A federal judge in Seattle yesterday dismissed the class-action complaint filed by two lawyers against lawyer-rating site Avvo. U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik ruled that the opinions expressed through Avvo’s ratings system are absolutely protected by the First Amendment. Here is the money quote from the opinion:

“Rather than seeing the Avvo ratings for what they are — ‘that and $1.50 will get you a ride on Seattle’s new South Lake Union Streetcar’ — plaintiffs Browne and Wenokur want to make a federal case out of the number assigned to them because (a) it could harm their reputation, (b) it could cost them customers/fees, or (c) it could mislead the lawyer-hiring public into retaining poor lawyers or bypassing better lawyers. To the extent that their lawsuit has focused a spotlight on how ludicrous the rating of attorneys (and judges) has become, more power to them. To the extent that they seek to prevent the dissemination of opinions regarding
attorneys and judges, however, the First Amendment precludes their cause of action.”

The judge also ruled that Avvo does not violate the Washington Consumer Protection Act.

Read more:

Update: More on this in my post today at Legal Blog Watch.

  • jcarr

    Bob — I tired to post a comment — I hope you’ll let it through.

    Jeff Carr
    VP, GC & Secretary
    FMC Technologies

    Here’s the text:

    Bob — The most amazing thing about this issue is that it’s a story at all (no comment at all on your post — I just think the judge missed the truly salient point). Lawyers suing over a rating system is simply absurd — truly competent attorneys should welcome ratings from colleagues, peers and most importantly customers. Professionals, like all service providers, are judged by the quality of the services they provide — and only the customer is truly able to provide that evaluation. Thinking otherwise is at best myopic but more likely hubris.

    What we really need is a common system of evaluation and ratings that customers can use and rely on — true it will be largely subjective, but how else does one judge quality in the delivery of any service?

    Our company, for example, directly links the fees we pay to law firms to a six factor evaluation of the counsel’s performance on the matter. We have over 900 evaluations in our system and I only lament the fact that I cannot readily share this data with other general counsel as we search for new counsel.

    Furthermore, I believe this controversy and the story is representative of the serious challenges facing the legal service delivery system today: how do we move to performance based pay; how do we eliminate frivolous lawsuits; when do people, including lawyers, start accepting responsibility for their own actions and competencies; when will lawyers start accepting that they, like all other members of society can improve and embracing an evaluation process is critical to that process?

    I hope that this spurs a vigorous debate! Call me or write me if you want to chat.

    Posted by: Jeff Carr | December 20, 2007 at 06:12 AM

  • Avin

    Bob, great post & substantial issues raised.

    One thing, I believe that rating should be diligently done with several evaluation procesess. And some Grade kind of rating will be much better then Rankings.

    In between, I hope in US there exists substantial fines for frivolous Class Action complaints.

    Performance based Pay: It won’t be correct to judge a lawyer on the basis of win or lossess in Lawsuits. Much depends on case specifications. Does such criteria’s need to be considered?


  • John Lipsey

    I agree with Jeff, and his point is well taken when he comments, “What we really need is a common system of evaluation and ratings that customers can use and rely on.”

    This year LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell expanded our 100+ year-old Peer Review Rating system (AV, BV, CV ratings) with the introduction of Client Review. Client Review does exactly what Jeff Carr suggests, by reaching out directly to corporate counsel and sophisticated buyers of legal services and asking them for outside counsel recommendations based on such criterion as quality of legal representation, client service and value for money. Client Reviews also include corporate counsel recommendations based on practice area, geography and industry. Results are then published online as part of the Martindale listing (see, for instance, http://martindale.com/Patton-Moreno-Asvat/law-firm-944714-client-reviews.htm)

    The Web 2.0 technology that powers reviewing systems like Martindale’s Client Review, is changing the face of the legal industry by giving clients better tools and information to make good outside counsel hiring decisions. This may cause some initial discomfort and pushback, as evidenced by this lawsuit. But the emergence of ratings represents a great opportunity not just for buyers of legal services, but also for lawyers and firms. Ratings are a great way to showcase expertise and differentiate from the competition by promoting the high esteem of clients. We look forward to continuing to evolve this solution over time and are eager to hear feedback as we balance the needs of the buyer and the seller.

    John Lipsey
    Vice President, Corporate Counsel Services
    LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell