My recent post about the Avvo lawyer rating website generated a surprising amount of angst among lawyers whose views I respect. It also brought out
Grant Conrad from Avvo to defend the service, which just seemed to get the Anti-Avvo even more worked up.
When Avvo first launched, I challenged the concept in a series of posts:
- Yippee! The Avvo Ratings Are Here!
- Avvo Day 2: Is it soup yet?
- What Took So Long? The Avvo Lawsuit
- Good Questions Coming From The Avvo Debate
- Avvo: My chat with Paul
- WSJ: Avvo Is The Source
Despite all the words that were spilled about Avvo, it remained my view that it was a silly effort of limited viability at best and of little consequence to lawyers. Well, I must have gotten that all wrong, given how much anger it has generated in Susan Cartier Leibel here and Grant D. Griffiths. On the flip side, Carolyn Elefant rejects the notion that Avvo has it in for solos and Kevin O’Keefe is resigned to the fact that Avvo’s here to stay.
The centerpiece of the Avvo ratings is the single numerical rating given a lawyer, supposedly reflecting an aggregate of competency and ethics. Essentially everyone agrees, including Avvo, that this number is meaningless and silly. While Avvo initially contended that this was a valid number, it has since disclaimed its significance and tacitly acknowledges that it is a meaningless gimmick that should not be used to make a decision on whether to retain a lawyer. This, of course, is my interpretation of Avvo’s limp, qualified endorsement of its own rating system.
While I see the issue that arises from the potential abuse of the Avvo comment system from clients and other lawyers, which can produce flame wars of inaccurate information or allegations that can falsely harm a lawyer’s reputation, this is a flaw of the internet itself. Anybody can post anything about anybody if they want to cause someone harm. Ultimately, whether it’s posted at Avvo or elsewhere, internet shaming is a part of online reality, as was fully explained by Dan Solove in his book, the Future of Reputation. And should this happen at Avvo, at least there’s someone there to complain to about who will vet the comment and remove it.
But there’s some other issue going on that is just not making it into my dense head. Susan and Grant are of the view that Avvo is harmful to small firms and solos, and favors large firms, for people looking for an attorney. Why this should be eludes me. No one will tell me why this is so, leaving me to ponder the question of what I’m missing here.
The idea of lawyer ratings is nothing new, as Martindale-Hubbell has been doing it forever. The idea of using the internet as a way of locating lawyers is, of course, relatively new, but having perused a variety of lawyer websites, it is already obviously subject to disgraceful abuse by scoundrels who will post some incredibly stupid crap about themselves to mislead potential clients to hire them.
As far as I’m aware, potential clients still have no meaningful way to find and assess the competency of lawyers, and Avvo has added little to this problem. Talk of “transparency” is overstated, as the real qualities that clients seek in lawyers cannot be quantified by a matrix or imparted by comments, friend or foe. Avvo may be something, but it’s not much of something. The endorsement of Avvo by the Wall Street Journal tends to give it greater credibility, but it’s not like the WSJ has a clue, given that it appears to be in favor of anything that allows lawyers to be searchable, including the slimy Super Lawyers show pony promotion.
So what gives? Why should Avvo evoke this much emotion? Has anybody (I mean anybody) been retained because of Avvo? Has anybody lost a client because of it? Has it made a dent in anyone’s practice? Inquiring minds want to know.
Update: Susan has posted a comment at My Shingle that explains, finally, the root of the problem:
And when a new solo who is not yet published, who does not have a significant web presence or the ability to pay for a significant web presence in the beginning and/or has only been practicing for a year, who is already fighting professional prejudice and limited knowledge of marketing is now numerically ranked lower and even branded ‘use extreme caution’ through a ‘secret’ numerical ratings system,
Now, we can finally have a real discussion about this, though I doubt that Susan is going to like what I have to say. There a reason why “new solos” and/or lawyers who have “only been practicing for a year” are not going to be ranked as highly as experienced and proven lawyers: They haven’t yet earned it. That’s one of the points in favor of Avvo.
Experienced lawyers have an advantage over new lawyers. True, being new doesn’t make you a bad lawyer, but it also doesn’t make you as good a lawyer as you’re going to be 10 years down the road. I cannot agree that potential clients should be denied the knowledge that the lawyer they are considering lacks significant experience. It is a factor in the decision-making process, and it should be a factor.
I realize that you are out there pumping the solo route, and it has many things to offer the lawyer who isn’t cut out of Biglaw cloth or needs flexibility. I understand that your efforts are geared toward showing the solos can be every bit as good a lawyer as the large firms. But the truth remains that unproven lawyers are just that: unproven. We were all there once, and we worked our way up the food chain. You earn your way to recognition, one client at a time. No one is entitled to conceal their lack of proven ability or experience.
While this is hardly an endorsement of Avvo, it is similarly not a basis for condemnation. Avvo is a stupid, useless way to pick a lawyer, but doesn’t present a danger to anyone. If a lawyer has yet to gain any accomplishments worthy of note, then let them do so. But to complain that Avvo is wrong because it reveals a lack of experience or accomplishment is the one thing for which Avvo can’t be faulted. It’s up to us, every lawyer, to make the effort to prove our worth with every client, every day. And when we do this, no one will care about Avvo anyway, because they will seek our representation because of what we do, not because of what Avvo (or anyone else) has to say about us.