utility for the end user.

This competition is what will define Knol, and this further differentiates it from Wikipedia. Writers of Knol content will have the ability to insert Google advertising into their pages and earn a cut of the resulting revenue. Wikipedia, on the other hand, is advertising-free, and the competition on this site, if you can call it that, is one more akin to a friendly meritocracy than the harsh world of chasing advertising dollars. Knol, from its very foundations, does not seem conducive to a community spirit, something that may keep editors on Wikipedia.

But maybe Google doesn’t need a sense of community. Cynically, all it needs is for people to link to Knol articles, have the pages appear close to the top of its widely-used search results and then have its advertising cash registers chinking; by comparison, sending people to Wikipedia does Google no direct financial favours. Wikipedia could lose out by having less incoming traffic, and therefore less exposure to new, potential editors.

Knol is an interesting idea that will surely stimulate debate about how the face of user-generated content should proceed. It currently appears as neither friend nor foe, but as another choice for users that will probably satisfy its own niche.

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I’m surprised I didn’t know about this till recently, but Google Blog Search is something that no blogger should ignore. (Here are some other, albeit somewhat old, first impressions.) Apparently, Google believes in blogs — “Google is a strong believer in the self-publishing phenomenon represented by blogging…” — and extends their search prowess to the world of blogs. It looks and feels just like the standard Google search, but one must ask the question: why bother searching blogs? After all, aren’t blogs (like this one), just filled with the immature rants of wannabe writers who just wouldn’t cut it in the real world of journalism?

No, I don’t believe it’s true in general. Sure, the quality of blogs does vary quite a bit — but they all serve some kind of a purpose. Whether it’s a professional blogger contributing in his or her field of expertise, or a university student writing about life, the universe and crap like that, it’s all because they have something to say. The ability to link between blogs and comment on blogs creates a kind of dynamic that encourages people to think — instead of merely being passive consumers. That is a great thing to see. I suppose Andrew Keen wouldn’t agree, but just because he’s published in dead tree form doesn’t amount to much: see the Wikipedia Signpost review. By being able to search exclusively in blogs, you too can participate in this part of the Internet — participate in free speech. You can find out things that traditional media will not cover — how-to’s in obscure topics, political rants that match your persuasion. The results you get are pretty good — see this description of how it all works. Yes, Google’s thorough.

For bloggers, it is important that you are indexed by search engines, even if you are a small time blogger like me. What’s the point of writing publicly if you don’t actually intend on anyone reading it? I had known of Technorati before this, but Technorati has many irritations that other bloggers have covered and I won’t cover here; anyway, Google’s overtaken it. To ping Google Blog Search, just add to your list of servers to ping.

In other news, Google Maps features content for the 2007 federal election. Click on the “My Maps” tab and it’s under the “Featured content” part. Overlay the party colours onto the map of Australia, and you’d be surprised about the land area that the Liberals/Nationals represent!

On a final note, Google Blog Search and these special maps rather emblematic of the problem that Google has so many fantastic services written by so many fantastic engineers that just aren’t seeing much of the light of day because… there are just so many of them.

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I recently signed up to Google AdSense when I converted the main site search to using Google Custom Search. (The revenue share on my accounts page is listed as 0.0% for some strange reason though; I’m not sure what that means, but Google doesn’t actually publicly reveal what share of the revenue they give you, so I’m not too worried about that.)

Now, I’m trialling Google referral ads as well. Because my site’s primary purpose isn’t to make me money, I’ve tried to make them as unobtrusive as possible. Currently, they’re only showing on static pages (such as the home page), and they’re just ads for Firefox and Google Pack – two pieces of software that I’m more than happy to recommend. I definitely won’t be going down the AdWords path just yet – I don’t have positive association with those types of advertisements.

By the way, this is the truth.

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