Avvo: Misleading consumers and lawyers alike

A Seattle law firm filed a nationwide class-action lawsuit against the new Internet lawyer-rating service Avvo Inc. nine days after it went online.

The service says it rates lawyers from one through 10 based on their job performance. But one of the lawyers rated as “superb” at 9.3 says the system is so flawed that it is deceptive to consumers and unfair to lawyers.

“The bottom line is the Avvo rating isn’t a true representation of one’s ability to practice law and deliver positive results to their client,” said Steve W. Berman, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit. “In reality, we believe the site’s rating methodology is prone to error and wide open to manipulation.”

The lawsuit, filed Thursdayin U.S. District Court in Seattle, accuses the company of using its Web site, www.avvo.com, for unfair competition and deceptive acts of commerce under the Washington Consumer Protection Act. Avvo’s chief executive officer is former general counsel for the travel Web site Expedia.com.

The lawsuit says Avvo ranked U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel A. Alito Jr. with a 6.5, the same rating as a lawyer who is serving a prison term for conspiracy to defraud the government. A 6.5 indicates “good” performance.

According to the lawsuit, Bellevue, Wash., lawyer Enrico Salvatore Leo listed an award with Avvo he won last year for playing recreational softball, which caused his rating to rise. The award was unrelated to his law practice, the lawsuit says.

“This sort of casual rating system might work for finding a restaurant or tire store, but when a person needs to find an attorney to handle a life-defining crisis, we think this system is wholly inadequate,” Mr. Berman said.

Avvo officials denied that their rating system was “casual” or inaccurate. They also said the complaints are coming from disgruntled lawyers.

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