June 5, 2007 5:01 AM PDT

Lawyer ratings site not without objections

A venture capital-backed Web site called Avvo that launches Tuesday claims to offer a "game-changing" alternative to the Yellow Pages for anyone interested in hiring a lawyer.

Avvo's plan is ambitious: to award a numeric score to every attorney in the United States, along with a profile, client recommendations and peer endorsements.

"It's the most critical piece of guidance that we provide," Mark Britton, a former vice president of Expedia who is Avvo's chief executive, said about the numeric score. "It's our assessment of how good a job that lawyer is going to do for you." Avvo says it has received $14 million in funding, including money from Benchmark Capital and Ignition Partners, co-founded by Microsoft alum and Avvo board member Brad Silverberg.

How to rate lawyers? Randomly, apparently

Here are some of our results when testing the Avvo.com lawyer rating site, which claims to have a complicated mathematical model yielding numeric scores. It supposedly "takes into account many factors, including experience, professional achievements, and disciplinary sanctions":

Paul Clement, U.S. solicitor general: 6.1 of 10
John Ashcroft, former U.S. attorney general: 5.3
Harriet E. Miers, Supreme Court nominee: 6.1
Jamie Gorelick, former U.S. deputy attorney general: 5.4
Alberto Gonzales, U.S. attorney general: 6.5

David Drummond, Google chief legal officer: 6.4 of 10
Chris Kelly, Facebook chief privacy officer: 7.0
Donald Rosenberg, Apple general counsel: 6.5
Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel: 6.5

Harold Koh, dean of Yale law school: 6.5 of 10
Elena Kagan, dean of Harvard law school: 6.4
Larry Kramer, dean of Stanford law school: 5.7
David Schizer, dean of Columbia law school: 6.1
Deborah Rhode, feminist legal scholar, Stanford: 10

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby: 6.5 of 10
U.S. Sen. Thomas Harkin: 6.5
U.S. Sen. Robert Casey: 6.4
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn: 6.5

Bobby Keith Moser, convicted of tax evasion: 5.8 of 10
Lynne Stewart, convicted of conspiracy to defraud: 6.5
Ulysses Ware, convicted of securities fraud: 6.3

In tests, however, Avvo's pages seemed to be riddled with bizarre errors, profiles of attorneys who have been dead for more than a century and inexplicable scores in which some felons received better ratings than law school deans and internationally renowned litigators.

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 (PDF) in April, gets a 6.3 rating and is listed as an "active member in good standing" of the Georgia bar.

Britton, an attorney who boasts a personal Avvo rating of 8, defends the results by saying, "You're talking about a very complex mathematical model...We take all the public records, and that provides the basis for the entire system. We layer on top of that the information from other publicly available sources that we find with our search technology."

Britton said the Avvo score was developed "with input from hundreds of lawyers, thousands of consumers and some of the best legal minds in the business," including Robert Hirshon, the past president of the American Bar Association. He also said not all attorney profiles have been updated with information gleaned from their Web sites, for instance, and scores may be reflected upward or downward as a result.

But he would not, however, specify why legal superstars and sitting Supreme Court justices receive poor ratings relative to lawyers who list no awards and only one published article in their bios (and garner a 9.8 of 10). "You can't handicap--in a golf sense--these people, or give them a certain level just because of who they are," Britton said. When asked about Justice Ginsburg's lackluster rating, he replied, "Arguably, her rating is a bit less efficient."

Avvo acknowledges that it does not currently collect criminal records but otherwise "cannot disclose the contents of the Avvo rating." Because CNET News.com agreed not to publish the story until Tuesday, we were not able to contact some of the attorneys who received poor scores for comment.

In response to a follow-up set of questions from News.com, Britton replied, "We cannot disclose the elements of the Avvo Rating; however, we take into account multiple factors that extend beyond those you have listed. In reviewing (the list of examples given), we find the rating system to be working as designed."

See more CNET content tagged:
lawyer, attorney, Sen., attorney general, U.S.

23 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
long, long overdue
State lawyer referrals are useless.

