Getting sued for ranking lawyers: wins court battle

by Urs E. Gattiker on 2008/01/31 1 views

in white papers research

While ratings are useless at best, the judge felt, ratings and reviews are, by their very nature, subjective and debatable. To the extent that the plaintiffs lawsuit has focused a spotlight on how ludicrous the rating of attorneys (and judges) has become, more power to them but….

Should American lawyers be exposed to consumer rankings?
Agreement by the masses may not represent the true value and quality of a lawyer.
Such ratings, unless they are far better fine-tuned than today appear utterly worthless. (derived from the Italian word for layer – avvocato) was launched to rate American lawyers. As one would have expected, 2007-06-14 the site got sued in the State of Washington:Class Action Complaint No. CV7 920RSL John Henry Browne and Alan J. Wenokur v. Avvo, Inc.Avvo explains how it does its rankings as follows:

Do you publish the details of how the Avvo Rating is calculated?
The Avvo Rating is based on all of the background information in a lawyer’s profile. However, we do not disclose how we weight this information, primarily because we don’t want anyone gaming the Avvo Rating system.Much as Google doesn’t share its search engine secrets, we don’t share the inner-workings of the Avvo Rating so that we can maintain the integrity of the Avvo Rating.

But it is obvious reading the above that whatever information is being collected must than be rated by a human being who may invoke his or her own biases to do this.On top of this, whatever has been rated (e.g., quality of law degree) is than being weighted to arrive at the overall score that, in turn, is being used for generating the rankings.

Do peer endorsements and client ratings affect a lawyer’s Avvo Rating?
Peer endorsements do affect the Avvo Rating but client ratings do not. This is because peer endorsements — ­one lawyer endorsing another­ — are a form of industry recognition, one of the factors the Avvo Rating considers.Client ratings provide a very important but different kind of perspective, which we concluded did not belong in the Avvo Rating. However, in our research, consumers told us that client ratings are very important to them. So we include them in a lawyer’s profile but we do not include them in the Avvo Rating.

In dismissing the complaint without leave to amend, Judge Lasnik wrote that the ratings on the site are protected statements of opinion, commenting that “defendants’ rating is not only defensible, it is virtually impossible to prove wrong.” While evidencing clear skepticism about lawyer ratings generally, the judge also took the plaintiffs to task for bringing the lawsuit:

    [P]laintiffs Browne and Wenokur want to make a federal case out of the number assigned to them because (a) it could harm their reputation, (b) it could cost them customers/fees, or (c) it could mislead the lawyer-hiring public into retaining poor lawyers or bypassing better lawyers. To the extent that their lawsuit has focused a spotlight on how ludicrous the rating of attorneys (and judges) has become, more power to them. To the extent that they seek to prevent the dissemination of opinions regarding attorneys and judges, however, the First Amendment precludes their cause of action.

Judge Lasnik also rejected the plaintiffs’ claim under the Washington Consumer Protection Act, concluding that the rankings are not commercial enough to fall under the act and any damages resulting from consumer misinformation are too speculative to support a claim.

We can agree that consumer rankings are the genius of the internet. And yes, finally American lawyers are being exposed to rating thanks to – nonetheless, the fact remains, does not allow consumers to rank their lawyers (e.g., giving testimonials) as stated in the Table above. Instead, rankings are calculated based on information collected (e.g., what year one got her degree from which schol), provided by the lawyer and her peers (e.g., a peer giving an endorsement or recommendation DOES COUNT).

CyTRAP Labs’ take on this issue

There are huge amounts of money to be gained or lost in the game of lawyer rankings. Hence it comes as no surprise that got sued by a lawyer whose ranking was extremely high. However, the lawyer felt the way he was able to manipulate his own rankings made the system somewhat of a farce.

Judge states this issue very eloquently in Footnote one of his verdict on p. 5 :

    Ratings and reviews are, by their very nature, subjective and debatable. See Aviation Charter, Inc. v. Aviation Research Group/US, 416 F.3d 864, 870 (8th Cir. 2005) (noting that although defendant’s critique of plaintiff “relies in part on objectively verifiable data, the interpretation of those data was ultimately a subjective assessment, not an objectively verifiable fact”). Comparisons and comparative ratings are often based as much on the biases of the reviewer as on the merits of the reviewed: they should, therefore, be relied upon with caution. For example, in 2006, a new magazine called Lawdragon purported to identify the 500 leading judges in the United States. The undersigned was chosen to be one of the privileged 500 and was described as follows: “Seattle’s judicial star cites Bob Dylan in opinions while providing contraceptives and protecting orca whales.” The Leading Judges in America, Lawdragon, Winter 2006, at 72. What can one say about such nonsense? As my parents would tell me when I informed them of some of my amazing achievements as a child in Staten Island, NY, “that and five cents will get you a ride on the ferry.”

Download the pdf file of the judge’s decision, its 10 pages it is a very interesting read:

2007-12-17-Case No. C07-0920RSL order granting defendents’ motion to dismiss the case against – ranking lawyers

Avvo attempts to do for lawyers what any number of magazines and Web sites have been doing for other professions for years. Hence, magazines publish their own rankings about an area’s doctors and dentists. Almost any consumer product or service these days is sorted and ranked. In theory, we concur with the Wall Street Journal (2007-12-24, p. A10, Opinion) that felt that an online rating service might at least provide some measure of transparency in an otherwise opaque profession.

However, neither telling consumers

a) what information is being ranked and

b) what system is being used to rank the information collected

makes this list intransparent if not dubious.

Accordingly, it will take a while, until US consumers can trust those rankings and let them flow into the decision-making process when having to choose a lawyer. A far better example about how one can do this with much more transparancy and using a system that one can understand easily you can find with the Global MBA rankings from the Financial Times. Here, the criteria are explained in far greater detail and can be viewed online. Transparency at its core.


If this post was helpful to you, please consider stumbling it or subscribing to feeds from CyTRAP Labs. Cheers.


Also of interest:

the mission of ComMetrics

global MBA rankings from the Financial Times – but do we need them?


  • Dubai real estate portal

    Avvo is a new lawyer rating site and (like all Beta sites) it will have growing pains.

    I am an attorney and I am listed on Avvo’s site. Due to my credentials, (not being a board member) am a 10.0 listing. The site needs your INPUT to show what you have accomplished as an atorney.

    I have no doubt that Stanford’s Law School “dean” would rate a “10.0″ if he/she filled out the credentials list.

    I like the fact that with Avvo, an attorney who KNOWS the poor reputation of some local attorneys can get on the site and report truthful information.

    I have entered some cautionary warnings already for a few “lawyers”. Maybe this type of site will lead to better decision-making by SOME potential victims of bad attorneys.

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