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New Jersey's Fight to Keep Lawyer Records from Avvo: Privacy or Profit Motive?

Controversial ranking service Avvo is back in court.  But this time, Avvo isn't being sued.  Instead, Avvo  has filed a lawsuit to compel the New Jersey Supreme Court to release public records containing the names and basic information about lawyers licensed in New Jersey.  New Jersey refused to make the records available to Avvo, contending that the Open Public Records Act law does not apply to the judiciary and that as a general policy, "bar admission records are confidential." 

But is New Jersey's refusal to release the records motivated by a genuine desire to preserve lawyers' privacy?  After all, as Avvo points out, the court will release information about a lawyer's disciplinary record to callers who inquire about a particular lawyer.  Or, as I suspect, does New Jersey have a profit motive in keeping public information on lawyers to itself?

Consider this: In 2006, the New Jersey state bar launched a fee-based, online lawyer directory at its Web site.  The directory would allow consumers looking for lawyers to click on a live link directly to the firm's Web site.  The bar recognized that the fee-based listings would generate revenues for the state bar.  As New Jersey Bar spokesperson Barbara Straczynski explained in this article on Law.com, "if just 100 members sign up for links to their own sites, that's $10,000 right there."

Now, enter Avvo.  Consumers no longer need to remain dependent on a paltry state bar lawyer listing, and can instead avail themselves of a searchable database that contains robust lawyer profiles that not only include a lawyer's Web site URL, but also disciplinary history and client testimonials.  As consumers gravitate towards sites like Avvo, lawyers will no longer have any reason to pay money to list themselves on the state bar Web site, thus killing off a profit center for the bar. 

It's too bad that New Jersey is so busy "minding its "p's" -- privacy and profit -- that it's overlooking the p-word that should matter most in all of this:  the public.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 13, 2008 at 03:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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