Thursday, June 21, 2007

Avvo - Lawsuit over Attorney rating website

There's an interesting lawsuit going on right now for those who are interested in lawyers and the web. A website called Avvo offers ratings of lawyers. As the San Jose Mercury News and the Wall Street Journal blog explain, some lawyers who didn't like their ratings are suing to shut down the website.

I'm particularly interested in this because I was thinking about creating a site, or sites, like that. I had registered the following web addresses as part of my plans: my-lawyer-sucks.com, my-doctor-sucks.com, review-lawyers.com, review-doctors.com. My mom told me I couldn't use the first two, so that was out. We actually started working on a site. I hired a programmer and we had a first draft, but we never figured out exactly what we wanted to do with it, and then our traffic court directory site took over and we dropped the idea. If we had stuck with it, we would have beaten Avvo to the punch, and then gotten sued like this. :-)

Basically, some lawyers are complaining that the site misrepresents the quality of the lawyers rated. There is a big difference between what Avvo does and what we were planning. Avvo makes its own assessment and rating of the lawyers, based on various factors it reviews. We were just going to allow "consumers" to rate the lawyers they had dealt with (I think . We weren't going to offer our own ratings. And we had plans for strong and prominent disclaimers, as well as a process for lawyers to challenge ratings. We even had some ideas about how to make money doing it.

Having looked at the ratings for some local lawyers (go to the site and enter a local zip code), I can say that the ratings are very much junk. A very prominent local attorney, who is widely considered the best DWI lawyer in the state (no, not me), is rated 7.2 out of 10. Their profile of him says his practice is 50% criminal defense - if I'm not mistaken, his practice is 100% criminal defense. His rating apparently suffers for a lack of "recognition." A number of other prominent lawyers in the community have similarly low ratings.

Two lawyers in the area are rated as 10s. One is pretty well known in his narrow field and deserves a very high rating in my opinion. The other, who I like and respect, and is a very good lawyer, benefits in part from a top rating for experience. This despite having one less year than me (I get 2 out of 5 for experience and a 6.2 overall). Aha, but this second lawyer has claimed the profile -- signed up with an account with Avvo and provided more information. I don't fault the lawyer for this at all. But if Avvo's system increases a lawyer's rating based on the lawyer signing up and providing more information, that's an unreliable method, and essentially a mild form of blackmail. We had a more sinister form of blackmail in mind for my-lawyer-sucks.com actually, but that's water under the bridge. :-)

Of course I'm now in the process of claiming my profile - wonder if it will help my rating? :-) Another interesting flaw I noticed in the process is the terms of use contain a very thorough disclaimer about the quality of their ratings, but that disclaimer is either not obvious or invisible on the actual ratings pages. If they need that kind of disclaimer in the registration process, why isn't it posted with the ratings?

Next in the process, I had to enter a credit card. Well, in the interest of journalism (what's happened to me?) ....

So I went through the registration process and now I'm rated 7.4. I should add some publications. That would probably help. :-)

Okay people. Form your own conclusions now.
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