What Has Avvo Done For / To You? (Updated)

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:



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.

27 comments on “What Has Avvo Done For / To You? (Updated)

  1. Conrad from Avvo

    Scott – thanks for the post (and perspective that experience, is in fact, important in choosing a lawyer. We agree.)

    On the solos v. Big Law argument: I’ve just run last week’s Top 10 Lawyers Viewed report and again, solo’s dominate with 6 solo/small firm attorneys making the list. You can see the list here: http://avvoblog.com/2007/12/26/top-10-lawyers-viewed-over-christmas-week/.

    You also ask the most important question: “Has anyone been retained because of Avvo?” Clearly if the answer is no, we have failed to provide value to consumers and lawyers. I’m glad to report that the answer is a resounding yes. Look to http://www.avvoblog.com in early January where we’ll be posting a series or Lawyer Success stories that highlights real lawyers getting real clients through Avvo. (You’ll also note that many of those posts will come from solo/small firms.)

    -Conrad from Avvo

  2. SHG

    Conrad, how come Paul never stops by anymore.  Or Mark. Don’ they love us anymore?

    As for your top 10 link,  I have to side with Susan and Grant by saying that it’s one of the most remarkably unhelpful pieces to support your position that I can imagine.  It doesn’t prove your point at all, and your harping on that constantly without addressing other issues raised is making it painfully clear that Avvo has no answer.  Whoever came up with this top 10 list as a response needs a vacation,  It sucks.  And, by the way, 7 out of 10 are from Washington State.  Are you telling us that Avvo has an audience of about 12 from Seattle?  If so, we can all go home and laugh at the waste of time spent on Avvo.  Right now, that’s the way it smells from your link.

    As for your lawyer success stories, any lawyer who would become involved with such nonsense would either be utterly pathetic, incredible or on your payroll.  Why would anybody be part of the “I want the world to know that I wouldn’t have any damn clients except for Avvo” choir?  It’s just ridiculous.

    As I told Paul Bloom a while back when we chatted, you guys don’t have your finger on the pulse of American lawyers.  We’re a diverse lot, and don’t confuse the vision of a couple with the interest of the many.  Before you flit around the internet putting out Avvo fires, you need to get a much firmer grasp on what lawyers think of the things that someone at Avvo obviously believes are good answers.  They aren’t, and they aren’t helping your cause any.  While I was critical of Grant for being a little too aggressive in his attack, that doesn’t mean that Grant was wrong either. 

    If Avvo really wants to be relevant, it still has plenty to do.  The first thing you should do is start addressing, head on, the legitimate questions.  The second is to stop trying to pass off crap like your top 10 list or lawyer success stories as answers.  Unless you really think lawyers are a bunch of blithering idiots to be manipulated with such responses.  Is that what Avvo really thinks of lawyers?

  3. Conrad from Avvo

    Scott – sounds like you think I need a vacation. I’ll mention it to Paul.

    Let me ask a genuine question about the solo v Big Law issue: What would you like to know from Avvo that would provide more insight into how we are (or are NOT) helping the solo/small attorney?

    Expect Paul to weigh in soon. . . .

  4. Paul Bloom -- Avvo co-founder

    As you were taking Conrad to task, I was writing this post to address the issue that Avvo somehow hurts solo practitioners. In fact, the opposite is true and I’d like to highlight a few features that are particularly helpful to solos.

    Free web presence. Avvo gives every lawyer a free online profile, which they can update with as much information as they want, as often as they want. This is a huge benefit, in particular to the 60% of solo practitioners who do not have a web site.

    Peer Endorsements. One of the challenges solos face in competing against larger firms is the perception that one lawyer can’t have the breadth of expertise required for many cases. In fact most solos have a network of attorneys – almost a “virtual” firm – that they call on when needed. Avvo’s peer endorsements enable solos to show potential clients their network of attorneys, and therefore help them compete with other firms.

