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Lawyer Sues Lawyer For Online Rating System

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Filing lawsuits is as routine for lawyers as grabbing a Starbucks on the way to the office. And they’re kind of (to stereotype an entire profession) sensitive about things. So who could have predicted that a consumer website dedicated to rating lawyers would get sued?

Anybody that’s paid any attention at all, that’s who. The length of time it took Avvo.com to get slapped with a class action lawyer-crafted nasty gram?  

About eight business days.

Avvo launched in beta on June 5, coming out of stealth mode, with the stated intention of helping consumers choose better lawyers. The main problem was that there were two main ways of finding an attorney: via recommendation and via the Yellow Pages.

Both versions are fraught with bias, or at the least, lacking in objective information. That’s where Avvo CEO Mark Britton comes in with an algorithmic based, allegedly (you have to use "allegedly" right?) objective rating system.

Before we get into how many of us might have predicted that some lawyer(s) out there wouldn’t be pleased with their rating, and thus might have the inclination and sure-footedness to sue, let’s look at the Top 10 Things I Will Never Ever Do to see where creating a lawyer rating website ranks: 

Top 10 Things I Will Never Ever Do

10. Think rock climbing, running, or math are "fun"
9. Answer the door for two young guys in short sleeve white button-ups
8. Trust Whitey
7. Get a GoldenPalace.com tattoo on my forehead
6. Create a lawyer rating website
5. Put my head in a lion’s mouth
4. Wrestle a crocodile
3. Play leapfrog with a unicorn
2. Invest in a "Prince Albert"
1. Ask a woman if this is her PMS week

Number 6, it looks like, just above putting my head in a lion’s mouth.

My guess is that Britton has attempted at least two of these other bad ideas, most likely out of brazen disregard for his own well-being, and not out of stupidity. In fact, the website seems like it would be a great resource for us clueless consumers in the event that we need (and we all do, eventually) legal services.

So I’m guessing there’s an element of altruism here, if indeed we can use that word and "lawyer" in the same sentence.

Avvo’s rating system is based on a 10-point scale, according to the plaintiffs (John Henry Browne and Alan Wenokur of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro):

9.0-10.0  Superb
8.0-8.9    Excellent
7.0-7.9    Very good
6.0-6.9    Good
5.0-5.9    Average
4.0-4.9    Concern
3.0-3.9    Caution
2.0-2.9    Strong caution
1.0-1.9    Extreme caution

Eric Goldman, who teaches Cyberlaw and Intellectual Property at Santa Clara University School of Law, notes this was probably a bad idea:

The distillation of attorneys into a single numerical rating is inherently fraught with peril, and the media has picked up on numerous examples where the ratings are out of sync with common sense.

There could be a number of reasons for this, including insufficient data to make accurate ratings or miscalibrated components of the rating algorithm.

Either way, the numerical ratings look much more like a work-in-progress than a finished product, and I sure hope consumers aren’t actually relying on the numerical ratings….

Goldman continues at his blog about the philosophical and transparency issues, as well as what this means to interactive websites and rankings by search engines.

Plaintiffs say the ranking system is flawed, ranking highly respected veterans below disbarred and even jailed attorneys. They write:

Avvo’s fallible system for rating and promoting attorneys has produced wild discrepancies in ratings rather than the reliable consumer benchmarks for making decisions about legal representation that Avvo claims.

For example, the Dean of Stanford Law School, Larry Kramer (Avvo Rating 5.7 of "Average"), is rated lower than Lynne Stewart, a disbarred New York lawyer who was convicted of conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists, who received a 6.5 or "very good" rating.

The Avvo founder and CEO, Mark Britton, who was been a member of the Washington State Bar for just nine years received an 8 or "Excellent Rating," higher than the Dean Kramer.

Ouch. On the Avvo blog, Britton defends his website saying the plaintiffs are looking to squelch freedom of speech.

Britton writes:

This lawsuit is an effort to censor and to chill Avvo’s analysis, commentary and opinion in order to protect attorneys who have disciplinary actions in their backgrounds. It seems to reflect a belief, on behalf of the lawyers bringing this lawsuit, that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to the dissemination of opinions and information about them.

Whatever the outcome, this Lawyer vs. Lawyer case will be interesting to watch – in the same way "Crocodile Hunter" and "Jackass" were always cringingly fun to suffer through.

