New Lawyer-Rating Site Avvo Already Under Fire

Advertising “Free ratings and profiles for every lawyer so you can choose the right lawyer,” Avvo promises to guide consumers to the “right lawyer” like Consumer Reports guides consumers to the right shampoo. Avvo was controversial from the get-go, and called a flat-out scam by Seattle class-action lawyer Steve Berman, who is now suing Avvo for deceptive practices and violations of Washington’s consumer protection laws.

It is an interesting idea: that lawyers can be rated like vaccuum cleaners or wine. Many many lawyers have long survived on referrals from satisfied clients and other attorneys, but Avvo take the approach that a lawyers public record is enough. Avvo suggests the following “fundamental” requirements:

  • Good standing with the state bar association: In other words, the bar association–which licenses attorneys in your state–believes this lawyer is fit to practice law.
  • No disciplinary sanctions: A sanction is a disciplinary action taken against a lawyer by the state regulatory agency. A sanction can be a minor reprimand, or it can be a very serious punishment like suspension or disbarment from practicing law. If you see a sanction on an attorney’s record, proceed with caution.
  • Experience with cases like yours: Most lawyers concentrate in a few areas of the law. Once you know what these areas are, it’s easier to find lawyers with the experience and skills that are relevant to your situation.
  • Good communication skills: Regardless of your legal issue, you want someone who keeps you informed and stays in touch, every step of the way. Legal matters can be confusing and your attorney is your advocate and guide. Don’t settle for anything less.

All seem like good requirements. It makes lawyers nervous to include disciplinary sanctions as a “fundamental,” but assuming the state professional responsibility board is doing its job well, I don’t see any problem with that. Just know that a disciplinary “sanction” may be due to something like a trust accounting or recordkeeping error, so a “sanction” doesn’t necessarily mean a lawyer is unethical or even sloppy. Nobody’s perfect.

Avvo also recomments you consider:

  • Is this lawyer’s office convenient to your home or office?
  • How much does the lawyer charge?
  • Is this lawyer recommended by former clients?
  • Do you care where your lawyer went to law school or how many years they’ve been practicing law?

All these are also good things to consider. So why all the fuss? The complaint just filed in federal district court (read the complaint at WSJ Law Blog) in Washington gives a few examples:

  • After lawyer Enrico Salvatore Leo added to his profile two softball awards he won, his rating increased .6 points.
  • Deborah Rhode, an Avvo board member and Stanford Law professor, scored a perfect 10, while Larry Kramer, the dean of the Stanford Law, scored a 5.7.
  • Justice Ginsburg and Justice Alito received the same rating as Lynne Stewart, the government lawyer currently serving a prison term relating to her conduct in a recent terrorism trial.

Umm, maybe the system needs a bit of work. There are also features allowing clients to rate lawyers, which leads one to wonder whether vote spamming to lower competitors’ ratings will become a problem. And, fundamentally, lawyers really aren’t like vacuum cleaners. Sure, you can check for the fundamentals, but you won’t know whether you can work with a lawyer or have confidence in their work from a ratings web site. You can try, but whether this will actually serve legal consumers in a meaningful way remains to be seen.

It will be interesting to see how the lawsuit comes out, especially since Super Lawyers, another lawyer-rating service, is under attack, as well. SAM GLOVER

[via WSJ Law Blog]

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. RogueSophist says:

    I’m not even in the database! I need to $ue the $hit out $omeone, fa$t!

    Really, though, these sites are garbage. If you want decent representation, you need to do the legwork. Talk to people you trust who have been represented in similar situations. Ask lawyers you know for trusted colleagues. Check with the state bar. One excellent yardstick is to locate some of the lawyer’s writing, much of which (for litigators) is in the public domain. You can tell a lot about a lawyer by what he files in court.

  2. Trackback says:

    [Consumerist crosspost] Advertising “Free ratings and profiles for every lawyer so you can choose the right lawyer,” Avvo promises to guide consumers to the “right lawyer” like Consumer Reports guides consumers to the right shampoo.

  3. acambras says:

    I went to Avvo.com and searched for every lawyer I can think of. Most weren’t listed (Avvo seems to be limited to only a handful of states).

    I found it interesting that my cousin (an Atlanta lawyer with 24 years of experience) got a lower rating than Andrew Speaker (the lawyer who’s been in the news after traveling with drug-resistant tuberculosis — he has 3 years of experience practicing law). Speaker might be a good lawyer, but I would certainly question his judgement after this whole TB fiasco.

    It sounds like Avvo.com should be renamed McLawyer.com.

  4. Sam Glover says:

    I’m not on there, either. I’m hoping it gets to Minnesota before it is shut down so I can ego-blog about my rating.

  5. Uh oh... Cleveland says:

    I’m rated higher than most people I graduated law school with, and I’ve never had a client or been in a courtroom.

    And what’s this site doing rating Supreme Court justices? Can I call J. Ginsburg to get me out of a speeding ticket?

