Like everyone with a blawg, I get slammed regularly with spam comments and trackbacks, often to the tune of thousands overnight, requiring me to spend significant time banning and deleting comments written in variations of English, often amusing, selling everything from Gordon Ramsey’s cookbooks to shoes with red soles, tons of Uggs and marital aids of all sizes. It’s part of the blawger’s glamorous life.
Every now and again, the spam comes from a lawyer. The other day, it was from the Mesriani Law Group, ridiculously illiterate and blatant. Apparently, their spammer was very busy, and Eric Mayer got it as well. If it’s particularly annoying spam, I send it off to Ken at Popehat, because I know he likes to screw with lawyer spammers. Before I send it off, I sometimes check out the scoundrel sending it, just to make sure it isn’t something really special.
Yesterday, it was special. The spam came in from someone who clearly worked hard at creating his internet persona, using the website NY Criminal Lawyer. The comment was literate and tailored to the content of my post, but clearly and shamelessly self-promotional. Nothing new there. The website, however, grabbed my attention.
The “Ranked #1” language changes from screen to screen, with “Ranked #1 of 842 Criminal Defense Firms in New York City.” Click on it and it takes you to Avvo, where you find he’s an Avvo “Pro” advertiser. The lawyer’s name is Arkady Bukh, admitted to practice in 2003. His work experience, based on what he posted about himself on Avvo is somewhat limited:
|Attorney at eVeritas Inc||2005–2010|
|Contract Attorney at 1st New York Private Money||2004–2008|
His top three awards on Avvo are:
|Top Listed Lawyer||LexisNexis||2011|
I’ve never heard of him.
But what stood out was his claim about being “Ranked #1” on Avvo. That’s quite a claim, particularly since I was unaware that Avvo ranked lawyers in that fashion. So I asked my pal and Avvo’s general counsel, Josh King about it. He responded:
Yeah, that’s a weird claim – kinda like saying he’s the #1 lawyer in Google. While the Avvo Rating is our evaluation of a lawyer’s background and the likelihood that lawyer will provide competent legal representation, we also try to stress that it’s only a starting point. And when it comes to whoever is at the top of our organic listings, it may not even be the guy with the highest Avvo Rating. Our organic results are driven by a second algorithm that takes into account Avvo Rating, client reviews and percentage concentration in the given practice area.
Not quite a responsive response, so I pushed it a bit farther by asking Josh whether he’s “lying” and whether Avvo was okay with it. Take 2:
I wouldn’t call it lying, as he does have our top rating, and he does appear, at least some of the time, in the #1 slot for NY criminal defense searches. But it is somewhat misleading as we don’t do “rankings.”
Very diplomatic response, because, you know, he could have clicked on Avvo one time, saw himself at the top of the list and assume that meant he was ranked #1 out of all the lawyers, and all the criminal lawyers, in New York. And then he just mistakenly built his website and marketing scheme around this one small error. It could happen, right?
While there is certainly a question of how this lawyer got a “top” Avvo rating with such awards as being listed in Martindale-Hubbell and his illustrious career doing contract work, that goes to the dubious efficacy of Avvo. But what struck me as particularly troubling wasn’t to find another lawyer promoting himself with garbage claims, as the boulevard is lousy with lawyers in hotpants strutting their stuff.
What troubled me was that Avvo would allow itself to be used as the core of deceptive advertising. Josh told me that he sent Arkady Bukh an email informing him that “a concern had been raised” and “explained that we don’t ‘rank’ anybody.” Something tells me that an explanation wasn’t the problem.
I would think that the enterprises that claim legitimacy in rating lawyers (not to mention doctors and dentists these days) would want to protect their legitimacy from abuse and deceptive use. I would think this would be hugely important, because if they become captive to schemes and scams, they’re no better than the lawyers who abuse them.
While I may not be much of a fan of lawyer marketing, it’s not my place to challenge honest, accurate and legitimate self-promotion. This doesn’t cut it. This is the crap that disgraces lawyers, deceives the public and races headlong into the gutter. And it takes Avvo with it for the ride. If I was Avvo, I would not be pleased and would not bend over backward to explain it away.
And before someone accuses me of beating up on some poor schmuck who is just trying to make a living by creating a fake internet persona, all bully-like, let’s be clear on one thing. I didn’t go searching the internet for lawyers strutting around in hotpants. This lawyer rammed it down my throat by trying to use SJ as part of his marketing scheme and begging for attention. He just got more of it than he bargained for.