    Client reviews. Referrals from former clients are an effective way to get new clients, and Avvo’s client ratings gives attorneys a platform to let their satisfied clients communicate to a broad audience of potential clients. Yes, client ratings cut both ways and some can be negative. But as I wrote in a previous blog post, approximately 80% of the client ratings submitted to Avvo are positive. And to reduce the likelihood of abuse we require users to register prior to submitting a client rating, and a human reviews every submission before it gets posted. We reject approximately 5% of reviews.

    Avvo Answers. Answers allows lawyers to answer legal questions posted by consumers. It’s free for consumers and lawyers, and the idea is that consumers doing preliminary research on a legal issue can get some initial guidance. It also gives attorneys an opportunity to interact with consumers who are likely to need a lawyer in the near future. For the solo that doesn’t have a marketing team to drum up new clients, Answers provides an opportunity to get in front of a pretty targeted audience.

    Finally, based on conversations with attorneys I can tell you that solos and small firm lawyers are benefiting from Avvo, some quite significantly. For example, one attorney told us she got her first client through Avvo just 1 hour after claiming her profile, and since then has generated several more. We know our success depends on many lawyers having a similar experience.

    Separately, I take issue with Scott’s comment that “…everyone agrees, including Avvo, that this number is meaningless and silly.” Scott and I agree that consumers shouldn’t choose a lawyer based only on their Avvo Rating, or any rating for that matter. They should talk to the lawyer, meet the lawyer, and consider factors that the Avvo Rating doesn’t (communication style, fees, experience with specific cases, etc). But this doesn’t mean that Avvo doesn’t stand behind Avvo Rating. We do. It means that we believe consumers should choose a lawyer based on many factors, not just the

  5. SHG

    Hi Paul.  Good to hear from you again.

    Let’s just keep this between us girls, okay?  The big number started out as the hallmark of Avvo, and got everybody’s goat up in the very beginning.  We all agreed that no one “number” captured an attorney, but you made changes, added in the caveats and provisos, and reduced the theoretical reliance on the big number.  While you can’t exactly say it, the big number makes for a much better consumer PR draw than any meaningful rating.  We all knew that, didn’t we? 

    The problem is that big number was THE Avvo hallmark, and you can’t get rid of it because then there’s no solid brand.  After all, M-H has AV (which no consumer understood), so why can’t Avvo have a 1-10 scale, right?  But does anyone seriously contend that a number, standing alone, has any meaning?  Of course not.  But if it has no meaning standing alone, then it has no meaning period.  It’s a nice branding effort, but not more.  So lawyers who get nailed with some crappy number, often undeserved, because of Avvo’s branding aren’t happy about it.  Who can blame them?  But if you start changing numbers to please lawyers, then it turns the numbers into a joke. 

    Put it all together, and that’s why there is still a problem.  We need to run a contest to brand Avvo and get away from that nasty big number.  Would you be willing to give the winner a 10 rating?

  6. Susan Cartier Liebel

    “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.”

    Scott, I never said camouflage inexperience…I said don’t automatically brand them judgmentally with ‘use extreme caution.’ State was is known such as bar admission date and then indicate ‘too new to rate.’ That’s the truth and consumers are not stupid. They don’t need AVVO kicking new lawyers under the bus when they first step out. There are enough colleagues and the profession as a whole ready to do that. Even Consumer Reports states, ‘too new to rate.’ Let them earn their professional mettle as they must. That’s the only honest and helpful piece of information any rating system can deliver until time has passed and commentary and publications and news on the individual lawyer begins.

    Otherwise, you pretty much are restating what I have said over at Carolyn’s site…admit the PR fiasco and branding misstep, take your criticisms, sell it to your investors and revamp your marketing plan and business model. Only then do you have any shot. And imagine the real marketing brilliance of having such a real active unbridled cyberspace focus group for the whole world to see and showing your intelligent responsiveness.

    Admit this was a PR nightmare…you prematurely launched, didn’t truly understand or cultivate but in fact alienated the very people (lawyers) you require to succeed and go back to the drawing board with this new information instead of standing by this ‘algorithm’. This isn’t about lawyers’ egos. It is about really providing value to the end user, the consumer. And that’s the only way you actually have a chance of building a long term presence.