I could have used this in the last 5 years. I was raked over the coals by 2 attorneys - both of them hired by me, both incompetent, one even disbarred during my case, the other greedy and tried to steal my settlement. Had AVVO been in place, I might have gotten a better deal (and won my case, which I eventually settled for next to nothing, and lost money overall, considering the retainers and fees).

Good work, AVVO - get 'em!
Posted by bdplaid (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE: long, long overdue
"Had AVVO been in place, I might have gotten a better deal."

Yeah, from Abe Lincoln.

Reread the article. This site is ripe with inaccuracies and it's rating
system appears to be run by a random number generator. Good
idea, but *horrible* execution.
Posted by Dalkorian (3000 comments )
Link Flag
Kinda useless
This would be good if it actually had meaning to clients...let's see a "feminist legal scholar" (aka talking head academic) gets a PERFECT 10, while actual attorneys who work can't break out of the mix 6's. Good idea, bad execution. I haven't had the need for a lawyer, but my friends have and the only way to get good service is to be friends with one.
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Reply Link Flag
14 millions crap!
Ridiculous and a good example of investor's crazyness. Hope some of the lawyers they have badly rated engage a lawsuit against the site, for destroying their reputation (however not Mr Lincoln!!***) If they win (I hope) is their rating going to be upgraded ?
In french: grotesque
Posted by minoal (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
NONSENSE
Right. So this site is really and truly a load of crap. My father is a lawyer, and I used his firm as an example since I am familiar with its members and their accomplishments.

Firstly, about 2/3 of the firm is not even listed on the site. This includes lawyers who have been practicing for 15-25 years and are well-established in NJ and NY - and by "well-established," I mean prominent in the NJ bar, published, award-winning, etc.

Secondly, (using my father as an example) he has passed the bar in NY and NJ, but primarily practices in NJ. Yet, he is only listed as practicing in NY.

Thirdly, the address of the firm is not at all correct. The address listed has not been used by them for over 18 months.

I would not recommend this site to people looking for attorneys, as it is clearly inaccurate. Any information on there should be taken with a grain of salt. Findlaw.com is a much better alternative. While it does not rate performance and does give greater priority to firms who pay to advertise, at least the contact information is accurate.
Posted by Jillyho (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not yet in New Jersey
Jillyho,

I'm the VP of Products and Marketing at Avvo, and wanted to address some of your concerns. The reason the partners you referred to are not listed is because we launched in 10 states, including New York, but not New Jersey. We are working hard to add states as quickly as we can, and hopefully will have New Jersey in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, any of the partners who are listed can claim their profiles for free and update them with as much information as they wish.

As for the incorrect address, that is the address provided by them to the New York bar; however, once they've claimed their profile they can update that too.

Thanks for checking out the site.

Paul
Posted by Paulbloom (1 comment )
Link Flag
Finding a good lawyer
If you're interested in finding a good lawyer, look to the licensing body to see whether the lawyer has any sanctions. Everybody's experience with a lawyer is going to be different, and therefore, subjective. This experience will also probably be colored by the emotions of the client. The subjective experience and emotional aspect will be reflected in the post on this great new website. Good or bad results for one person are not good or bad results for you. This isn't rocket science. As for lawyers and technology, the recommendations to Abe and Clarence to update their profiles speak for themselves. Moreover, 2/3 of Jillyho's daddy's firm is not even listed (those New Jersey/New York recommendations must be bare without them). In fairness, there are some tech-savvy lawyers but, for the most part, technology is not a lawyer's strong suit. I know a lady who went to Beverly Hills to find an attorney because, well, everything is great in Beverly Hills, right? She got hosed. Find somebody without sanctions, somebody you can afford, somebody who is not too busy to take your calls. Most expensive, best location, even 8 or 9 stars from this website is not an indicator of good results for you.
Posted by 247mark (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Can't Find Abraham Lincoln's Phone #
I would really like hime to represent me. I'm glad he's still practicing. If anyone has his contact info, let me know. I knew not to trust all the media hype over that crazy actor, John Booth. People will believe ANYTHING!
Posted by Bevo4138 (20 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I am a practicing corporate lawyer,
and most corporate lawyers working in-house at corporations are not listed, because they only do legal work for one client, and typically we do not engage in the types of activities that would cause us to find our names in the newpapers.