 

Lawyer Sues Lawyer For Online Rating System
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  • RL

    Funny stuff, JLM. I would substitute the word “greed” for “altruism” however. That site will go down as one of the worst ideas in the history of the web and, funny enough, Britton will now be known as one of the worst hacks in the legal world.

  • What Goes Around

    Simply by coming out with alleged “ratings” of lawyers — created by using some half-baked algorythm that produces results that are absurd on their face — the folks at AVVO have succeeded in enlisting the traditional press and online media to get their “Johnny Come Lately” lawyer listing site into the national news, and into the consciousness of lawyers nationwide.

    Surely they had to know they would be sued, and certainly they knew that being sued would put them on the map. As someone once said, “any publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name correctly.” Yet what they did was truly disgusting, and probably illegal, but that’s not the subject of the stories. The founders claim it is “only in Beta” and it was done for “a good cause” — scoundrels can wrap almost anything in the flag — rather than what it was done for — lining their pockets in what appears is a VC backed get rich quick scheme.

    Getting lawyers to add information to their existing skimpy profiles — compiled with information they undoubtedly ripped off from other sites, such as state and local bar sites, www.Lawyers.com, www.FindLaw.com and www.AttorneyPages.com, and www.Martindale.com — is their game plan.

    What they probably hope to do next is have the lawyers add biographial information and pay AVVO for their “augmentation” and/or for getting better positioning — and implicitly (despite their shallow claims to the contrary) get a higher (but still bogus) rating. Me thinks the site doth protest too much when is says payment will not influence ratings.

    What they are doing is despicable, and possibly criminal, and not just because it constitutes an unfair business practice. The founder, principal stockholder and felon-behind-the-curtain of LegalMatch, another attorney site, Dimitry Shuboff (now a disbarred lawyer), has already been convicted of federal criminal charges for what may be charitably described as over-zealousness in trying to goose his business — hacking into a competitor’s voice-mail systems to steal their leads and lying to the FBI about it. Let’s see if the AVVO guys are any smarter when they start to testify or the Feds come-a-knocking.

  • Kent

    isnt it funny how sharks attack thier own kind.LOL

  • Michael Kranitz, Esq.

    As a “recovering lawyer” I must agree with the critics here. A dumb numerical scale that produces results like those you cited in your article is worthless, even if anomolous results are only edge cases.

    Qualitative results are the best here, even if they are combined with stratified numeric ratings (e.g. a rating for narrow categories like “responsiveness”, “makes me feel important” etc.)

    As for the knee jerk first amendment whining from the the site’s owner, give me a break. Address the problem instead of telling critics they are wrong. Now you see why I quit the practice 10 years ago to build Web businesses.

    Michael

  • Basolan

    After reading the article, I went straight to the site to rate the excellent lawyer I had help me and my company last year with a small issue. The lawyer was excellent and very helpful. I don’t see any reason why there shouldn’t be a site where I am able to recommend him to others. The site may take some time to even out the actual bad lawyers (i.e. disbarred, serving time, etc.) with the good, but it will eventually.

  • scott Adie

    To protect the innocent my point of reference is those guys (allegedly not gender specific). Those guys are frequently vermen in expensive suits driving fancy cars living in houses that would make Randolf Hurst envious. We go to those guys for counsel and representation. We leave those guys ignorant and devoid of financial resources. What else is there to say. If I had to rate those guys my rating system would begin and end with only one choice called ‘don’t even think about it’.
    Those guys must be filing suit against people for having an opinion. Opinions must not be protected in the Bill of Rights. Oops, I forgot thats obsolete. Scroom!

  • DavidWh

    hahaha hahahaha hahahahaha hahahahahahahaha hahahahahahahahahahaha haha hahahahah ahahahaha hahahahahahah ahahaha hahahahaha hahahaha ah aha ahhahahahaha hahahahahahah ha ha Couldn’t happen to a nicer lawyer hahahaha hahahaha ha aha ha ha. Oh, where’s my hankie?

