Avvo: Up to 5, Down from 10

While dozens of upstarts in the legal services market made a  splashy entrance before swiftly falling into the abyss of worthlessness, Avvo has stuck.  It  wasn’t at all clear whether Avvo, the self-proclaimed lawyer rating service, justified by its altruistic claim that it would bring transparency to lawyers for the benefit of legal consumers, would survive.  It’s still there.

Over time, it shifted from lawyer rater to marketing promoter,  quietly changing its focus for the true purpose of any startup, to make a buck.  Advertising makes money. Rating lawyers (and later physicians and dentists) makes squat.  Yet, the ratings remain, without which Avvo would be no different than the rest of upstarts.

In the beginning, like many curious lawyers, I grabbed my Avvo profile and put in some stuff to see what I could make of my rating.  It started the day as a 6.5 and ended as a 10, the highest rating Avvo gave.  We had some fun playing with Avvo that day, but our work was done and that was the last time I bothered screwing with my profile.

When a lawyer is rated AV by Martindale-Hubbell, the rating remains for the rest of his career.  Yesterday, I learned that Avvo ratings don’t work quite the same way.  I was told that my Avvo rating, 10 as of the end of business on day 1, had decayed.  As of yesterday morning. I was a 9.7.  I didn’t feel any less competent, so I asked my pal and Avvo’s general counsel, Josh King, what I did to become a worthless, crappy 9.7, when once I was a masterful 10.

Aside: I actually sent an email to both Mark Britton, Avvo’s CEO, and Josh.  While I heard back from Josh right away, not a word from Mark, which made me sad as Mark and I used to hang out together in warm climes.  Sadly, I think Mark doesn’t likes me anymore since I told him his baby was ugly .

Josh explained that Avvo ratings, unlike a M-H rating, decay.  Not for everyone, but for some. Here’s how Josh explained it when I asked him whether a lawyer’s rating decline if they don’t continue to participate in Avvo:

The answer is . . . it depends.  The Avvo Rating algorithm takes into account many biographical details in a lawyer’s background, and there is an “aging factor” that goes into how those details impact the rating.  As time passes, years of experience will count more, and past misconduct will count less.  Speeches, publications, awards, etc will all contribute less as time marches onward.  So depending on the score and the amount and type of information in a lawyer’s profile, the score could go up, go down or stay the same.

In other words, for the lawyer with one year’s experience, his Avvo rating is likely to improve after five years because he’s no longer a rookie.  For the n00b, experience will count heavily. In contrast, for the more experienced lawyer, another five years means little, and if he doesn’t update his profile with new stuff, his rating will decrease.  And the lawyer in the middle remains in the middle, for whatever good that does him.

What this means is that if you claimed your Avvo profile in the beginning, then did what every thoughtful attorney does and ignored it since, there is a good chance that you’re rating will slide.  If you weren’t a baby lawyer back when, and want to keep your rating, you have to go back to Avvo and tweak it with new blood.

Why bother? A damn fine question.  The only answer is that to the extent potential clients (or adverse counsel, to the extent they buy into ratings) think ratings matter, you’re better off with a higher rating than a lower one.  While Avvo acknowledges that it’s ratings may be slightly flawed, and only a blithering idiot would retain counsel based on its ratings, the fact remains that if potential clients run you down on the interwebz and happen to come across Avvo, they may well compare your ratings with those of your competition. Silly as it is, what would you think if you saw one lawyer with a 10 and another with a 9.7? That’s what they think too.

And despite all reason, non-lawyers like easy to digest rules of thumb like lawyer ratings.  It’s hard to figure out which lawyer is best. It’s easy to distinguish a 10 from a 9.7. That’s how life works.

As for me, I updated by Avvo profile by adding in a new article (I had quite a few to choose from, and so picked “Avvo’s Turn For The Worst.”  Then I figured a new award would do the trick, and took my inspiration from Avvo’s new celebrity legal analyst (and Gloria Allred’s baby girl), Lisa Bloom,  As I was piddling 9.7 and Lisa was a player at 10, I carefully studied the awards she listed to reach that peak: 

Her latest was that she was listed in Marquis’ Who’s Who in American Law, but since I had been in there (not to mention Who’s Who in the World) since the 80s, it wasn’t going to help.  And the closest I came to her 2007 Telly Award was my wife’s annoyance at my hogging the remote control.  But “Best Dressed Woman of the Year”?  I could work with that.

And by the end of the day, I was a ten again.

The shame of all this is that regardless of the ridiculousness of playing the Avvo game, once you’ve claimed your profile and obtained a rating, they own you. Josh told me that participating in that mutt of a concept, Avvo Answers, isn’t necessary to maintaining a good rating, and won’t stop the decay.  But you are forced to go back to Avvo from time to time to stick something new into your profile or find out that you’re sliding down the slippery slope of Avvo love. 

And in the brave new world of the internet, and in the minds of potential clients who rather have a 10 than a 9.7 lawyer, the choice is to either play the game by Avvo’s rules or get screwed.  Avvo’s growing up, and it’s an uglier five year old than it was an infant, and yet you’ve either got to give it a kiss or suffer the consequences. And it’s only going to get worse from here.