Although this site seems like a good idea, if I, a good friend or family member asked me for a referral to a lawyer, I would ask my lawyer friends first, or ask people who have employed lawyers if they were happy with the service they
received. I would avoid a site that uses an algorithm to rate a lawyer's efficiency like the plague, especially one so full of errors!
Posted by itango (80 comments )
Reply Link Flag
$14 million.. nice
I wish some venture capitalist would give me $14 million for my website ideas.. gezz.

As far as the low rating for these "magna *** laude" Haarvard/Stanford grads... don't mean a thing. Means they tested well or made lots of friends alogn the way. How did they do on the bar? Did they pass the first time? All it takes is one "glamour case" and they are in.
Posted by paulvalach (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Response from Avvo CEO
Thanks for talking with me and looking over Avvo?s beta site, Declan. You raise some good points, but I am writing so they don?t obscure the big picture. As we discussed, Avvo?s site (www.avvo.com) is designed to help consumers find the right lawyer to help them. The depth and breadth of our beta site is in those areas that drive roughly 85% of today?s internet searches for lawyers ? areas like divorce, criminal, personal injury, etc. The person that is going through an emotional divorce, for example, will not get much help from a Supreme Court justice or attorney general.

We?ve saved consumers hours of research by aggregating information on every attorney licensed in the states we currently cover. And much of that information would be very difficult ? if not impossible ? for consumers to find without Avvo. As you?ve pointed out, we have more information on some attorneys than others and since the Avvo Rating is based upon what we know about an attorney, lack of information does affect the rating.

One of the fun things about our site is that, because we pull from the state public records, we do have retired or expired lawyers in our database. Because these lawyers will not be much help to consumers, Avvo does not rate them and they will not show up in our search results. However, if someone wants to see Abraham Lincoln?s bar records, why not show it to them?

That said, we will continue to improve. We?re working hard to constantly add more information and, now that we?re live, lawyers and consumers can help by adding their own content. In just the few hours since launch, hundreds of attorneys have claimed their profiles and provided consumers valuable information regarding their body of work.

We worked with hundreds of attorneys and thousands of consumers in developing this site and it is clear that we?re delivering a valuable service even with this initial beta version. I hope you?ll keep an eye on us as we continue to develop our site.

Mark Britton, CEO, Avvo
Posted by mark britton (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Mistakes like this are expected in a Beta release.
It probably needs to be so marked.

I agree as to the need for someone to get a credability and trust score before hiring an attorney.

Your doctor, religious practitioner, and your lawyer are the three most important people in your life, outside family.

Since many politions come from the legal profession, we will have another guage to use in that arena also.

Meanwhile, let us laugh at the funniest, and use the feedback tools to correct and fine tune this new compass for the legal industry.

I am already picturing a subset of the SEO industy to help lawyers improve their scores.
Posted by disco-legend-zeke (448 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The number fetish
It's interesting to me that we seem to be so caught up in a ratings fetish these days, as if the "quality" of a lawyer is simply a matter of crunching numbers and assigning a score. Would we try to rank the "best" artist of the Rennaisance with a number? Seems pretty silly, doesn't it? The point is not that lawyers are like Rennaissance artists, but simply that for any endeavor beyond the childishly simple, there is not a numerical "best." Web sites like this do clients a grave disservice but suggesting otherwise.

My crystal ball says that this site will sink without a trace. Clients have real money and real problems, and I doubt they will be taken in my anonymous, black-box "ratings." For the VC community, I suppose it's worth a roll of the dice. After all, they expect most of their investments to lose money.

I note that my own rating is a flattering 6.5, despite the utter absence of any descriptive information about me other than my name and the date of my first admission to the bar.
Posted by Drummerpig (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Givin' me a place to start
I read several articles about the launch of this site. Sure, it looks like they need to do some clean-up and I'm sure lawyers will take offense to their scores.

Bottom line is that is gives a consumer like me a place to start. I have some friends that are lawyers, but beyond that, how am I going to start to find a lawyer if they can't help me? What if I didn't have any friends in the legal community... then what?!?!?

There is no way I am going to base my hiring of a legal advisor off of a score, but it gives me insight into who they are, what they focus on and if they've had any problems in the past.

