There is a line that asks for your relationship to the person being endorsed. Mark Bennett picked the only answer that truthfully applied: Other.
The latest plague going around the interwebz for lawyers is the endorsement scam. It’s happening at LinkedIn. It’s happening at Avvo. And just in case nobody wants to endorse you for anything other than dog catcher (and maybe not even that), there are buttons to push that enable you to beg for endorsements from people you don’t know. Easy-peasy. Sleazy.
I’ve gotten a ton of those endorsement requests from people I don’t know. It’s reached the point where I barely shake my head before deleting them. I wonder whether some marketeer told them to strut down the boulevard begging for love, or they came up with the idea themselves. After all, even a blind squirrel on Avvo can figure out how to beg.
Do endorsements help? Well, if you’re trying to find clients on Avvo or LinkedIn, they likely do. Clients won’t know what’s real and what’s phony. Just as a friend of mine wanted to be a Super Lawyer, not because he thought it meant anything but because all the cool kids were Super Lawyers and he didn’t want to have a website that had no cool badges, the lawyers who depend on Avvo want to be important on Avvo. One of the things that gives the impression of importance is endorsements. And so they want them.
Whether its purpose is to mislead clients or just to not be left in the dust in the race to the bottom may be in question, asking for endorsements from people you don’t know is pretty darned sleazy. But it’s rarely just a matter of asking, but rather trading. In the early days of the blogosphere, every day would bring a slew of emails seeking to trade links on blogrolls.
They’re out of fashion now, so it’s quite rare to get a blogroll link trade request anymore, but they used to come fast and furious. Increase visibility, but more importantly, increase Google pagerank through links. After all, why shouldn’t a law blog have a link on its blogroll to a website selling enemas? Really, just variations on theme, right?
And of course, another variation is the Yelp reviews, for those lawyers who seek the crowd that looks for a lawyer at such websites. As the Yelp lawsuit against the McMillan Law Group in California revealed, lawyers are no more immune to astroturfing than anyone else. After all, people saying nice things about a lawyer make others believe that he must be a good lawyer, whether the nice things are being said by the lawyer’s mother or some folks in Bangalore for a reasonable fee.
Transparency advocates for lawyers contend that this makes lawyers more accessible to the public, allowing people to find us when they need us. They argue that this levels the playing field between lawyers who are organically well-known and lawyers who, well, aren’t. Which is true, provided you don’t mind the fact that it’s a big, ol’ lie.
The perennial problem has been what, if anything, to do about it. While I’ve chosen to occasionally write about people who employ deception to gain fame and game the system, I tend to spend more time writing about the tricks of deception alone, and why lawyers who believe in integrity and have a modicum of self-respect choose not to put on hot pants and strut down the boulevard. Does anybody pay attention to me? I dunno. Clearly, plenty don’t.
But my pal Bennett did something yesterday that was a game-changer. It was brilliant. It was fiendish. But it may well prove to be the most effective response there can be. He received a request to endorse a lawyer on Avvo. He didn’t know the lawyer. And Bennett, being Bennett, decided to do what one might expect him to do: he told the truth.
Not only does this reveal the dirty underbelly of the endorsement scam, but it also provides a laundry list of co-conspirators, if you will. Look above and below Bennett’s “endorsement” and see who wrote what. Take a look at where the endorsers are from and what they practice, and ponder the chances that they know anything about the lawyer they’re endorsing. And then, if you really want to get into it this deep, click on the endorsing lawyers and see who endorsed them. See how that works?
You can’t expect Avvo or LinkedIn to clean-up their own mess, as they thrive on eyeballs, and sleazy eyeballs register the same as honest ones. It is not in their interest to prevent lawyers from deceiving. And they may well argue that no one can be certain it’s deception, since it’s within the realm of possibility that these lawyers are all good buddies and know all about each other’s skills and competence.
There is also an element of brotherhood involved, the Happysphere notion that we’re all lawyers and should support each other by lending an endorsing hand to others, if that’s what they need. Certainly not embarrass a brother or sister by revealing that they’ve engaged in sleazy self-promotion by asking for phony endorsements.
That would be mean and hurtful. And honest. If we all do what Bennett did, the scam would die quickly and painfully. Another will grow in its place, and will need a new wooden stake to thrust in its heart, but that’s how we keep things honest, killing one scam at a time.