What Is Avvo and the Avvo Lawyer Ranking System?

Understanding the Criticisms and Praises of Avvo and the Lawyer Rating System

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What is Avvo? Are you using Avvo to market your law practice? Do you even know what Avvo is, or how you have been rated as a lawyer? Avvo has quickly become one of the leading websites for consumer information on attorneys, but many lawyers are not developing their Avvo profiles properly. Some lawyers distrust or even hate Avvo so much that they have filed lawsuits against the site (all of which have been dismissed so far). Other lawyers love Avvo and see it as a great source of new business.

What Is Avvo?

Avvo goes beyond standard lawyer marketing websites in terms of the information it provides to users. While some sites enable lawyers to post their names, addresses, phone numbers, and website (often for a fee), Avvo provides much greater depth of information. Avvo allows attorneys to post what is essentially an online resume. Attorneys can showcase their academic and employment history, publication credits, awards, and significant cases. Lawyers can post links to their own website or to articles they have published (whether on other sites or on Avvo), and they can answer legal questions posted by potential clients. All of this is available for free, which enables participation by lawyers on even the tightest of budgets.

Criticisms and Complaints Concerning Avvo

Why would any attorney object to receiving free advertising? Ultimately, most attorney complaints about the platform stem from how the site works.

Avvo Profiles

For starters, some lawyers discovered that they already have Avvo profiles that they did not personally create. Avvo mines data that is publicly available and creates profiles for attorneys regardless of whether the attorney is actually using their service. Attorneys can then claim ownership of the profile by following a few steps to verify their identities. However, if an attorney fails to claim the profile, inaccurate or incomplete information about the attorney could be published on the Avvo site. Further, Avvo does not permit attorneys to delete their profiles or to "unclaim" their profiles once claimed. Thus, some attorneys feel they are being forced to use Avvo against their will just to prevent incorrect information about them from being disseminated.

Avvo Director Conrad Saam responded to this perception stating that attorneys can correct incorrect information without claiming their profiles by contacting Avvo customer service. Saam said, "We are not served at all by having inaccurate or dated information in any profile. Attorneys can contact us at customercare@avvo.com, and we will fix those inaccuracies without requiring the attorney to claim their profile." Apparently, this option is not widely known based on the number of attorneys who have voiced this concern.

The Avvo Rating System

A second criticism of Avvo is its attorney rating system. This system is what distinguishes Avvo from other lawyer marketing websites, and it has been praised by many non-lawyers. While companies like Martindale-Hubbell have used a general peer-review system for grading attorneys for many years, Avvo goes beyond a peer-review system and considers the opinions of other lawyers just one of the many factors required to evaluate an attorney. Avvo gives each attorney a numerical score on a scale of 1 to 10 based on the information in that attorney's profile. The less information there is in a lawyer's profile, the less likely it is that an attorney will have a good ranking. Thus, attorneys who want to have a good Avvo score have no choice but to devote time to developing their profiles.

Avvo indicates that it should only take approximately 30 minutes to fill out an Avvo profile, but many lawyers have found the process to be more time consuming, particularly because users need to identify the items to include that will increase their Avvo score. Avvo Director Conrad Saam says that the ranking should be considered a "resume scoring application," and that information more pertinent to a lawyer's professional background will carry more weight. However, if an item (such as a publication or association) is not recognized by the Avvo system, a lawyer may not receive points for it until it has been manually reviewed and added to the system. I know about this issue from personal experience having added several publication credits, awards, and association memberships to my profile only to find that they had no effect on my ranking.

Complaints about the lawyer rating system grew particularly intense in early 2011, when many lawyers discovered their Avvo scores had dropped even though nothing had changed in their profiles. Avvo indicated that it changed the algorithm used for calculating attorney rankings, which resulted in the lower rankings for many lawyers.