    • http://www.iwannabeahermit.com Duncan Fig

      LAWYER…HAHAHAHAHAHAH…YES, I’LL DO THAT FOR YOU AS SOON AS YOU DEPOSIT 15,000 HAHAHAHAHAHA….CUSTOMER….WTF, YOU WANT MONEY? HAHAHAHAHAHA LAWYER, YES, HAHAHAHAHAHA AND NO GUARANTEE HAHAHAHAHAHA, NO, MAKE THAT 25,0000 AND LESS GUARANTEE HAHAHAHAAHA…CUSTOMER WTF…I’M GOING TO KILL YOU….LAWYER HAHAHAHAHAHA, NOW I WANT 1000,0000 OR I SUE YOU HAHAHAHAHAHA…CUSTOMER YOU MOTHER BAMB BAMB BAMB…LAWYER HAHAHAHAHA YOU MISSED NOW DEPOSIT 10,0000,0000 OR I SUE YOU AND YOU GO TO JAIL HAHAHAHAHAHA
      CUSTOMER WTF JUST KILL ME…LAWYER…SURE HAHAHAHAHA BUT PLEASE DEPOSIT 10,000 IN MY ACCOUNT FIRST HAHAHAHAHA

  • SteveK

    What implications does this have for other sites that offer ratings on their subject matter?

    For example, Download.com shows a rating of all of its products based on the average of the number of ratings submitted. Thus, ratings on this site can be skewed as badly as on Avvo.com.

    Or, going further, Google Groups, which allows you to rate individual posts? Could those people whose posts are rated poorly sue for libel? It seems to me that I have heard about this already, but I cannot find any references to such a case.

    • Jason Lee Miller

      Nobody knows for sure how all this will turn out, but they have their eye on the Roommates.com case, which received a pretty nasty ruling.

      Eric Goldman’s blog goes into detail about it:

      http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2007/05/ninth_circuit_s.htm

  • Robert

    The BBB has a business ratings. Its is A,B,C and D. They go by reported complaints against the biz that were submitted to the BBB. The BBB tries to strong arm a biz to join their organization which I did not.

    My biz had 2 complaint from customers of mine. These 2 customers order products over the internet then received them and stop cc payment with out any calls to us. So we figured it was a fraud order and they new we could not do anything about it. Well we sent them to collections and then we finally heard back from them but they weren

    • Janina Kacprzynski

      I don’t believe BBB ratings. To me it is just a big club. If you pay and join this club your ratings are high no matter how many complaints you may have.

    • http://www.iwannabeahermit.com Duncan Fig

      I agree on the BBB part, they are a scam.
      And your right, a similar issue happened to my company.
      I was helping a customer in MN because they could’nt get any help there.
      After the goods were delivered they filled a complaint with the bbb.
      They sent me a letter by standard post…wtf standard post for something like that.
      That letter could have ended up anywhere.
      If your about to make someones life miserable by filling a complaint and you’re a reputable organization, would’nt you want proof of the letter being received…unless you just don’t give a crap or you use these letter for more mischevious purposes like get people to join. SCAM.
      As for the Courts, they are just as corrupt.
      It all revolves around money “period”.

  • carolee

    This is amazing but not surprising. I think everyone should contact the lawyers that are suing them to ask what they have to hide! How is this any different than rating a handyman or a website’s service? I hope the website is countersuing.

  • Dave

    Are lawyers above the law???? Merchants get rated online for their performance. BBB is for consumers to check out a business before they hand over their money. Yes a rating should be in check for attorneys. Even if they feel the rating is flawed it can be worked on to improve. Heck even Ebay has a rating system and they are in a class above lawyers but you can get a used car on Ebay so does that put used car salespersons above lawyers??? There are more good lawyers than bad but how do you choose the right one??? The rating system can be perfected.

  • mycomfyhome

    Feedom of speech!

  • Helge

    The rating of a disbarred lawyer higher than the dean of a lawschool is not necessarily a reflection of a bad rating system. It’s more likely a reflection of lawyers who have an excessively high opinion of themselves.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing this case go to court, as well. I love watching blood sport!

  • John MacGregor

    HAVE A LOOK AT “SCOTLAND AGAINST CROOKED LAWYERS”

  • Doug Plumb

    I don’t know what lawyers are like in the USA but I have no faith in our legal system in Canada.

    The Law Society Of Upper Canada protects lawyers from the public. They can do anything they want. They are dispicable creatures because of what they allow their colleagues to get away with even when they are not corrupt themselves.

    The secret society that governs lawyers should be abolished. They have been corrupted by their own hubris and greed.

