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Avvo Launches With Mixed Ratings for Its Lawyer Ratings

As Kevin O'Keefe shared yesterday, Avvo is a new service that helps consumers find and choose an attorney, in part through use of Avvo's comprehensive attorney listings and "mathematical ratings system." Many in the industry are watching Avvo closely, because its managed to keep its product under stealth wraps for 16 months and because the company has received substantial VC funding. But as this article, Online rating system puts attorneys in the hot seat (Seattle, 6/5/07), shows, Avvo's ranking system is generating mixed reviews from attorneys.

Avvo's goal is simple:   to provide a way for consumers to choose attorneys. And as Avvo's CEO Mark Britton describes, Avvo intends to distinguish itself from existing online directories and bar association listings by (1) creating an "established brand" that consumers can rely on to choose a lawyer and (2) by using a "mathematical model" based on information culled from attorneys' Web sites, state bar associations and other databases to determine which lawyers are best. And at first blush, Avvo is potentially useful for attorneys, because it doesn't charge for listings (at least now) and has an easy, online interface for lawyers to update their listing.

Naturally, lawyers are already arguing over the rankings. According to the Seattle article, one lawyer, Seattle criminal defense attorney John Henry Browne, a criminal defense attorney with 35 years of experience and who's taught at University of Washington, received only a 3.7 rating. Other prominent Seattle lawyers scored in the 6 and 7 range.

I gave Avvo a test run myself and came up with two listings, of a 6.3 and a 6.4, putting me on par with David Boies. But I also ran a search on a colleague of mine, a floundering solo who's had several bar complaints filed against him (which were eventually dismissed): He too achieved the same ranking. 

I spoke with other colleagues as well. One, a recognized expert in his field (well, he's paid $300 an hour for expert testimony on the topic) ranked in the 5's, because he's a relatively junior attorney. Another colleague boosted her ranking to a perfect 10 by adding all of her credentials to her listing (at least in her case, the perfect 10 is well deserved!). I don't have a problem with sites that rank attorneys, but if Avvo is going to hold itself out as a "gold standard" for ranking, it either needs to straighten out the scoring system or clarify how the rankings are calculated. 

There are other potential issues that I foresee relating to Avvo as well. For example, Avvo allows lawyers to include client testimonials, but some state bars prohibit lawyers from using testimonials. Avvo needs to point that out, or some clients might turn away from lawyers without testimonials, figuring that they're subpar, when in reality, they're just complying with their bar regulations. And of course, Avvo is potentially susceptible to gamesmanship, for example, where attorneys ask their law firm colleagues to all provide glowing testimonials of their service.

I think Avvo would potentially be more useful if it established a list of criteria that consumers should look for in hiring lawyers rather than concocting a ratings system. By putting together a list, consumers could examine an attorney's listing, vist the Web site and make a decision about whom to hire. Moreover, the ranking system may turn off well-qualified lawyers and deter them from listing an extensive profile, thereby reducing participation.

I see great value to aggregating attorney listings and making them available to the public. The more information that can be provided, the better. But once the information is out there and consumers have guidelines on what to look for, let them make the hiring decision themselves, free of a numerical ranking system, which, at least right now, doesn't work very well.

Update: My colleague Bob Ambrogi has this extensive commentary on Avvo at his Law Sites Blog .

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on June 5, 2007 at 05:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)


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