22 thoughts on “Avvo: Up to 5, Down from 10

  1. Nancy Myrland

    Hi Scott. It doesn’t surprise me, nor turn me off, that a lawyer has to go back in to update his/her profile. After all, this is a ratings service, and one’s rating 10 years ago might have little to do with his behavior today, or it might.

    Anything short of a need to update, and Avvo would simply be a lawyer directory. I won’t speak to the validity of lawyer rating services as they are an unwieldy beast that plague many a lawyer and legal marketer, but I do know that, if one has decided it is important enough to be listed somewhere, and one really cares about it, then, of course it should be updated. The same goes for any information or profile one has “out there.” To leave current accomplishments, training, experience and other information that give an up-to-date picture of what you’re all about is to sell you short. If you don’t care about profiles, then forget them, but if you do, and feel they are good for your business (your decision), then keep them all updated.

  2. SHG

    Hi Nancy. Aside from the possibility that your view is slightly skewed by your work as a legal marketer, it misses a critical point. Unless there is reason to conclude that a lawyer’s skills have diminished, why would his rating diminish? There’s no rational basis for this, other than being coerced into feeding the Avvo beast.

    But the question isn’t whether a lawyer “cares about profiles,” but that once the profile is rated, no one wants to have their rating drop. It’s not about enhancing one’s online profile, but not having one’s online profile go into the toilet.  Even lawyers who don’t market themselves aren’t thrilled about unwarranted negatives.

  3. Nancy Myrland

    Scott, actually my work as a legal marketer causes me to be more informed, but definitely not skewed. I’ve been a marketer for much too long to be skewed, or swayed, in a direction that does not make sense to me. There is a difference.

    I did not miss the point you stated above. You were making a few points, so I chose to tackle the one about keeping one’s profile current.

    I agree with you in questioning why a rating’s drop should be precipitated by a lack of update on your update. I, too, don’t understand the rationale for this. If the day you establish your profile makes you a 10, then that is your baseline upon which all updates, feedback and ratings should be based. It appears that is not the case, which I am sure our Avvo friends will address once they read this post.

    Heaven forbid they comment on Twitter, though! 🙂

  4. Jordan Rushie

    From a business perspective, why would you ever go back to Avvo once you’ve reached 10?

    Sadly, clients rely on this bullshit. I recommended a very good criminal defense attorney to my former secretary. I actually met this lawyer in court after he butchered a few cops on the stand, and we became friends.

    But she didn’t end up retaining him. Why?

    “I Googled this other guy and he was ranked real high on Avvo. Your guy had like a 6.3. I went with the better guy.”


  5. SHG

    Providing tranparency for the legal consumer…

    Ironically, Avvo does provide transparency: It shows which lawyers need to hype themselves to get business. 

  6. Eric L. Mayer

    I was previously a 7.2. Then, I had a hearing that went very well for my client. Upon return from that trip, I discovered that my rating shrunk to 7.1. It’s not about how well you do, it’s about how well you toot your own horn (earned or not).

    I guess I wasn’t as well dressed as I should have been.

    Oh, and, you complaining about your drop from 10 is like Warren Buffett going ballistic about a coke machine eating his $.50.

    Try living in the Avvo-C-grade-or-below leper colony for awhile. We don’t get the luxury of receiving calls from psycho and entitled potential clients who found that you are Avvotacular.

  7. SHG

    I use myself as an example to avoid dragging anyone else through the mud. But, yeah, kinda makes Avvo seem like the perfect metaphor for the digital natives, all bullshit, no substance.

  8. Jordan Rushie

    My former boss, who I refer to as “James” on my blog ,is rated a 6.7. He has tried many jury cases and is about to retire with a bunch of yachts and vacation homes.

    My Uncle Jim, a seasoned commercial litigator who has tried many jury trials where the amount in controversy was over $1m, is also rated a 6.7.

    Both these guys have very successful practices they started over 20 years ago. When I get jammed up, they usually get a telephone call.

    However, my partner Leo, who has been in practice since 2010, is rated a 9.3. I am rated an 8.1. In other words, we’re ranked higher than the guys we call for advice. It’s almost comical.

    Of course, if I called them and mentioned it, both would probably say “That’s nice, child, but I’m too busy to care. I’ll give you $12 if you drop my stuff off at the dry cleaners.”

    Too bad unsophisticated clients eat this stuff up.

  9. Josh King

    Scott, you’re leaving some folks with the impression that your hard-earned honor from the world of Bronies contributed to the rise in your Avvo Rating.

    While we don’t limit what honors lawyers can enter in their profiles, only certain awards will actually contribute to the Avvo Rating. Mark wrote a post about this some five years ago: http://avvoblog.com/avvo-news/saying-goodbye-to-default-points-and-the-4th-grade-spelling-bee/.

    [Ed. Note: Notwithstanding this flagrant violation of the rules, I’m allowing the link to remain in the hope that Mark sends me a bottle of Washington State cabernet savignon.]

  10. SHG

    Don’t diss the Bronies. Don’t be a hater.

    And how is it your celebrity analyst rates a 10 when her big award is for Best Dressed? Does she hate Bronies too?

  11. Pingback: To Avvo or Not to Avvo : Jumping into the Void

  12. KS

    Is there anyway to bring down the site? Has anyone discussed these issues with the local bar? Has anyone tried a competing site that is really representative of experience? I know I’m late to post, but I too fell into this trap and crap. It’s discussing.

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