Rating White Bread and Lawyers

In a peculiar post, Carolyn Elefant at  My Shingle questions whether lawyer ratings can ethically co-exist with “lead generation

Public demand for lawyer ratings is on the rise.  As the above graph from Google Trends  shows, searches for the terms “attorney reviews” have increased five-fold in the past five years.

The push for lawyer reviews is hardly surprising.  Today’s consumers routinely check ratings before reserving hotels, buying books or selecting a roadside diner.

As I’ve been saying  for years, like it or not, lawyers  can’t stop this ratings train.

This reflects what may be the most pervasively misunderstood aspect of social media marketing, As marketeers have come to realize, the page of a lawyer’s website that gets the most view is invariably his bio, which they’ve misconstrued to believe to be a critical force in gaining potential clients off the internet.  Dopes.

People aren’t finding lawyers on the internet, but verifying them, trying to ascertain whether they’re any good. They already have a name, and they go to the lawyer’s bio to check them out, just as they look to reviews and ratings as a means of distinguishing between ten different loaves of white bread.

But what happens when the same entity that purports to rate lawyers makes its money off “lead generation”?

Consumers want ratings, that much is clear.  But pay-per-lead systems can’t give consumers ratings or recommendations if they want to remain ethically compliant – because a rating or referral transform the ethically permissible pay-per-lead into a  pay-for-recommendation/referral.

No, it can’t.  This is where  Avvo’s initial effort on selling the legal profession on the legitimacy of its ratings fell off the cliff. No one who pays any attention at all believes that Avvo ratings are real, though they claim it’s all some magical algorithm and they would never tweak the numbers. Much. But the public thinks Avvo is real. They want to think Avvo is real, because it enables them to do what would otherwise be too hard to do on their own, decide which loaf of white bread to buy.

After reading Carolyn’s post, I spent a few minutes listening to my buddy Josh King, Avvo’s general counsel and, oddly, webinar ethics guru, explain why it’s completely ethical to buy whatever Avvo sells. No conflict there, right?  I couldn’t help but wonder, given Carolyn’s correct assertion that ratings services and pay-per-lead services cannot ethically co-exist in the same entity, why she didn’t go the next step.

It’s not just Avvo, but its much older and uglier brother, Martindale-Hubbell (with its horrible system of rating lawyers AV, to assure that no member of the public has a clue what they’re talking about) who has sought to bootstrap its rating system into a money machine.  They are the Lexis-Nexis, Lawyer.com, marketeers, headed up by Larry  We-Don’t-Need-No-Stinkin’-Ethics Bodine.

At some point, we need to recognize that we can either lead or follow.  People love lawyer ratings, flawed though they may be?  You bet.  But as these rating services have succumbed to a directly conflicted business model, and the only basis upon which they can claim something remotely resembling ethics is to plead “trust us,” we would never put money ahead of integrity, it’s time to come to terms with reality. This is all utter nonsense, and we, lawyers, have embraced a massive fraud upon the public in the name of getting some potential client to hire one of us over another of us.

That’s all there is to it. 

Interestingly, there was a very unusual comment to Carolyn’s post (ironically immediately preceding a flagrant spam comment).  For the most part, commenters at My Shingle  unapologetically applaud anything they can use to rationalize their marketing, ethics be damned. Not this comment :

You assume that this ratings juggernaut simply can’t be stopped.  Why can’t it?  If lawyers stand up as a group  for the profession and make clear at every opportunity they get with clients and the public that (1) ratings are nonsense, mostly because they aren’t reliable, and (2) ratings are sleazy, so lawyers shouldn’t engage in it, and that those who do are sleazy and aren’t to be trusted with a client’s life, then maybe the issue would go away.  

We don’t have lawyers soliciting business from mass disaster sites because we came to the conclusion as a profession that the practice is sleazy and leads to a race to the bottom.  These things can be stopped if we want them to be.  So, when a prospective client comes to you and mentions ratings, e.g., why you don’t have ratings and your competition does, tell the prospective client that he or she should not go to any lawyer that uses ratings systems; and that the use of ratings is a sign of a sleazy lawyer. 

