New York Personal Injury Law Blog » Avvo, Censure/Suspension/Disbarment, Sol Wachtler

 

January 14th, 2011

Has Your Avvo Rating Decreased? (And Why Is There “No Concern” Over the Disbarred Lawyer?)

I got an email from lawyer-rating site Avvo two days ago. It told me that my Avvo rating had dropped from 6.7 to 6.6. The top score is a 10.

Had I done something wrong? No.

Had I been reprimanded or disciplined somehow? No.

And I also noticed that a lawyer that had been famously disbarred was listed as having “No professional misconduct found.” What’s going on around here?

The Avvo rating, it seems, is based upon its super-secret “mathematical model.” It made me wonder a bit about the 11 herbs and spices that went into this, so I read their explanation:

The rating is calculated using a mathematical model that considers the information shown in a lawyer’s profile, including a lawyer’s years in practice, disciplinary history, professional achievements and industry recognition – all factors that, in our opinion, are relevant to assessing a lawyer’s qualifications.

According to that explanation, my rating should go up, not down.

But if my rating got lowered for no apparent reason, I wondered if others were lookin’ a bit better than, perhaps, they deserved. So I checked out the former Chief Judge of New York, Sol Wachtler, to see how he was doing. He had a bright green check mark that said “No Concern.” And a statement that said “We have not found any instances of professional misconduct for this lawyer.” [Update: The Wachtler listing was updated after this post appeared; see the comments.]

So I guess that part about him being arrested, convicted, jailed and disbarred doesn’t really matter to Avvo’s “mathematical model.” Judge Wachtler was subsequently re-instated to the bar, but how could Avvo miss a story that played out on the front pages of the newspapers?

Now I don’t write this to pick on our former Chief  Judge who has done his time, as this is very old news. I do it to pick on Avvo and demonstrate that whatever “mathematical model” it claims to use clearly continues to have problems.

This isn’t the first time I’ve checked in on the company. I saw in January 2009, for instance, that there was “no concern” over a registered sex offender. It’s two years later now, and Avvo still can’t seem to get its act together with respect to the most basic of ratings (finding misconduct), according to my utterly unscientific check of exactly one famously disbarred lawyer.

But one thing Avvo has been very good at is gaining attention for itself. There have been no shortage of articles, and links, to the site. That gives it Google juice, and thus a self-fullfilling prophecy is born; if lawyers are worried about potential clients seeing an Avvo rating, then they will want it to be a perfect 10. If you Google Avvo, you will find there are now over a million hits.

And how do you get the higher score? How do you get to be a 10? Well, Avvo is perfectly happy to tell you that “Peer endorsements do affect the Avvo Rating.” Ahhh, so if you can persuade your friends to review you, that will help get you a better objective rating. But ignore Avvo and just be the best lawyer you can be, and your rating may drop. This, of course, doesn’t make sense in any logical universe.

But it does make sense if you want to make a buck. Avvo, after all, isn’t in this game to be altruistic. If  you let your friends know about the site, and get them to review you, your rating will go up. Big win for Avvo. Big win for anyone that plays Avvo’s game. Not such a big win for lawyers that just do their job.

And there’s more. I know this will come as a great shock to many but, if you pay the company a fee, they will give you benefits; like turning off the advertisements that would otherwise run right next to your name.

But wait, there’s even more! If you order soon, there may still be openings for “sponsored listings” in your area! That’s right, like a gazillion other lawyer search companies, Avvo is in the pay-us-to-highlight-your name game. This is the pitch I got from them in September;

I wanted to let you know that we have a sponsored listing position open for Medical Malpractice in New York County. This is your chance to be showcased throughout Avvo when consumers are seeking legal assistance. Not only will you get listed above top-rated Avvo attorneys in search results, you’ll also get featured on every page where consumers (who live in New York County) are researching Medical Malpractice information.

Then I got another one in October, another in November and another in December. Nice. They look just like a thousand other pitches I’ve received.

So in the end, it really isn’t about a rating, and perhaps lawyers that watch Avvo should stop pretending it is. It’s about generating buzz by getting your lawyer friends to rate you, getting higher Google page rank, and ultimately getting fees from lawyers to have their names stuck  up above the listed ratings. Avvo has just figured out a more sophisticated way to do this than most of the other slobs out there. The ratings, it seems, aren’t really all that important except as a come-on to the lawyers that the company wants to pitch services to.

The company has now expanded to add doctor-ratings. There is exactly zero chance this will be any better than lawyer-ratings.

(All Avvo links coded as “nofollow” so as not to make the situation even worse)

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Updated: I noodled around with Avvo and added some faux awards like SuperLawyers and ABA Blawg 100. My rating went up. The Blawg 100, of course, says nothing about my skills in the courtroom. And my SuperLawyers “rating” is one that I’ve already discussed my ambivalence about.  If I paid money for another faux award, the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, would that also increase by “rating?” I also added a few speaking engagements and op-eds I’ve written.

And this was interesting, I inadvertently listed the same publication twice. When I deleted the redundant one, the rating went down. In other words, not only isn’t there any check on the quality of the publication, there isn’t even a check on redundancy.

In essence, the Avvo nonsense doesn’t really rate lawyers at all, but rates their ability to promote themselves by giving them information. Then they contact you to try to sell you advertising.

See also: Attract Clients with a Crappier Avvo Rating (Big Legal Brain)

17 thoughts on “Has Your Avvo Rating Decreased? (And Why Is There “No Concern” Over the Disbarred Lawyer?)

