How Avvo's "Peer Endorsement" Rewards Ass Kissers and Deceit, pt.1
"And you thought a prerequisite to being a lawyer was being smart enough to avoid stepping right into a steaming pile of circular reasoning. . . ."
If you have looked for an attorney online, then you probably ran across Avvo. Avvo is a website that supposedly rates attorneys and allows you to post questions for a pool of participating attorneys to answer, which answers usually end with words to the effect of, "You need to hire an attorney." The question and answer part of it, I learned, is also badly flawed, but that is the subject for a later post. But for right now, if you are thinking about using Avvo's so-called
attorney rating to decide which lawyer to hire for your important case, then think again.
Some attorneys post their Avvo rating on their website profile to brag about themselves in hopes of attracting (or, as you will read, maybe fooling) clients. The shame is, some of those attorneys deserve to brag, and some don't, and because of Avvo's faulty rating system, you may never know which is which until it is too late.
If you go to the AVVO website and look me up, you will see that I am rated as "Good." Funny thing is, I used to have a higher rating, and nothing changed, except I got more experienced and better as an attorney. Make sense? It shouldn't. That is why in almost every field in my Avvo profile, you will read, "Avvo Sucks! (In my opinion)". Knowing how it works, I refuse to play the Avvo game, but no attorney, including me, can opt out of their dumb website.
Just today, I went to Avvo and looked up a former law partner of mine (whose name I will keep secret to protect the innocent). This guy is a fabulous criminal and civil trial lawyer with more than 35 years experience, and AV rated by Martindale Hubbell for many, many years. However, Avvo had him rated as "Good," only one step up from their lowest favorable rating, "Average." I can personally take you to the profiles of numerous other attorneys who, in my opinion, have far less experience and far less talent, but who have been rated "Very Good", "Excellent", and even "Superb". How can that be, you ask? Simple: The so-called "peer endorsement" component of Avvo is a breeze to manipulate.
"Then why don't you manipulate it"?, you may ask? Number one, I am not a kiss ass, and neither is my former partner; and number two, that would be completely dishonest, not to mention a complete disservice to people who are looking for honest and accurate information when seeking an attorney.
If I put my "Avvo rating" above my integrity, as many attorneys-- but certainly not all--have done, then I could easily, and almost instantly boost my Avvo rating. All I would need to do is look up some of my law school buddies and get them to agree to give each other good peer endorsements. Hopefully, they would not agree to that, right? Well, take a look at some higher-ranking profiles on Avvo, and then look at their peer endorsements. You will often find lawyers from different states, sometimes even different regions of the Country, giving ringing endorsements to a lawyer in your city. You may even see that the attorney who received the endorsement has reciprocated by giving a sterling endorsement back. Wow: I'm sure nothing is going on there.
Even more manipulative is the prospect of lawyers within the same community, but with differing practice areas, reciprocating with good peer endorsements in order to give each other a leg up on the competition by artificially boosting their Avvo ratings. In fact, some peer endorsements are not even dishonest, because they identify themselves as a "friend" or former coworker of the attorney. Avvo still sees it as a favorable endorsement. Of course, the other possibility is the, "You get me an endorsement, and I'll get you one", to avoid the obvious trading of endorsements. Remember, Avvo doesn't send ballots out and ask lawyers pick other good lawyers to endorse. The lawyer has to go out of his/her way to look up the lawyer and give them an endorsement. That's awful nice of them, isn't it?
Take the case of a local attorney who was recently publically reprimanded for taking money from a State-funded public defender client on the side. He has accumulated 13 peer endorsements. Of those, 4 can be considered local attorneys, 2 are from other areas of the state, and the rest are from attorneys as far away as Massachusetts and New York. However, almost all the endorsements claim to be a "fellow attorney in the community." I suppose that could be true, so long as you consider "the community" as encompassing a territory stretching from western Wisconsin to Massachusetts, or as including every attorney on Avvo. I doubt that's what most people have in mind.
Further, in each case, the local attorney reciprocated with an endorsement of the other attorney. It gets worse:
Among the 13 attorneys willing to vouch for our local attorney are Howard M. Lewis, an attorney from Massachusetts who has accumulated 650 personal peer endorsements, stretching from coast to coast; and Matisyahu Wolfberg, from New York, who has 172 personal peer endorsements. Alas, Howard M. Lewis even endorsed one of the other Wisconsin attorneys who endorsed, and was endorsed by, our local attorney! If you look closely at the endorsements, you will even find attorneys justifying their endorsement based on the number of endorsements the attorney has amassed. And you thought a prerequisite to being a lawyer was being smart enough avoid to stepping right into a steaming pile of circular reasoning.
Yet another concern with Avvo's "peer endorsement" component is the prospect that, the more popular the lawyer with other lawyers, the more peer endorsements he/she may get. However, being popular with other attorneys is not necessarily any measure of being a good attorney and, for better or worse, it can be very bad measure, if you consider that attorneys, and particularly trial attorneys, often work against each other in what has been rightfully termed an "adversarial" system. Being liked by your adversaries is far different from being respected by them. I doubt any of my "adversaries" would ever go out of their way to endorse me on Avvo. If they did, I would certainly worry about what that says about me as a lawyer.
Alas, there are far more reliable ways to find a good lawyer by than looking to this faulty rating system. That will be the subject of a future post. Stay tuned. In the meantime, for a hillarious article by another attorney who thinks Avvo has no clue, read "AVVOcalypse Now". http://unwashedadvocate.com/2012/11/23/avvocalypse-now/