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June 12, 2007

"FICO" Scores for Lawyers - I Didn't Ask For Avvo. Did You?

(UPDATE: 7/16/08 - Illinois to AVVO - Drop Dead)  Home of the ABA says no access to master list of state's 85,000 attorneys.

(UPDATE: 12/19/07) - Judge Says It Best When He Calls Lawyer Ratings Systems ' Ludicrous'

(UPDATE: 7/1/07) - Avvo going to get rid of credit card requirement?)

(UPDATE: 6/29/07) - Avvo fighting back BUT making changes simultaneously like not including ratings on those lawyers with limited information.  Therefore, if you don't participate and put a disclaimer on your site that you do not participate....you can effectively opt out.)

(UPDATE: 6/22/07) - Avvo's ratings called a 'crock' and you can hear more discussion on LegalTalk.

(UPDATE: 6/16/07)  Thanks to Kevin O'Keefe at Lexblog you can read the Class Action.

(UPDATE: 6/15/07) - More grist for the mill which should encourage those sitting on the fence to no longer consider participating in this dangerous farce.  Supposedly, this exercise in rating lawyers was meant to shine a flashlight in those dark places consumers need to know about.  It looks like the flashlight has been turned back on this company and what we are seeing is less than pretty:

http://tech.msn.com/news/articlecnet.aspx?cp-documentid=4976995

From the article:

According to Avvo's profiles of "licensed attorneys," president Abraham Lincoln, once a lawyer who traveled on horseback between county courthouses, and Scopes defense attorney Clarence Darrow, who died in 1938, have no disciplinary sanctions pending and are encouraged to update their profiles by personalizing them with "professional experience" and achievements. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel Alito each receive hardly flattering "experience" and "trustworthiness" ratings of three out of five stars.

U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, the magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School who has argued more than 25 cases before the Supreme Court, receives a mere 6.1 overall score out of 10. Barry Scheck, the famous member of O.J. Simpson's "dream team" (6.3), and Stanford Law professor Larry Lessig (6.3) don't fare much better.

But lawyers who have been convicted of serious crimes--including disbarred attorney Lynne Stewart, currently in prison for conspiracy to defraud the federal government--boast 6.5 ratings. Atlanta attorney Ulysses Ware, convicted of securities fraud in April, gets a 6.3 rating and is listed as an "active member in good standing" of the Georgia bar.



(UPDATE: 6/12) - The first lawyers are rising to the challenge.  They are posting the AVVO disclaimer on their site.  See comments. (There are others who have notified me privately.)  This bogus and horrific rating system will not be abided by hard working lawyers.  Thank you.

(UPDATE 6/12) : AVVO asks to swipe your credit card to verify you are who you are when you go to update your profile.  They even tell you you will not be charged.  Then you get charged $1.00 immediately.  1.1 million lawyers....$1.00 everytime you want to update...nice little scam.  Especially when they tell you it will be free.  See the comments below.

(UPDATE:  The lawsuit has been filed.  Read more here.)

I tried to not weigh in on this new Avvo rating system because I knew I would explode.  If you read my posts I am all about limited interference in my right to practice law.  But this new company, their purported mission and this top secret algorithim for rating lawyers is patently ridiculous...but most importantly is dangerous to your professional livelihood.  Now I am ready to declare war!  And by you not voicing your concerns at being rated by an unknown (certainly not a laweyr amongst them with any qualifications or knowledge about the legal industry) you are giving them permission to indirectly impact your professional life which in turn impacts your total life.

You should be actively questioning what is really going on here and why because it will impact your professional existence as it forces your profits away from your pockets and into unneccesary marketing/advertising/memberships to countermand your score or be drawn in to participate with this company.  Most importantly, you should demand the opportunity to opt out of this dangerous rating system. 

You are only mandated to answer to two voices, those of your clients who determine whether you succeed at your chosen profession by referring more business to you, and the state body that governs your good standing where you practice.  That's it. And my track record in the state in which I practice is available on-line. 

Any other false, profit driven beauty contest should be at your discretion to participate, period.