  1. Avvo’s management is just plain idiotic, they dropped my rating two full points for no reason even after I answered over 3000 questions on their site! On top of that I was paying these goofballs $25 a month for an ad.

  2. Eric, I decided to take a look this morning and currently, thankfully, I am not rated despite the fact that I’ve been practicing plaintiff’s medical malpractice for 24 years most of it at Wingate Russotti & Shapiro. So I decided to check Tom Moore’s rating and I don’t see any rating either. I then decided to look through the ratings and whatever there formula is – it doesn’t jibe with my knowledge concerning who are excellent medical malpractice lawyers. Also, many are defense lawyers (I know more defense lawyers professionally) and I can say for sure that I’ve litigated cases with many of the people rated and those ratings don’t make sense either.

    • So I decided to check Tom Moore’s rating and I don’t see any rating either.

      Nor is there any rating for Sec’y State Hillary Clinton or Gov. Andrew Cuomo. I guess Avvo couldn’t find any info on them either.

      All of which points to the stupidity of a numerical rating system. The only ones that truly benefit are those that are interested in trying to game the system by getting others to rate them.

  3. Eric: Glad you wrote about this. Same thing happened to me the other day and I wondered the same thing….I didn’t do anything different, wrong or half-assed, so why the drop in my rating. And yes, Avvo has been bugging me for months to pay for a sponsored listing position. Yeah right. And I know several friends of mine who have played their game and got several people to write recommendations for them and their rating shot up to 10….and believe me they are not “10” lawyers. Problem is, public who looks at these…if they do…have no clue of the game.

  4. I actually advertised with them and they offered me a money-back guarantee. I was reimbursed although they didn’t make that part easy at all. I asked them to tell me what I needed to do to legitimately get a 10 rating. I saw fellow lawyers who never go to a courtroom with 10’s and I wasn’t anywhere near. They refused to tell me instead giving me the gobbledygook they gave you. I gave up and got my money back. Oh, and I never got a single Avvo related lead in the 3 months I advertised. I wonder if anyone acutally have.

  5. @Conrad from Avvo

    Eric – you didn’t look very hard. Here’s Cuomo’s profile: http://www.avvo.com/attorneys/10271-ny-andrew-cuomo-857336.html and here is Clinton’s: http://www.avvo.com/attorneys/10514-ny-hillary-clinton-1675741.html

    Well, I see that Avvo has now updated the profile for former Chief Judge Sol Wachtler to indicate he was disbarred.

    Did I miss the Clinton/Cuomo thing or was that also updated after I posted?

  6. Eric – Let me address two points. First the change to the algorithm and second, the sanction information for specific lawyers.

    With regards to updating the algorithm, we get lots of input over the year about the ratings. (Including from blogs like yours.) We collect all of this feedback over the year and assess how and if the algorithm should be tweaked. We’ll continue to refine this over time based on feedback from the market.

    Secondly – your point regarding outdated sanction information on the site is a very fair point and something we take very seriously. We rely on state bars for this information and unfortunately not all state bars have the technical infrastructure to make this an easy process. We do take ad hoc input on specific sanctioned lawyers and update them as one offs throughout the year. (You’ll note Wachtler’s profile has been updated based on your input: http://www.avvo.com/attorneys/11722-ny-solomon-wachtler-785557.html).

    Again even if you’re not a fan of Avvo, I appreciate the feedback as it helps us improve the product over time.

    -Conrad from Avvo

  7. @Conrad from Avvo
    With regards to updating the algorithm, we get lots of input over the year about the ratings. (Including from blogs like yours.)

    What’s to prevent the system from being gamed by having associates endorse the boss?

    What’s to prevent faux awards like Million Dollar Advocates Forum being “counted” as a legitimate award? There is, after all, no master directory of real awards and phony ones.

    And what’s to prevent me from using this very post as a “publication” to enhance my rating?

    I once ripped apart the work of a BigLaw guy who represented Judge Robert Bork in a trip/fall case. He may have qualifications up the wazoo, but as you can see from this post, he was out of his league on a simple case:
    http://www.newyorkpersonalinjuryattorneyblog.com/2007/06/bork-amends-lawsuit-keeps-claim-for-over-1000000-plus-punitive-damages.html

    There are countless shades of gray with a lot of this stuff, which is to be expected since law is a service profession where there really is no way to create an objective rating.

    Again even if you’re not a fan of Avvo, I appreciate the feedback as it helps us improve the product over time.

    I write a snipe-filled post about Avvo and you give me a perfectly civil reply? They ain’t paying you enough. Tell the boss I said so….

  8. @Eric Turkewitz

    Again fair comments, but you’re assuming the ratings algorithm is fairly simplistic. (It’s not, which is why we need continue to refine it.) Your points specifically:

    Associates Endorsing Bosses – this is the foundation of all other ratings systems. We believe Avvo is better b/c its only one component of the Avvo Rating. Your also fallaciously assuming that all endorsements are created equal. 🙂

    Faux Awards – there is a master directory of legit and phony awards. We’ve created it by manually researching and scoring all “awards” submitted on lawyer profiles over the past 4 years. And yes, there are a few “My Mom Thinks I’m the Best Lawyer in Tuscaloosa Golden Medal Award”. And no, these don’t impact the Avvo Rating. Same goes for publications (not all publications are created equal and regardless of how awesome a lawyer thinks her blog is, it’s not going to impact the Avvo Rating, although I’ve heard that demand as well.)

    Your also right about shades of gray – the Avvo Rating is simply a way for consumers (with no knowledge of how to evaluate an legal resume) to get a quick feel of an lawyer’s background.

    Be well,
    Conrad

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