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:
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.
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.
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.