Avvo and The Attorney

There are numerous attorney rating services out there, ranging from the peer ratings of Martindale-Hubbell, the answer-based ratings of LinkedIn, to the “neutral” ratings provided by services such as Avvo.

Avvo claims on its website that “It’s unbiased. Because ratings are calculated using a mathematical model, all lawyers are rated by the same standards.”

Multiple lawsuits have attempted to challenge Avvo ratings. The latest, Davis v. Avvo, 2:11-cv-01571-RSM (W.D. Wash. March 28, 2012) has been dismissed as Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP), and the attorney has been ordered to pay Avvo’s attorney fees as well as an additional $10K punitive damages, as described on the Technology & Marketing Law Blog.  You can find numerous other examples of Avvo’s lawsuit history on that same blog.

So, suing Avvo is a bad plan. But is Avvo truly neutral?  It is highly doubtful.

An easy example of this is my profile. When I first became aware of the service I looked myself up, and found that I was rated at 2 ½ stars for experience. A quick glance showed that another attorney at my firm, who started at the same time and had identical career path to mine, had 3 ½ stars for experience. Given that the “experience” rating depends, per Avvo entirely on “a lawyer’s years in practice” I found this surprising. When I contacted Avvo, via email, my rating was quickly updated. I now have four stars of experience, which apparently corresponds to my 15-years of practice as a patent attorney.

However, when I look at their “recommended” attorney (which appears directly next to my listing, and is someone who has paid for their listing), it appears that a Stuart James West, who graduated law school in 1998 and was admitted to practice in California in 1999 has 5 stars of experience.

Even more surprisingly, Kirupa Pushparaj, who graduated law school in 2007 and was admitted to the bar in 2008, apparently has a 5 star experience rating.

I would be very curious to have Avvo explain these discrepancies. In the meantime, I recommend ignoring Avvo ratings entirely.

2 thoughts on “Avvo and The Attorney”

  1. Judith –

    Josh King from Avvo here. We hear complaints like this from time to time, but almost always from lawyers who aren’t very tech-savvy. So I’m a bit surprised to hear it from someone with your technology background.

    The Avvo Rating (and the sub-ratings, such as “experience”) is based on information in a lawyer’s profile. There are dozens of different data points – of which years of experience is but one – that contribute to the ratings. Legal publishing, association leadership, speaking, awards, work history, etc all contribute toward the Avvo Rating. If you look more closely at the profiles of the more-junior attorneys you’ve flagged, you’ll see that they have numerous items in their backgrounds indicating experience and deep engagement with the legal community.

    All of this information is contained in a database, and an algorithm is applied to it to obtain the Avvo Rating (and sub-ratings). As I’m sure you’re familiar with relational databases, you’ll know that it’s important that each data point be complete. For instance, because the algorithm has an “aging” function (stuff you’ve done further in the past counts less than stuff you’ve done recently), an attorney may not get credit for items in their profile if they haven’t include the year a paper was written, association leadership position was held, etc.

    But most importantly, the algorithm is applied in EXACTLY the same way to all attorneys. Avvo – like any media company – would swiftly lose all credibility if we put a “thumb on the scale” in favor of advertisers. And as you should be able to tell from the consumer and tech background of our team, investors and advisors (including folks in your area like Benchmark Capital and Stanford Law Prof Deborah Rhode), Avvo is not going to have any interest in the “small ball” of pandering to advertisers.

    We’re building something that’s truly useful for consumers trying to navigate the opaque legal field, and our commitment to being objective on this front is critical to our success. I’m happy to discuss in more detail, either here or offline, if you have further questions.

  2. I understand your argument, and maybe there is a lot of hidden depth to Mr. Pushparaj, who in four years achieved more “experience” than attorneys who have been practicing for 20 years. Having done a quick search on him, I’m at a loss to figure out what factor would raise his experience level to the maximum, which appears to take 15-20 years for most others reviewed.

    By the way, you may want to update his bio, he is now in-house at Amazon.

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