  7. SHG

    I think your “too new to rate” idea is a great one, and I agree that “use extreme caution” is inappropriate unless there is a disciplinary reason or they’re dead or imprisoned.  Paul, are you listening?

  8. Paul Bloom -- Avvo co-founder

    Hey Scott. Yes, I’m here (but on west coast time).

    New lawyers should not receive an Avvo Rating of “use extreme caution”, or anything close to that, due to their lack of experience. In general, only an attorney with a record of disciplinary santions would receive that kind of Avvo Rating. Generally, a lawyer with little experience and without much in the way of industry recognition will receive a score in the 5.0 to 6.0 range. However, some earn much higher scores. Here are a few examples:

    Heidi Hunt http://www.avvo.com/attorneys/98012-wa-heidi-hunt-33592.html

    Nathan Webb
    http://www.avvo.com/attorneys/98004-wa-nathan-webb-34342.html

    Robert Hyde
    http://www.avvo.com/attorneys/98104-wa-robert-hyde-33502.html

    I’m not sure I agree with a “too new to rate” approach, for the exact reason that Scott states: years of experience is a relevant factor in the decision making process. However, we have had suggestions that “new” lawyers be more clearly identified as such on the site, and this is something that we are considering.

    Paul

  9. Susan Cartier Liebel

    Your three examples have 4, 5 & 5 Years since passing the bar. This is not what I’m talking about.

    Show me someone who has just passed the bar this November.

    Show me a non-traditional law student with vast previous world experience like a NASA engineer who just passed the bar and will be opening a solo IP practice.

    And I disgree that baseball awards or any extracurricular activities outside of the law are relevant to a consumer’s selection. They don’t have to be part of your calculus but they should be included. There are numerous examples of bloggers who use their activities such as running and which other runners will use as basis for finding commonality. One of my clients is known as the Hockey Lawyer because of his hockey background, years of hockey coaching and they want him precisely for this reason not to mention he is a stellar lawyer just two years out but only recently got his web presence and with significant community ties and ten years working in the health care industry.

    How did you determine what someone will relate to or find relevant in their selection when you talk about culling out baseball awards?

    Too new to rate is absolutely an appropriate designation right after passing the bar with limited information. You are passing on the truth of the information you have which is limited and neither positive or negative.

  10. Paul Bloom -- Avvo co-founder

    Hi Susan,

    If you find a recently graduated lawyer on Avvo who has an “extreme caution” Avvo Rating and does not have a sanction, please let me know and I will investigate. However, I am unable to find one.

    As for the your comment regarding extracurricular activities being relevant to some consumers, I totally agree. We allow lawyers to post any awards they want and we don’t cull any data from their profile. These extracurricular activities won’t necessarily factor into the Avvo Rating, but they are there for consumers to see. In fact, we are creating new features that will enable lawyers to add information that may not be directly related to the practice of law, but provide more background information about themselves.

    Finally…as a guy who grew up in Toronto and is a huge hockey fan, I can totally understand how the “Hockey Lawyer” would be a draw for certain individuals.

    Paul

  11. Susan Cartier Liebel

    Paul,

    You recently posted somewhere (and I cannot find it) that your human reviewers removed baseball awards from one profils. This provoked the comment.

    In addition, I would like you to provide links (as you did above) to any new attorneys which fit the criteria asked about above to see what their ranking is with limited information. Are there any? Indicating too new to rank until such time as there is information (positive or negative) is the only appropriate and fair approach.

    And a commenter asked an important question on my site for which I provided a lengthy answer. You may want to check it out.

    http://susancartierliebel.typepad.com/build_a_solo_practice/2007/12/lawyer-rating-s.html#comments

  12. Real Lawyers Have Blogs

    Avvo bashing foolishness

    Why does just the mention of Avvo get lawyers all worked up? (latest posts and comments here and here) Based on the lawyer outrage about Avvo allowing consumers to comment on a lawyer’s services, you’d think Avvo actually harmed someone…

  13. UNDERDOG - Criminal/Drunk Driving Defense in Maryland, Virginia, DC

    Controversial (in New Jersey, at least) Super Lawyers adds Jon Katz to its Maryland criminal defense lawyers list.

