The Bar’s Standing Committee on Advertising has reversed itself and said that Florida lawyers can use their ratings from a national lawyer-rating company in ads.
Avvo.com went online with its ratings for Florida lawyers (as well as Massachusetts attorneys) on April 2, adding those two states to 10 other jurisdictions where it began offering ratings last summer.
The company uses a proprietary algorithm to calculate its ratings for lawyers, which includes years of practice, professional awards received, disciplinary history, and other factors. Once the company begins operations in a state, peers and clients are also invited to post reviews and feedback about lawyers. Peer reviews can affect the Avvo rating, but client reviews do not, according to the company.
In January, the standing committee reviewed Avvo’s operation and voted that Florida lawyers could not use their Avvo rating in advertising. Committee members said it was unclear how the company did its rankings.
But at its April 8 meeting, the committee reversed itself and said the rating could be used. However, members cautioned that lawyers must be careful and the rating could not be used in a way that violates other advertising rules, such as in statements which characterize the quality of legal services.
Avvo CEO Mark Britton, who appeared via telephone at the meeting, said he was pleased by the decision.
“What I appreciated the most is the attitude was not one of, ‘We’re a regulator and we’re not listening,’” Britton said. “Right out of the box, I felt they were trying to work with us and make the right decision.”
He said ultimately the Bar and Avvo are trying to do the same thing — provide usable information that helps potential clients find lawyers.
The company offers listed lawyers the chance to “claim their profile,” which allows them to include a personalized greeting and add data to the information Avvo has compiled about them. (Provided information can also help raise their Avvo rating.) Bar Ethics and Advertising Counsel Elizabeth Tarbert said Bar members, however, must follow Bar advertising rules in providing that information, which means that Bar members who add a personal greeting may not characterize their quality of their services, refer to past results, or promise results.
Also, if a lawyer encourages peers or clients to submit reviews, then the lawyer may be responsible for the content of those reviews, she said.
As of April 12, Britton said the company had not compiled any solid numbers on how many Florida lawyers had claimed their profiles or how many potential clients had viewed the pages on Florida lawyers since its operation went online in Florida.
“Generally from what we’re seeing, we’ve had a big spike in traffic since we’ve launched in Massachusetts and Florida; we haven’t parsed out exactly where,” he said. “I think we’re doing well in both states.”
A check of Avvo’s Web site (www.avvo.com) shows that in its first couple weeks of operation, a few Florida lawyers claimed their profiles. About 10 percent of the top-rated personal injury lawyers had provided pictures and claimed their profiles, but the number dropped off as the ratings of the lawyers declined. Out of 447 listed bankruptcy attorneys, only a couple had claimed their profiles.
Despite disciplinary information from the Bar and research from other sources, Avvo was not able to compile enough information on all Bar members. For example, while Bar President Francisco R. Angones compiled an 8.6 (out of 10), or excellent, rating, President-elect John G. White III (a highly regarded litigator) is unrated, with Avvo only saying it has not found any information that should cause concern about him and that his practice areas are unknown.
President-elect Jesse Diner is listed twice by Avvo. In one instance, he has an 8.5 (excellent) rating and a listing of his areas of practice, and the other he is unrated with the no-concern advisory and with unknown practice areas.