As for the site, it's easy to use, very clean and I was able to navigate through some searches without much trouble. I went to another site after reading this article (lawyer.com) and my eyes went cross-eyed with that UI.

Funny about Lincoln and the others.
Posted by rjnadal (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Not as easy as you think
It's not as easy as you think. I deal with a lot of lawyers because I ran a disability website for people who get cheated by long term disability insurers www.corporatecrimefighters.com (it's undergoing a remake so there isn't much there right now)

Judging lawyers by awards and articles and such is like judging doctors that way. All that counts is if your doctor can cure you, not how famous he is. All that counts is if a lawyer can get your money and your life back. David Boies has won big cases, but he's also lost big cases.

What about a small time lawyer who gets quick results and has a very high success rating because he knows the system and can talk to the people - and can get a settlement without even going to court? Maybe not the news-making settlement, but those are mostly bogus. The award is whittled down or reversed, and then fees and taxes take most of it so they get ten cents on the dollar. Especially because you are taxed on what you get Before you pay the lawyer.

Some people have gotten a "million dollar award" in the papers, and ended up with enough to buy a motorcycle - and we're not talking a Goldwing. But you never see that in the news

Maybe he doesn't get awards, but I'd rather have him for an attorney than be dragged through courtroom hell for ten years with someone who has a big rep.
Posted by cybervigilante (529 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Inaccuracies
Most sites, ever those who are well respected and well past their Beta versions, also have a great deal of inaccuracies. Take this article on your site. It fails to mention that AVVO is in the Beta stage and that it is only in 10 states. Important information I feel. And when you consider the amount of lawyers in just thoes 10 states I'm surprised the site did as well as it did. It's a good starting point, nothing more.

I often consult your site (inaccurate though it may be) to check on items I am considering buying. However I'd be a fool to take only that one opinion. Anyone who make an important decision based on the advice of a single website deserves what they get.

If I was looking for a lawyer to defend me in a murder case, the fact that they have published articles or have sat on the Supream court is not really what I would look for. With all deference to Ruth Bader Ginsberg, give me an unknown who is in court every day and wins cases, that's the gal I want.
Posted by Alexlonebear (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A great lawyer site
I stumbled across this site not to long ago, check it out:

liamlaw.com
Posted by tylerfo (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Even with a little research, this is clearly a Scam
It seems that someone who has the assumed intelligence to lead a company like Expedia would not be so short-sighted as to make up a ridiculously incompetent rating system as AVVO. One can only imagine the law suits filing up already!!
Posted by ricrac1 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Subjectively quantifying lawyers for ad $ = joke.
This thing truly does smell on a number of fronts. The guy has chosen to toss his brethren under the train in an attempt to generate cash from ads. Nice start.

How do you come up with a system that takes a purely subjective matter and devise a ratings scheme that is applied to professionals? Clearly they have no clue unless all of us here would be willing to hire this guy before Scheck if our lives were in the balance.

The answer, of course, is you cannot. This thing will unnecessarily taint the careers of many superb attorneys while many hacks who garner higher scores will come up at the top of the listings - those most clicked on.

Is this where we are at? Ranking lawyers like a new album so that some goofs can try to get Google money? Given how well this thing seems to work, I would advise all to call a friend or flip the Yellow Pages as you will undoubtedly do better.
Posted by grandet (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Achtung, Declan Baby!!
Snarking aside, Avvo's goal seems to be to provide a great service, and providing great service isn't easy. The problem might be in the promotion, but the idea itself has been tried in a lot of different ways without success. There's no harm in trying it again.

Avvo is attempting to avoid some of the errors of other sites, most of whom are the stepchildren of seriously deep pocketed legal information providers who didn't devote the energy and resources to development of comprehensive resources.

The big players already have huge databases on lawyers, but none has come up with a reasonable presentation of that information for the average consumer. Public information is only really useful when aggregated and interpreted, so let's see how Avvo does before slamming them too hard.

Consumers are used to tuning out Google ads by now,--at least until they need something, so the model is tired, but not yet dead. Eventually everyone will move on to another income-producing model, but until then, going with the flow ain't so bad. Anyway, which came first,-- the TV show or the commercial? Was U2's first album their best? I've been a U2 fan for 25 years and personally have clocked the most hours on Achtung Baby. Yet, one doesn't get to one without the other.