Attorney George D. Morgan said at the time this article was written that he was "on the fence" as to whether to claim his Avvo profile. He would like to correct his Avvo listing, which only shows him as being licensed in New York, to show that he is licensed in Arizona where he actually operates his law office. However, he says "their rating system doesn't make sense," and he is concerned about the number of good lawyers he knows who only have mediocre rankings. Thus, like many other lawyers, Morgan is hesitant to even participate in Avvo because he perceives their ranking system to be flawed.

Client Reviews on Avvo

A third criticism of Avvo concerns how their system allows anyone to write a client review of an attorney. This makes many lawyers extremely uncomfortable as it creates the possibility of information appearing on the profile that is completely out of the lawyer's control. Clients who are angry or dissatisfied in some way are far more likely to post a comment about a lawyer than someone who was pleased with the services they received. Thus, many lawyers fear that one dissatisfied client could post a negative review that would hurt the attorney's image, and the criticism may not be fair.

Even worse, since there is no mechanism to ensure that the person posting a comment is really a client, someone who was not even represented by the lawyer (such as the opposing party in a lawsuit) could post a negative review. Avvo does not provide a way to have such reviews removed if the comment makes it past their approval system. Thus, lawyers worry that one person could wreak havoc on their profile. While Avvo says that client reviews are not factored into a lawyer's professional ranking in their algorithm, the presence of a severely negative client review may easily outweigh any numerical score.

Avvo Director Conrad Saam says that Avvo actually rejects approximately 30 percent of the client reviews that are posted to the site. Each client review is manually reviewed to ensure that it complies with their community guidelines, and they do not approve reviews that are primarily personal attacks or that come from people who are not a client. While this will likely filter out some of the purely malicious posts, a clever complainer could certainly figure out how to work their way around that system.

Praise for Avvo

Despite the criticisms of Avvo, it has quickly become one of the top services for information about lawyers, and this would not have happened without the participation of thousands of attorneys across the country.

In particular, Avvo has been praised for providing a level of transparency in the legal profession that has not previously existed. For example, if a lawyer has been disciplined by the state bar association, that information is posted prominently on the lawyer's profile. Not surprisingly, this has generated great anger and even some failed lawsuits from previously-disciplined lawyers.

However, most members of the general public would consider this information to be relevant in evaluating a lawyer's credentials. Additionally, if a lawyer has a habit of taking money from clients without doing any meaningful work, those clients can now make their complaints publicly known. If the lawyer has answered questions posted to the Avvo site, those answers are linked to that lawyer's profile so that people can see the type of advice typically delivered by the attorney.

More important to the lawyers actively using Avvo is the amount of business it can generate for their law practice. A search for the names of many attorneys will bring their Avvo profile up on the first page of Google, so the search engine optimization (SEO) value of their system is high. Some lawyers like having their profiles on such a visible site, particularly those lawyers who have received a high Avvo ranking. Other lawyers are discovering that responding to legal questions posted on the Avvo website is a great way to find new clients.

Attorney Ronald Burdge said he is aware of some of the negative comments about Avvo, but that he has "nothing but good things to say" about it. Burdge says that when he does seminars on marketing, he tells lawyers "they need to be on Avvo and they need to be active with Avvo and they need to be using Avvo." While he acknowledges there is some risk, Burge believes this is true of anything online today. Avvo presents too great of an opportunity to make people aware of their rights and, in the process of helping people, you can also pick up new clients.

My Recommendation

My personal experience of answering free legal questions on Avvo as an experiment for this article confirmed that it worked for me as a way to generate new business. I was able to land several new clients within just a couple of days, and I also referred a couple of cases to other lawyers. Having made several thousand dollars within a few days from merely answering a few questions on Avvo, I would recommend it as a way to find new clients. However, I spoke to other lawyers who have provided substantive answers to many questions without gaining a single client. Thus, whether or not the Q&A process will work for all attorneys is unclear. What is clear is that Avvo provides the opportunity for attorneys to interact with potential clients who have specific legal questions or are in need of specific legal services, and that interaction creates at least the possibility of that question turning into a fee-generating client. It has not worked for some lawyers, but many other lawyers are pleased with the results they have achieved.