• Lawyers Rankled by Lawyer Rankings
  • July 30, 2007 | Authors: Jeffrey S. Edelstein; Linda A. Goldstein
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - New York Office
  • Avvo Corp. of Seattle, an Internet-based start-up that “rates and profiles every lawyer so you can choose the right lawyer,” is facing a class action brought by lawyers who say the company improperly rated them.

    The company, which ranks lawyers on a scale of 1 to 10, with the three lowest categories being “extreme caution,” “strong caution” and “caution,” launched last month.

    Not everyone was pleased with where they ended up. John Henry Browne, a Seattle criminal defense solo practitioner, said that the peer-reviewed Martindale-Hubble lists him AV (legal abilities “very high to pre-eminent” and ethical standards “very high”), but Avvo originally assigned him a 3.7, or “caution.” The rank has since been increased to 5.2, or "average."

    Browne said that attorney Steve W. Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro in Seattle, asked him to represent a class of lawyers who allege that the site does not do them justice.

    Berman, who filed the action earlier this month in federal court in Seattle, called the rankings “unreliable and meaningless, misleading to a consumer trying to find a lawyer. A lawyer who was disbarred and dead has a higher ranking than the dean of Stanford Law School,” Berman said, adding that one of the owners of the Web site has a higher ranking than his former law firm colleague who is going to be president of the American Bar Association.

    Avvo Chief Executive Mark Britton said that the company stands by the Avvo rating, “applied consistently and evenly to all attorneys.” Browne got a low rating because he was disciplined by the Washington State Bar, Britton said.

    Browne said he received an admonition in 2005 involving a contigency fee issue, noting that an admonition is not an infraction. He added that, in the same year, he got a pro bono award from the Bar.

    Significance: When it comes to ranking lawyers, you’re damned if you rank them too low and damned if you rank them too high. Last July the New Jersey Supreme Court's Committee on Attorney Advertising held that advertising that mentions a lawyer's selection as a “Super Lawyer” or a “Best Lawyer in America” violates ethics rules against misleading advertising by creating an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer could achieve.