Who are these people at Avvo and why are they doing this?  $$$$$s. Did I have any vote in who is going to judge me as a professional and my worthiness as a lawyer?  Certainly not. They claim it is to provide one-stop shopping for lawyers as there is nothing like it in the legal industry...and the dreaded catch-all wolf-in-sheeps clothing phrase - for the 'needs of the consumer' or the 'public interest.'  Maybe there is a reason there is nothing like it.  It's unadulterated bullshit, that's why.  You cannot rate intangible services that are unique to the individual client/attorney relationship. I'd like to see information on the surveys and focus groups they did to determine the consumer needs this.  But, no.  This whole enterprise was conducted in 'stealth' mode so we don't know what research they did. My understanding is the leader of the brain trust came up with the idea while biking in Italy...Avvo being short for Avvocato, 'lawyer' in Italian.  That gives me confidence he understands lawyers...yeah, right!

And when bullshit is allowed to fester and attract maggots and horseflies it stinks and must be removed before it becomes hazardous to your health.  You need to ask yourself the question, "who profits."

Well, let's see.  The 'credit' score you get is based upon the following:

The Avvo Rating is our assessment of how well a lawyer could handle your legal issue. It is based on data we have collected about hundreds of thousands of lawyers - including their number of years in practice, disciplinary sanctions, and professional achievements. The data comes from multiple sources, including state bar associations, court records, lawyer websites, and information lawyers provide to Avvo. We have created a mathematical model that considers this information and calculates a score on a ten-point scale. The result is called the Avvo Rating.

In order to get a high 'credit' score are you going to be compelled to join associations that have generally been voluntary whether or not they benefit you or your practice?  Will you be forced to have a web presence or blog or tank in ranking? (Follow the money.) Will those who network extensively but are poor lawyers rank better than you?  Will those who have one foot in the grave but haven't practiced in thirty years have a higher ranking than a two year solo who has done stellar legal work? (rumor has it Lincoln is ranked and has held his license for 171 years...is this a joke or are they just letting you know that anyone who has passed the bar will be included whether they are alive or dead, practicing or not, or willing to participate?)

And new solos, you will get slammed as you try to build your business. You will not have years of practice. You will not have name recognition (as they purport to define). You will not be spending your limited resources on joining every organization out there.  You will be ranked at 1 - extreme caution.  Who are they to tell your potential clients to 'use extreme caution.'  Who are they to dictate your marketing efforts and how you spend your start-up money and profits?  This is dangerous territory, people, and it is time to slay the dragon while it is young.

Many lawyers who have incredible reputations in their communities for servicing their clients are getting low 'credit' scores...based upon what, an erroneous grievance that ultimately is dismissed? Not belonging to the ABA or their State Bar Association?  Now, there will be a boon to these organizations who have been seeing defections and lost income.

The value of you as a professional is being determined by an alien body who doesn't understand the attorney/client relationship yet purports to understand that it is difficult to find a good lawyer.  Tell us how you know this. Good lawyers have been found for centuries without Avvo.  And when someone wants a good lawyer, they will do what they have always done, talk to other people and get the professional buzz locally. And based upon the attorney's reputation for helping others, that attorney will get referred business.

I don't care how much money Avvo has raised in venture capital...supposedly 13 million.. (That should tell you something right there...profits for investors at your professional expense)...I did not give them permission to rate me and neither should you.

Even if this virus has infected your state already, yet you received a high 'credit' score, demand the ability to opt out of this beauty contest.  And let it be stated in a way that is not prejudicial to you.

Lawsuit are starting.  If there is a class action, participate.  Talk about this on the blogosphere.  Contact Avvo and tell them you demand the right to opt out as you did not give your permission.  They may claim it is all public data.  That's fine.  Decline to be rated.  We've all been personally impacted by FICO scores.  Let's not be professionally impacted by AVVO ratings.  Some may say there is Martindale-Hubbell and they include all lawyers. They are harmless.  This company represents a danger because of their technological savvyiness.  That's the HUGE difference.

If we let this dragon scorch our professional landscape with this profit-driven idiocy then we are fools.  If we can't advocate for ourselves, how do we dare advocate for others.

TAKE THE CHALLENGE: And now I issue each and everyone you a challenge to take action.  Put a disclaimer on your website or blog that says:

"I do not voluntarily participate in the AVVO rating system as I do not believe any group or entity is qualified to rank lawyers in a way that is meaningful to you, the client. "  (or something to that effect.)

I've thrown down the gauntlet. Let the revolution begin.

(For the record, this virus is not in Connecticut yet so my rating is not impacting my opinion about this...and neither should yours.)

I'm stepping down from my soap box now.  Please feel free to comment away.

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "FICO" Scores for Lawyers - I Didn't Ask For Avvo. Did You?:

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Comments

Concurring opinion

I could not agree more. There has to be a way to opt out of this system because it is scandalously deceiving.