I blog about "Law 2.0" services from the perspective of the intersection between law and technology ("Mullen on Law 2.0") and from that vantage point, I see some neat things coming. Avvo is using Ajax in interesting and helpful ways, the user interface is very-user friendly and I suspect the back end is supported by the latest programming innovations as well.

As a lawyer, OF COURSE, I have misgivings, but I think that a little pain in the industry is long overdue. Law is a service industry and to argue that it doesn't already have ratings is simply not correct. I'd love to see a poll of lawyers asking whether they have a clue about the foundation for Martindale Hubbell's ratings. At the end of the day, consumers need to be given as many tools to sort out their legal issues as possible. Nolo offers a great service, let's give Avvo a chance to do the same in a different way.

Do I care about my Avvo rating? No, but then again, I don't know what it is. And, I probably won't look (once they get Michigan up and running), so that I can stay as objective as possible. There's great blogging material there, so my personal experience there as a lawyer shouldn't matter.

The problem is that ratings in the legal world are generally tools used to exclude, not include. Every lawyer has faced the stress of knowing that GPA and LSAT scores mean almost nothing on the street and that "Ivy League" is a term used to strangle the careers of aspiring corporate lawyers who attend non-Ivy schools. Lawyers love special clubs, and so one more ratings system is hardly going to break the bank. My hope is that sites like Avvo will encourage all lawyers to not just think outside of the box, but to build tools that encourage competence in our clients.
Posted by MullenR (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
what about your number fetish?
I've loved speedometers since I was about seven. I drew them at nine. I still like them in my mid-20s. Weird. I picturce certain people's faces by the 60 speed mark. I know. It is a mystery. Ah, I have autisim. It does a lot of stuff. I had eight major issues since my first year in h. school. I can't say here. So, I think it's silly. Numbers. I like speed meters that go up high. I hate the ones that end at 85. It's stupid. I also have to see a good font of them. Ha ha. That's all for now.
Posted by 6_4_00 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Britton is an attorney - should know better
What I find amazing and interesting is that Britton himself is an attorney currently licensed in Washington. He has included Pennsylvania in his rankings. In this lawyer's opinion, the ranking itself violates the Rules of Professional Responsibility in the state of Pennsylvania as it realtes to advertising and his site invites lawyers to "claim their profile" and add information to the site whcih can effect the rratings and lawyers are not permitted to lead clients to believe that they are superior to another attorney my making claism that cannot be substantiated. Mr. Britton thereby colludes with every attorney who "calims the profile". If an attorney cannot abide by the Professional Rules, would you really want to hire that attorney? OF couorse not and as such, Mr. Britton may be able to subject to the PEnnsylvania Disciplinary Board. In my opinion, anyone who finds a lawyer on the site who has "claimed their profile", it is my opinion that they should be avoided like the plague. And, as for other lawyers, it is clear that the algorithm is not worth that what you would use after sitting on a toilet. They are clearly driven by greed and not by ethics.

Coincidentally, I found at least 25 laywers who had inaccurate information. Indeed, my own profile had information and I had fought with them to remove me. The reponses I received seemed to be more interested in gettng me to fix their errors which quite frankly is not my concern, but theirs. First Amendment speech protects truth which clearly is not what is being presented on this site.

In addition, they have taken it upon themselves to act as my agent without my authorization and have refused to cease doing so forcing me to shop lawyers and sue. This is accomplished by their inviting visitors to sned me an e-mail which is accomplished by the user using the avvo mail client system and then avvo sends me an e-mail, thereby acting as my agent. This amounts to nothing more than clear tortious intereference with my business. If also makes it appear as though I have a relationship with these greed mongers which I would not.

Finally, they are advetising on the site that they soon will be offering targeted advertising for attorneys. As such, it appears that what avvo really seeks to do is "dupe" the user. The user will search a particular attorney. They will then provide ads for competition for the attorney. Avvo is not good for attorneys or users and it is clear that they seek to obtain pecuniary gain at the peril of users and attorneys alike.
Posted by fractyl (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.