A Chicago lawyer named Moria Bernstein recently filed a class action suit against an online attorney rating service called Avvo. But it’s not what you think. Ms. Bernstein isn’t suing because she got a lousy rating. She’s suing because she contends she and other similarly situated lawyers are being used.
Here’s how Avvo works. Avvo rates attorneys on a 10 point scale. Anyone who wishes to use Avvo need only log on, and input a specific lawyer’s name, or city. This is what you would find if you checked me out. Now, I had no input in the rating system, so I’m not sure why I got an 8 out of 10. I am competitive enough to be slightly miffed that I didn’t get a 10, but since I really don’t know how the Avvo rating system works, I don’t get too worked up over it.
But if you scroll down from the page, you will see “sponsored listings” – and these feature three lawyers who paid Avvo to be displayed there. Perhaps not coincidentally, two of the three have a Avvo higher rating than me. I’m not saying that Avvo assigns a higher rating to lawyers who pay to appear there. But I’m not saying Avvo doesn’t do that either. But the fact remains that the three sponsored lawyers get their faces prominently displayed to someone who searches for me. And according to Ms. Bernstein’s lawsuit, Avvo makes it money from those sponsored ads.
Apparently, Avvo also offers a service called Avvo Pro. If I subscribed to Avvo Pro, there would be no listings for any lawyers on my Avvo page. How thoughtful.
Bernstein’s suit alleges that Avvo’s business model is based on its use of information about non-consenting attorneys for a commercial purpose. It’s like putting a picture of LeBron James (am I comparing myself to LeBron?) on a shoe store and then selling competitors’ shoes once people are lured in. LeBron would have a lawsuit against the shoe store. Ms. Bernstein feels she has a similar claim. She wants damages and an injunction putting a stop to the practice.
We will see how this plays out. If the court certifies this as a class, I suppose I’ll be a plaintiff.