      This posting follows up on my November 30, 2007, discussion of the highly subjective nature of lawyer rankings on the one hand, but my welcoming recognition in rankings and the media, nevertheless. The Washington, D.C., area, is an incredibly competit

  14. UNDERDOG - Criminal/Drunk Driving Defense in Maryland, Virginia, DC

    Controversial (in New Jersey, at least) Super Lawyers adds Jon Katz to its Maryland criminal defense lawyers list.

      This posting follows up on my November 30, 2007, discussion of the highly subjective nature of lawyer rankings on the one hand, but my welcoming recognition in rankings and the media, nevertheless. The Washington, D.C., area, is an incredibly competit

  15. UNDERDOG - Criminal/Drunk Driving Defense in Maryland, Virginia, DC

    Controversial (in New Jersey, at least) Super Lawyers adds Jon Katz to its Maryland criminal defense lawyers list.

      This posting follows up on my November 30, 2007, discussion of the highly subjective nature of lawyer rankings on the one hand, but my welcoming recognition in rankings and the media, nevertheless. The Washington, D.C., area, is an incredibly competit

  16. UNDERDOG - Criminal/Drunk Driving Defense in Maryland, Virginia, DC

    Controversial (in New Jersey, at least) Super Lawyers adds Jon Katz to its Maryland criminal defense lawyers list.

      This posting follows up on my November 30, 2007, discussion of the highly subjective nature of lawyer rankings on the one hand, but my welcoming recognition in rankings and the media, nevertheless. The Washington, D.C., area, is an incredibly competit

  17. UNDERDOG - Criminal/Drunk Driving Defense in Maryland, Virginia, DC

    Controversial (in New Jersey, at least) Super Lawyers adds Jon Katz to its Maryland criminal defense lawyers list.

      This posting follows up on my November 30, 2007, discussion of the highly subjective nature of lawyer rankings on the one hand, but my welcoming recognition in rankings and the media, nevertheless. The Washington, D.C., area, is an incredibly competit

  18. UNDERDOG - Criminal/Drunk Driving Defense in Maryland, Virginia, DC

    Controversial (in New Jersey, at least) Super Lawyers adds Jon Katz to its Maryland criminal defense lawyers list.

      This posting follows up on my November 30, 2007, discussion of the highly subjective nature of lawyer rankings on the one hand, but my welcoming recognition in rankings and the media, nevertheless. The Washington, D.C., area, is an incredibly competit

  19. Heidi Hunt

    I am example #1 and a bit offended. I personally got more cases dismissed in my first two years of practice then most lawyers even handle. Within five years I have built one of the most respected law firms in Snohomish County. Lawyers with 20+ years of experience call me for advice. Judges have gone on record saying they would work for only two law offices and mine was one of them. I have handled three cases for a Judge’s son. I could go on but will spare you. Bottom line is this: I have earned any high rating I may have on Avvo.

  20. Alex

    What I noticed was how Avvo rates the attorneys (low balls the great ones) and when they receive actual client ratings about 2 stars or more, those clients reviews are pushed waaayyy down the profile. What consumers need to understand is that Avvo is NOT an official reporting agency and not an authority. The site was started by a nutjob who wanted to make a name for himself. Avvo is a disgrace to professionals and the consumer.

  21. John Stevens

    Avvo sucks. They have a great YELP listing with 1 out of 5 stars as of June, 2013. Please contribute your opinion to YELP to help create a larger basis for their rating. Just google “yelp avvo” and leave them an honest review.

    [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

  22. John Stevens

    Well it won’t make much of a difference, but my thinking is that at least folks can provide a review of Avvo as a service provider.

    Anyway, Avvo still sucks.

Comments are closed.