Don’t want to be party to the race to the bottom? Don’t want to spend your nights thinking up excuses for lying to your “leads”?  You’re not alone.  Nor am I.  Nor is Brian Tannebaum. Nor is Mark Bennett.  Even if  the ABA and  state bar associations have given up hope.

And for the wag who will feel compelled to ask the question, “but if we can’t use these schemes, how are we supposed to get business?”, how about web 3.0, doing good work and conducting yourself with integrity?  Just because sleaze is out there doesn’t mean we have to embrace it or accept it. We can fight it. After all, fighting bad things is what lawyers are supposed to do.

11 thoughts on “Rating White Bread and Lawyers

  1. RP

    I was the author of that post — glad you liked it (assuming you meant “unusual post” as a compliment!). I am so fed up with the attitude, especially of the younger generation, that “this is the way the world is, so deal with it” as well as the seeming prohibition on being “judgmental” about anything anybody does, which attitude I believe is the fault of our educational system (a topic for another day).

  2. SHG

    I did like it. A lot.  We are only doomed to lives of sleaze if we accept it, and I very much appreciate your calling bullshit.

  3. Dr. Sigmund Droid

    A couple thoughts on your post . . .

    First, Ms. Elefant’s blawg’s name – “My Shingle” – has inspired me to want to create my own bog called “My Shingles”. It will be about the things in my life that cause pain, itching, or tingling in the areas where rash tends to express itself . . . Please thank her for the inspiration . . .

    Now regarding AVVO ratings, understanding that I am not an attorney (and contrary to rumors, I don’t even play one on T.V.), – I have used seven lawyers for various legal “problems” in the last five years.

    The first three I selected based on referrals, and two of them turned out to literally have negative value to me – their cure was worse than the disease, so to speak . . . The third one was more than passable – he’s now one of my very best friends, though I don’t use him for legal work anymore, for a variety of reasons, but primarily because after the legal costs for my divorce soared north of $400k, I just said NO to all family law attorneys and went “Pro Per”. For me, that was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my entire life . . .

    About three years ago, I discovered AVVO. The first thing I did was to pull up the ratings and reviews for those three prior attorneys. And truth be told, their AVVO reviews and ratings paralleled my experiences with them down to a “T”. After noting that correlation, I decided to conduct an experiment – the next attorney I needed to hire, I would go to AVVO and select only among lawyers rated “10”, if for no other reason than to satisfy my latent but deep-seated Bo Derek fetish. So that’s what I did and he was great and it worked out great, just like I had hoped.

    Since then, I have hired three more “10”s for various things and they have all been excellent.

    And Greenfield, I know you are a humble man, so let me be the one to brag for you – along with Bo Derek, I see you too are a “10”,– meaning if my experiences with AVVO “10”s are representative, you, sir, are a badass . . .

  4. Alan

    I almost don’t want to submit this but…

    Why do you have your M-H and Avvo ratings displayed on both your home and bio pages on your site?

  5. SHG

    It’s good question, and one that’s been asked before. Because they exist, people know that lawyers have ratings, and want to know what my ratings are, despite the fact that they are meaningless dreck.  And to the extent there is any quantifiable measurement, they’re as close as we’ve got, for better or worse.

    When I got the AV, by the way, it still meant something. That was before L-N/M-H became social media marketers.

  6. Dr. Sigmund Droid

    I’m gonna double down on my flattering remark about you . . .

    Why, you ask?? Because, in addition to AVVO rating you at the top in EXPERIENCE, INDUSTRY RECOGNITION, and PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT, you are a sharp-dressed man and appear to be very homosexual friendly – all good traits to have in your lawyer.

    Maybe you should be rated “10+” or “10” with a bullet or something, IDK . . .

  7. Pete Cofer

    Avoiding the clutter of mass markets is a smart business strategy. Somewhere out there is a man in a pony suit who desperately needs a stylish criminal defense lawyer, and now he knows where to turn. This unique market sweet spot could turn into a gold mine.

  8. Dr. Sigmund Droid

    Greenfield, in addition to being a badass criminal defense attorney based on traditional measures, has the additional harder to define attributes of both je ne sais quoi and savoir faire . . .

    He’d probably do very well in France or maybe even French Polynesia. He might even be the next Jerry Lewis over there, or something . . . The road less traveled by horse or pony . . .

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