In law, reputation is everything. So imagine my surprise when I received an email telling me that a website has ranked me a "6.8 out of 10." The email, and the website it linked to, told me that score means I'm a "good" attorney. But let's be honest: Would you hire a lawyer with a rating that sounds like a D+?
I called the purveyor of the email and website, Avvo (avvo.com), and asked the company to remove the rating. Avvo wouldn't, claiming a First Amendment right to rate me a 6.8. It's not just me Avvo is rating: The site purports to have three times the traffic of Martindale-Hubbell, long a go-to source for vetting lawyers.
Does the legal world need Avvo's ratings? Almost every state bar, including Idaho's, already has a website where prospective clients can review an attorney's disciplinary record. Avvo has mined this public data and replicated it on its site. That part I don't mind.
But how did the website determine I was a "6.8 out of 10"? When I called the company, I was told I could "claim" my site and add information, and then the rating algorithm would evaluate it and my score would likely rise. In other words, I give them information about me and I get bumped up from a D+ to a B- or something like that.
I checked out Avvo scores of some legal luminaries. Erwin Chemerinsky, a prominent constitutional law scholar and dean of the law school at the University of California at Irvine, is a 6.5. Ted Olson, President George W. Bush's solicitor general and a prominent lawyer, is also a 6.5. Suddenly I didn't feel so bad about my 6.8. Take that, Ted Olson!
Who scored a perfect 10? The email I received from Avvo informed me of three general-practice Idaho lawyers who were 10s. That's heady stuff given that Mark Britton, Avvo's CEO and president, is a 9.3, and Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general, is but a 9.4.
What many of the perfect 10s had in common was not legal might but heavy use of Avvo's website. Deborah Rhode, an Avvo 10, states on her Avvo page: "I should make clear that I am on Avvo's Advisory Board. As a consequence, my rating is exceptionally high, because the company has more information about me than about most other lawyers."
What are lawyers and consumers of legal services to do in confronting the social media reality that a site like Avvo presents?
For lawyers, I do not advise getting involved with sites like Avvo, because their business models appear to use the threat of low ratings to consistently grind free content out of lawyers.
Instead, I advise three simple steps.
Get a good website and update the content frequently.
Get a blog, write one post a week on some development in your area of law and link those blog posts to your firm's website.
Learn how search engines such as Google rank pages and follow those rules to maximize hits and search result rankings.
For consumers of legal services, I advise using the state bar website to determine the disciplinary history of a lawyer. Use Internet search engines to find lawyers who demonstrate knowledge of their field through blogs and online content. Meet with a couple of lawyers before choosing one.