Kim Amick

I went on the site yesterday to check it out. The site listed my bar admission as suspended, which isn't true. When I complained to customer service they told me they were "in the process" of updating their database and that I would be welcome to update my profile. So I did (Even thought I can't change my membership status, I can only say that it isn't correct). It asked me for a credit card number to "verify my identity" and promised online that I would not be charged. Not 30 minutes later I get an email alert from my bank that my card has been used without being swiped -- It listed a $1.00 charge to Avvo. Moreover, just by loggin in, my rating is now higher than the founding partner of our law firm, which is just ridiculous . . . . This whole enterprise just smells BAD BAD BAD.

Randy L. Braun

Susan, I've taken your challenge and placed a version of your disclaimer on my blog. Keep fighting the good fight.

Susan Cartier Liebel

Randy,

Thank you for letting us know that you have taken the challenge. Imagine if a significant number of lawyers do this...well AVVO will fail as it must. And even if lawyers don't want to put a disclaimer on their site...by not updating their profile it will seriously derail their purported mission which absolutely cannot be accomplished in any way meaningful to the public.

R. Mullen

Oh boy. How to do this without incurring the (legendary) SCL wrath...Ok, I'll just plunge in and see what happens.

I only worked for Avvo for 6 months, so there's a lot I don't know at this point. Most of what I do know is publicly stated on their website. The rest is covered by...you guessed it. Like you, I have no idea of my "Avvo rating." Chances are I'll never look because I blog about this area alot and want to stay objective as possible.

So, while I think they're onto something good, the main problem is one of trust and communication. Trust has to be earned and communication should have started in the womb. But, even if there are birth defects, we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The lawyer in me, well, I don't really care about ANY rating service, old school or new school. I care about my bar license, that's about it. Maybe I'll care if I stop practicing as a full-time neutral...who knows.

Sure, they COULD have a great service, but they just maybe, kinda, sorta, went about it in a way that was guaranteed to piss off a large chunk of the legal profession.

I can say that I am horrified that anyone got any sort of charge on your credit card,--I am pretty tech savvy, and think there must be a better way to confirm identity.

No way I'd put my card in there, but I think that (some minor issues aside), they have a great crew over there and are onto something which could be productive and useful.

On the other hand, customer outreach ought to be a MASSIVE part of their post-launch budget at this point. With adequate funding they can ride out the storm of lawyer protest, but in the long haul, they're going to have to adapt and change like any viable business. Lawyers are online because it's useful to be where our clients need us.

Sure, it's fun to watch lawyers squirm, but that momentary pleasure has to turn into customer satisfaction at some point,--both lawyers and the public who use legal services. They have to get past the profit motive and onto delivering good service. As lawyers, we can help them be creative and do it in a way that our clients derive benefit. Panic (even reasoned panic) won't help anyone.

Susan Cartier Liebel

Regina,

Thank you for your perspective. I think when you worked for this company you saw a mission that made sense. Ratings (which are very challenging to do, quite frankly) in and of itself is not the issue. It is the approach, the proprietary algorithm, the dangerous and damaging flaws in the system that absolutely cannot be corrected. You cannot unring the bell. And when you get into a system of forcing lawyers to participate to raise their own scores it is no longer objective criteria, which they claim they use, it is advertising and self-promotion. And from bar to bar the availability of grievances ranges from every single complaint regardless of disposition, to only complaints resulting in sanctions. It is the equivalent of posting arrests instead of convictions and the layperson is not going to sit there and calculate the nuances or look to be educated. The lawyer is harmed and the client is harmed. But AVVO pays its investors. No. the product is fatally flawed. If it was a washing machine that exploded, it would be recalled and lawsuits would abound. Time to recall AVVO as a known danger to the profession and the public.

BJ

Avvo is an absolute joke. I noticed that Steve Berman (he of the 9.2 rating) has come out against the site and plans to tag them. This site is done.

Who in the hell is this Britton? Most importantly, what is his family background and how did his daddy somehow get him a gig in Seattle. Anyone who would throw his fellow lawyers under the bus by trying to dig cash from ads is beyond pathetic. Simply put, you will never be able to come up with a subjective system of quantification that effectively "rates" attorneys.

Steven M. Warshawsky

Great post. I almost got suckered by Avvo. I tried to "claim" my profile, then got to the credit card requirement and said, no way. I checked the rating of the main partner at my prior firm, and it was average. Preposterous. I don't like the guy at all, but he is an extremely accomplished, successful, and in demand attorney. Avvo is a dangerous farce.

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