    • http://www.iwannabeahermit.com Duncan Fig

      My wife got a speeding fine fromn a yahoo corn picking sherif in Monroe NC.
      She was driving our Saab, which has an onboard computer set at 46 MPH with a warning system.
      He hit her for a 60 mph ibn a 45 mph.
      Her record is squeeky clean.
      When she went to “kangaroo” court, they offered her a non moving traffic violation ($140 ticket and no points) as aposed to the orriginal.
      She told the DA, that that was unacceptyable because she was not speeding.
      The officer told her that he was chacing her…LOL…she was stoped at a red light for 3 minutes and where the sherif claimed to clock her was less the 1/2 a mile from the light. Interesting chase…dont you think? LOL

      After turning down the offer, the DA said she could go to court and see the judge…Well thats all she got, “she got to see the judge” “period”.
      The DA at that hearing took over the case and tried my wife while the fat ass judge sat and watched.
      She brought evidence and no one looked at it.
      The DA slapped her with the same non moving traffic violation.

      Our oppions sure changed that day about our rights and how they were taken away. Now I know why there are so many criminals.
      They’re not criminals, they’re just real pissed off people LOL

      Our justice system is more corrupt then Communist China.
      I think I might just move to China, I’m beginning to think I’ll have more rights over there.

  • Janina Kacprzynski

    How comical. Lawyers can say and do as they want but don’t mess with their ratings. (Their own self given ratings that is)

  • Natalie

    It is hard to find a good lawyer and it seems that Avvo would be a great resource to the “clueless consumer.” As for its inaccuracy, it seems perfectly plausible to me that some well respected lawyers in the industry would deserve the same ratings as other who have been disbarred. Everything in this world is about who you know, so why would that not apply to keeping certain lawyers out of trouble? The Internet is the one place where you can get enough different opinions to asses what may be the truth.

  • Deborah Ann Frederick

    I have been a criminal defense attorney in Washington State since 2003 and I would welcome any and all ratings systems for lawyers. To make up for being “green” I study more about the law and work harder than some older attorneys I know…it is always great to be noticed for my care. And if a client didn’t like my services? I would prefer to know now, so I can improve. Oh, by the way, going up against the government as a criminal defense attorney often does feel like I am putting my head in a lion’s mouth!

  • Tievo

    Up to now, the only group supplying data about lawyers was the Bar Associations, which receive money from the lawyers to support the Bar. Kinda of like the weasel guarding the hen house…..

    The last thing the lawyers want us to know is how they treated clients, if they have had any malpractice claims and been censured. I lost a 1M case because a lawyer failed to file papers and was fending off two other malpractice lawsuits while he was handling mine.

    Those serpents can’t take the light of day, and will do everything possible to keep us in the dark about them….

  • http://apfte.net Rick

    In my opinion, your “Trust Whitey” comment in your ‘things you won’t do’ portion of your article is racist. Recently the “N” word was buried by the NAACP. How can people continue to use derrogetory remarks against White people while at the same time condemn the use of derrogetory remarks about others?
    The double standards have to stop!

    • Jason Lee Miller

      I’m white…at least, that’s what I put on questionnaires….truth be told, I’m actually an American mutt, more specifically, Appalachian tri-racial isolate.

      Some prefer the more derrogatory, Melungeon or brass ankle…but mostly, I’m white…I was just cracking a joke, and not everybody gets jokes.

      I’m sorry if I offended you, but I did say it in jest.

  • mindy howard

    Subject: Conflict Of Interest In New York

    By law an attorney can not go against a former client and play both sides of the fence. JEAN BROWN represented both opposing parties in a custody battle. On September 18, 2007 JUDGE SPENCER LUDINGTON ignored my objections to having a former opposing attorney represent me at a PRELIMINARY HEARING. Both JEAN BROWN and SPENCER LUDINGTON seem to believe that laws about CONFLICT OF INTEREST should be ignored. After a closed door meeting between the attorney’s and the judge, it was decided that my LEGAL RIGHT TO A TRIAL would be denied. The RIGHT TO A TRIAL IS A BASIC LEGAL RIGHT IN AMERICA. This proof is at the OSWEGO COUNTY FAMILY COURT OFFICE. My rights to these RECORDS and TRANSCRIPTS have been denied by this court. To call this anything but a COVER UP, would be a LIE.

  • http://www.pdfpal.net Janet Moore (lawyer)

    Lawyers form the backbone of this system, linking it to society in numerous ways. They hold positions of great responsibility and are obligated to adhere to a strict code of ethics. Lawyers, also called attorneys, act as both advocates and advisors in our society. For furthermore details about the nature of a lawyer, kindly visit pdfpal.net.

  • http://www.pptse.net Sandy Aumen

    I would begin with a word of advice for anyone who is considering becoming a lawyer. That word of advice is: DON