Avvo

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Avvo.com is an expert-only Q&A forum where people can ask legal questions of lawyers, for free.[1] The Q&A forum is backed by an online directory of lawyers licensed in the United States. Avvo provides listings to which attorneys can submit their own profiles and histories. The listings may also include client reviews, disciplinary actions, and peer endorsements.

Launched in 2007, Avvo has developed a rating scale for lawyers based upon a proprietary algorithm. The ratings system was widely criticized for inaccuracy and inconsistency.[2] A lawsuit filed against the company alleged it was a "scam" and libelous. The suit was dismissed on the basis that the ratings were an opinion protected by the First Amendment right of free speech.[3]

The claim that Avvo is a "scam" is related to the fact that any person may post a review of any lawyer on the site. Unfortunately, this results in anonymous statements that cannot be verified or confirmed. For example, any person can post a review falsely claiming to be a former client.

The website also includes lawyer-submitted legal guides and a forum to ask legal questions from lawyers.

Avvo
FindLaw logo
Type Legal services search
Founded 2006
Headquarters , United States
Website http://www.avvo.com
Type of site Legal

History[edit]

Avvo was founded in Seattle, Washington in 2007 by Mark Britton, a former legal counsel for Expedia.com. Britton said he developed the idea while vacationing in Italy with Rich Barton, the founder of the real-estate database Zillow.com. Avvo was derived from “avvocato”, the Italian word for lawyer.[4]

The company was initially financed with venture capital of $13 million from Benchmark Capital and Ignition Partners.[4] Subsequently, Avvo raised $37.5 million in financing in 2014, which brings the company's total financing to $60.5 million. [5]

Business model[edit]

Avvo generates revenue by selling advertising and other services primarily to lawyers.[3] Avvo operates as a scraper site to generate its lawyer listing pages causing the District of Columbia Bar Association to specifically object to its business practices.[6] An additional source of revenue for Avvo is through a $49.95/mo subscription service called "Avvo Pro" which allows lawyers to remove advertisements from their profile, including advertisements by competing lawyers which may appear on non "Avvo Pro" lawyer profiles.[7]

Rating[edit]

"Avvo's rating is difficult to assess because the company does not disclose how it is calculated, ostensibly because such disclosure would allow lawyers to manipulate and 'game' the rankings in their favor. Avvo does not permit lawyers to pay or purchase ads to help their ratings—however, given the secrecy of its rating algorithm, it is difficult to verify this anti-payola pledge. News outlets have reported Avvo’s scores to be “some what arbitrary,” noting Avvo’s “execs or board members received higher scores than Supreme Court justices.”[8] Attorney Charles Krugel wrote that Avvo's attorney rating system is defective and biased.[9]

Partly in order to avoid liability for defamation, Avvo insists that its rankings are merely its opinion, and not factual.[10]

Lawyers may be able to manipulate their ratings. For example, a lawyer who was censured for misconduct appears to have "padded" his entry by including a long list of activities that occurred prior to the censure, and his rating is now higher than lawyers who have not been found to have engaged in misconduct. Of particular interest in attempting to evaluate the legitimacy of Avvo's rating system is the fact that Mark Britton himself has a near perfect rating on Avvo yet he is not a board-certified lawyer in any respect or expertise such as trial lawyer or anything else, he has never offered to the public any documentation of any representative legal cases whatsoever in which he specifically provided actual legal representation, which is customary for accomplished lawyers or lawyers who hold themselves out to be accomplished, he did not graduate from law school with academic honors or any distinction such as Law Review or Law Journal, and Mark Britton despite claiming to be a practicing lawyer for 20 years has failed to obtain any kind of rating whatsoever by LexisNexis Martindale, which is the oldest and most established company for rating lawyers.[11] Doubts about the legitimacy of Avvo's rating system are further supported by Avvo's rating of Vincent J. Fumo out of Philadelphia. As of April 2014 Avvo rates Vincent J. Fumo of Philadelphia as a 7.2 "very good" lawyer despite the fact that he was a powerful Pennsylvania State Senator and career politician who did not practice law and never practiced law, Mr.Fumo was only associated with a large law firm as a "rainmaker", Mr. Fumo has been in federal prison for the past 4 years serving a sentence for political corruption, and Mr. Fumo's license to practice law was publicly revoked 4 years ago and posted publicly[12] but all that was ignored by Avvo in its rating process. All this supports grave concerns about the integrity of Avvo's rating system.

Doctor directory[edit]

The doctor directory launched on November 1, 2010.[13] Avvo's health business was sold to HealthTap on November 29, 2012.