    RogueSophist is right. Finding a lawyer isn’t like buying a vacuum cleaner. You need experience, you need someone you can trust, and you need someone you can work with. They don’t call it “hiring” for nothing.

  6. UnStatusTheQuo says:

    I’m a lawyer and I’m on there. I’m apparently a 5.5 out of 10. I get 5 “stars” for professional conduct, and 1 “star” for experience. I’ve been licensed for 3 years, so I guess I get docked for not being out longer. I also have no reviews.

    I find it interesting that the rating causes “years licensed” to correlate directly with “inexperienced.” That is massively misleading, as I’m an e-discovery attorney in a very specialized role, and happen to know more in that role than many of the “codgers” out there. No offense to any codger, I hope to be practicing that long! =)

    Usually, an attorney with some degree of sense won’t even take clients on that even appear to have an attitude problem because those are usually the clients who will not be happy with any result.

    What I’m more concerned about is the client or attorney on the OTHER SIDE of a case logging on to the site and making up some lie or lies and posting it… which is exactly what the class action complaint is about—the ability to game the system.

    I’m guessing the site will not last in its current form, if at all. Too much chance for libel.

    Plus, if you’re at all concerned about what lawyer you’re hiring, call the attorney registration and disciplinary commission of your state and inquire about the attorney’s history/sanctions/etc.

  7. Sudonum says:

    Whenever I wanted to do some research on lawyers I used this site
    [www.martindale.com]

  8. TechnoDestructo says:

    Maybe if they didn’t try to score law

  9. TechnoDestructo says:

    Maybe if they didn’t try to score lawyers, and just tried to be like Carfax for lawyers they wouldn’t have these problems?

  10. Sinflux says:

    @TechnoDestructo: that already exists. Every state bar has this information publicly available.

  11. alerievay says:

    I find this pretty amusing. I searched for some lawyers I personally know are regarded as top 5 or 10 in their fields, and each scored in the 6s. A lawyer with 35 years of experience got 3 stars for experience. It seems to put a lot of weight in things like bar memberships, which don’t necessarily mean much. This kind of system might work for solo practitioners or smaller firms/markets, but it’s certainly not worthwhile in the NYC market.

  12. Crazytree says:

    any comments on Martindale-Hubbell?

    I’ve seen some true idiots with AV ratings and some of the best trial lawyers I know aren’t rated at all.

  13. I get .2 points higher than my brother because I’ve been admitted 2 more years than he has. I rate as a “mediocre” lawyer because I get 5 stars for “professionalism” and 1 for “experience.” My father, who’s been in practice since the beginning of time, is not listed. (Despite being in an area they cover.)

    My husband is listed twice, the information is not all correct, and you appear to get a rating bump for reporting the percentages of your practice focused on each area.

    I think that’s fairly sleazy that you get a ratings bump as an incentive to fill out your profile. I’m going to fill mine out and see how much I bump as an experiment.

    I also noticed that at least in MY local area, plaintiffs’ lawyers generally rated much higher than defense lawyers when there were no other differences between the two lawyers. And that if you sort by rating, it’s really almost the same as sorting by age, since “experience” is entirely how long you’ve been admitted and that’s apparently 50% of your score.

  14. (Okay, I’m not updating my profile, they want credit card info for you to do that.)

  15. Sam Glover says:

    I totally brought out all the lurking lawyers with this post. YOU ARE ALL EXPOSED!!!

  16. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    Here’s how I rate a lawyer:

    1. If they have Esq. or Esquire after their name, he/she is an asshole!

    2. If they have J.D. after their name, he/she is an asshole!

    3. If they have LLB. after their name, he/she is an asshole!

  17. TSS says:

    Dude this thing is a joke. I’m on there with a 7 and I have never practiced a day! And I’m more than a little disturbed that there is a map of my house on the page!

  18. acambras says:

    @Sam Glover: LOL

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik:
    That makes me laugh. My dad practiced law for 45 years and he never put that stuff after his name. In fact, if a new office staffer put “Esq.” after my dad’s name, he would ask them to delete it. My dad doesn’t go for the pretentious.

  19. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    I just looked up a few lawyers in Chicago.
    Tom Breen & Ed Genson, two of the best defense lawyers around, both get a 6.5. Genson is currently defending Conrad Black in federal court.

    Even better, US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald gets a 6.5.

    But Avvo can’t find such luminaries as Alberto Gonzalez, Barack Obama or Monica Goodling

    It seems almost every lawyer listed gets around a 6.5, but a few were slightly lower.
    The site is a sad, pathetic joke!

  20. @Crazytree: “any comments on Martindale-Hubbell?”

    My understanding is that M-H surveys attorneys about other attorneys, and that there’s a lot of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” that occurs. Politically-connected lawyers almost always are rated AV, and someone ABOUT to run for politics suddenly starts currying ratings from friends.

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: *Laughs ass off*

  21. ShrutiPittheus says:

    Has anyone had any success in removing their profile? I found out about this randomly and saw my profiile.

    Does anyone what the latest is?