A number of folks have already written about how New York has dealt another setback for Avvo Legal Services in the form of NY State Bar Ethics Op. 1132 which found that New York lawyers could not participate in Avvo Legal Services because payment of Avvo’s marketing fee amounts to payment for recommendation of services in violation of New York’s Rule 7.2(a).
The opinion is notable not just for its potential influence and the number of lawyers it impacts but because it is the first opinion weighing in on Avvo Legal Services that explicitly ties together the rating service that Avvo provides and has long provided with the Avvo Legal Services platform that has more recently come to pass.
In doing so, the New York opinion went ahead and analyzed the Rule 7.2(a) question assuming that Avvo’s lawyer ratings were bona fide ratings. It made the point that, if they were not, then other issues would arise regarding lawyer participation with Avvo and lawyer touting of ratings issued by Avvo but went ahead and assumed they were bona fide.
I want to spend just a moment to tackle that assumption and offer my own opinion on the subject. Are Avvo’s lawyer ratings bona fide? No. Of course they are not bona fide. They are not bona fide because your only hope of having a high rating is to work with them and cooperate with them.
My basis for having this opinion is not solely about on my own experience. But, an examination of my own rating with Avvo is an admittedly good place to start explaining my opinion.
I have never “claimed” my Avvo profile nor contributed any information to Avvo to assist in building the profile they have put together on their own for me. (Interestingly, a few times after I have written posts here about problems with Avvo Legal Services I have gotten multiple, repeated calls from Avvo trying to assist me in improving/completing my profile and offering how to claim my profile.) When you go search me up on Avvo you will see that they have afforded me a 6.7 rating out of 10.
Now, admittedly all lawyers are egotistical and none of us are truly capable of objectively evaluating are own worth, but … You can probably say many negative things about me but I don’t think you can say I’m a 6.7 out of 10 when it comes to being a lawyer.
I’ve been listed in Best Lawyers in America every year since 2009. In 2017, Best Lawyers listed me as its Appellate Lawyer of the Year in Memphis. I’ve been listed as a “Super Lawyer” by Mid South Super Lawyers since 2011 and for two out of three years before that (2008 & 2010) I was listed by that publication as a “Rising Star.” I have been AV rated by Martindale Hubbell since at least as early as 2010. (It’s rating of me is 4.7 on a scale of 5).
All of that information is readily, publicly available and could be gathered and evaluated by Avvo without any input from me and without any need for me to confirm or claim my profile. But I haven’t claimed my profile and, they’ve pegged me as a 6.7 out of 10.
Just to make clear that my opinion on this isn’t solely based on my own personal experience/situation. Let me offer a few more examples that are impossible to reconcile with the concept of Avvo offering a bona fide rating system.
Christine P. Richards, the General Counsel of FedEx – she gets an even lower rating than I do, at 6.5.
Also getting a 6.5, Bill Freivogel the conflicts-guru in the ethics world behind Freivogel on Conflicts. Barbara Gillers a fantastic lawyer with a prominent law firm in New York and who is the incoming Chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility also gets the same 6.7 rating I do.
Or, how about Abbe Lowell the prominent D.C. lawyer who is now representing Jared Kushner. He gets a 6.6. Or, here’s a fun one, the lawyer heading up the special counsel investigation into the President, Robert Mueller? He too is just a 6.5.
But Avvo’s own general counsel, Josh King? Well, Avvo gives him a 10 rating.
Dan Lear, an attorney who also works for Avvo, he gets a 9.2 rating.
Oh, I can tell you one that they have gotten correct though, Roy D. Simon, who happens to be a member of the NYSBA committee that issued this most recent ethics opinion also gets a 10 rating from Avvo.
(N.B. While I have no misgivings about my level of readership or influence, on the off chance any of these ratings gets changed subsequent to this post, the ratings indicated above have been confirmed as of today’s date and print outs of the pages are on-file with yours truly.)