Lawyer directory[edit]

According to the website, the directory includes more than 95% of licensed attorneys in the United States.[14] Avvo lawyer profiles are aggregated from public records provided by state bars and additional attorney licensing entities. As of 2012, the American Bar Association reports a total of 1,268,011 lawyers in the United States.[15] An exact number of lawyer listings on Avvo is not available beyond the "95%" reported by Avvo themselves. As of July, 2013, Google.com has distinctly indexed "About 3,010,000 results" in the "avvo.com/attorneys" directory within which all attorney listings are present.[16]

Multiple news outlets have reported that Avvo's directory includes deceased lawyers.[17] As of August, 2013, Google.com has distinctly indexed "About 469,000" distinct pages marked "This lawyer is deceased" at the website avvo.com, all of which appear next to site advertisements.[18] Avvo refuses to remove profiles and does not cull the profiles of deceased lawyers or non-practicing lawyers from its directory.[19]

As of November 2, 2009, Avvo covers Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin; and has partial coverage in limited release states including Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, South Carolina and Wyoming.[20]

Browne v. Avvo[edit]

On June 14, 2007, nine days after Avvo’s launch, a lawsuit was filed against the website by Seattle attorneys, John Henry Browne and Alan Wenokur. The suit alleged that Avvo's rating system made false claims of being factual and was therefore deceptive, libelous and violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act.[21] United States District Court Judge Robert Lasnik ruled that the rating system was only an opinion thus protected by the First Amendment right of free speech.[22] The judge wrote, "Neither the nature of the information provided nor the language used on the Web site would lead a reasonable person to believe that the ratings are a statement of actual fact."[22]

After the ruling, a Wall Street Journal editorial endorsed the website for providing "at least some measure of transparency" of the legal profession.[23]

District of Columbia Bar Association[edit]

On the District of Columbia Bar Association's website, the DC Bar released its position about Avvo:

The Bar has not entered into any agreement with Avvo; instead, Avvo has obtained Bar member information directly from the Bar’s Web site, in violation of our restrictions on use, and used that information for its own commercial purposes. The Bar has asked Avvo to remove all improperly acquired D.C. Bar member information from its Web site, cease all attempts to acquire such information from the Bar’s Web site, and cease using improperly acquired information for any commercial purpose.[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cook, John (September 20, 2011) http://www.geekwire.com/2011/quora-avvo-rebrands-qa-site
  2. ^ Cook, John (June 5, 2007). "Online rating system Avvo puts attorneys in the hot seat". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 
  3. ^ Cook, John (June 12, 2007). "Respected lawyer wants rating site Avvo closed". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 
  4. ^ a b Duryee, Tricia (5 June 2007). "Hiring a lawyer? Avvo can help you". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 
  5. ^ Cook, John (4 May 2014). "Legal marketplace Avvo accelerates with $37.5M, eyes international expansion and new products". GeekWire. 
  6. ^ a b "Important Notice to the Membership About Avvo". District of Columbia Bar Association. Retrieved 7/10/2012. 
  7. ^ See Avvo Pro site page at: http://www.avvo.com/avvo-pro.
  8. ^ See, e.g., Cnet.com articles "Lawyer ratings site not without objections" dated June 05, 2007 and "Avvo lawyer-rating site slapped with class action" dated June 15, 2007, available at http://news.cnet.com/Lawyer-ratings-site-not-without-objections/2100-1038_3-6188675.html and http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-9730291-7.html, respectively.
  9. ^ Update Regarding Avvo and Their Defective & Biased Attorney Rating System, by Charles Krugel | Feb. 15, 2010 | http://www.charlesakrugel.com/business-management/update-regarding-avvo-their-defective-biased-attorney-rating-system.html |
  10. ^ See, e.g., "The Offensive Internet: speech, privacy, and reputation" by Saul Levmore, Martha Craven Nussbaum at page 118, paragraph 3, accessible at: http://books.google.com/books?id=ggFowwApXncC&lpg=PA118&dq=AVVO&pg=PA118#v=onepage&q=AVVO&f=false
  11. ^ http://www.martindale.com/ Martindale website]
  12. ^ PA Disciplinary Board website
  13. ^ Dudley, Brier (November 1, 2010). "Avvo to expand to include ranking physicians". The Seattle Times. 
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^ See Lawyer demographics table, page 1, column 1, available from the ABA via: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/marketresearch/PublicDocuments/lawyer_demographics_2013.pdf, retrieved July, 2013.
  16. ^ See e.g., https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Aavvo.com%2Fattorneys&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a retrieved July, 2013.
  17. ^ See, e.g., The New York Times article "On Second Thought, Let’s Just Rate All the Lawyers" and Cnet article "Lawyer ratings site not without objections" available at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/02/us/02bar.html?_r=0 and http://news.cnet.com/Lawyer-ratings-site-not-without-objections/2100-1038_3-6188675.html, respectively.
  18. ^ See query "site:avvo.com "This lawyer is deceased"" accessed July 2013 via https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Aavvo.com+%22This+lawyer+is+deceased%22&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a
  19. ^ See e.g., Avvo customer care response dated December 05, 2010 available at http://www.charlesakrugel.com/no-category/response-from-avvo-regarding-criticism.html.
  20. ^ [2]
  21. ^ Peter Geier (2007-06-18). "Avvo Sued Over Its Lawyer Rankings". The National Law Journal. Retrieved 2008-04-23. 
  22. ^ a b Mike Carter (December 19, 2007). "Lawyers' suit over site's legal ratings dismissed". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2008-04-23. 
  23. ^ "Wall Street Journal endorses lawyers rating site". The Wall Street Journal. December 24, 2007. 

External links[edit]