The issue is a rather complicated one and much depends on the nature of the firm, its areas of emphasis, the types of clients it is seeking to attract, the amount of funds available, competitive activity, etc.
Having said that, it is important to recognize that the pendulum is certainly shifting towards on-line usage (up approximately 70%) vs. print directory usage (down up 40%). A look at one’s own media consumption habits would probably reveal that if you’re a baby boomer or younger, you use the internet more often when seeking contact information about a company. It’s usually more accessible (computer’s right there), and quicker (not to mention a whole lot less heavy). If desired, you can also immediately find out a great deal more information about a company or firm. In addition, for law firms with a business-to-business focus, or for those who enjoy a broader geographical service area, the print directories may be less influential.
Yet the world is filled with highly successful Personal Injury attorneys for example, who have done quite well for themselves through traditional “yellow page” advertising. Their track record speaks for themselves. But analysis of that track record needs to ascertain at exactly what level that advertising effort paid out. Individuals perusing through what are largely indistinguishable full page or double-truck ads for what should be a serious purchase may be “fishing.” Print directories may offer more prospects, but are they “qualified” prospects? There is a cost in screening out the wheat from the chaff.
In addition to the PI area, print directories may be useful for some of the more consumer-oriented practice areas such as family law and in particular, elder law, where one of the target groups (the elderly) may not be as comfortable with the new technologies.
Probably the best advice one can give is to test, test, test. Determine the cost vs. benefit scenario for alternative scenarios (including maintaining print presence, but perhaps reducing ad size). This may take some time (and effort in terms of tracking), but it will allow the firm to move forward more confidently with its directory program.