Last week, Bitter Lawyer’s Greg Luce committed “Avvocide” by sabotaging his own Avvo profile. He put more work into his fake profile than he ever put into his real one, and he was rewarded with a boost in his Avvo Rating, to 9.2 (“Superb”).
Avvo, if you don’t get out much, hosts profiles for every lawyer in the country. You can claim your profile, add your picture, information about yourself and your practice area, and endorse other lawyers. Think Yelp for Lawyers. You can also, somewhat controversially, answer consumers’ legal questions online. There’s more to Avvo, but that’s the gist of it. Some lawyers swear it gets them lots of referrals. Others just swear about it. Still others ignore it.
To find out how Avvo handles this sort of thing, as well as less-ridiculous profile problems, and why Greg’s — er, the Goat Lawyer’s — score went up as a result of his prank I called Avvo’s general counsel, Josh King.
Goat Lawyers Aren’t a Major Problem for Avvo
When Avvo was new, according to King, a lawyer did something similar to his profile as a form of protest. He used a profile picture of Bozo the Clown, and filled out his profile with bogus awards and fake information. King said they “sort of let him run with it” for a while. Greg and this lawyer are definitely outliers.
Since it’s rare, Avvo does not have formal policies on dealing with such ruffians. In Greg’s case, Avvo reverted his profile to its previous state, and, according to King, “our customer care changed the [password] on Goat Lawyer, concerned that he would continue his hircine ways.” Seems fair. King said an email to him (or, presumably, a support ticket) should get Greg’s account restored.
Policing Avvo Profiles
In Greg’s case, Avvo picked up on the prank via Twitter, where we were having fun with it all day.
— Lawyerist.com (@lawyerist) November 27, 2013
Avvo does some policing of lawyers’ profiles, but mostly it relies on lawyers to police themselves. King pointed out that “the disincentive to put fraudulent stuff on an Avvo profile is pretty high.” False advertising is an ethics problem, after all, and dealing with your state’s ethics board is probably worse than anything Avvo could do. But lawyers also like to keep Avvo up to date on their colleagues, often with letters. “It’ll just be a blank envelope with an order or a newspaper article about someone being disciplined,” King said. He assumes the anonymous letters are probably coming from other lawyers, which makes sense. Nobody else uses the mail anymore.
Would ethics boards distinguish Greg’s ridiculous false information from actual misleading information in a lawyer’s profile? While ethics boards don’t appear to have much of a sense of humor, King said it would be hard to see how Greg’s Lifetime Achievement Award from the Minnesota Ruminant Lawyers Association, for example, would mislead anyone.
Goat Lawyer’s 9.2 Avvo Rating
When Greg sabotaged his profile, he was surprised to see his Avvo Rating jump to 9.2. This has to do with which profile information Avvo uses to calculate the Avvo Rating, particularly the awards, publications, and speaking engagements.
Your score will not go up with every award, publication, or speaking engagement you add. King said it’s probably a good idea to add non-legal awards, for example, to flesh out your profile, but they will not increase your Avvo Rating. Avvo keeps a database of organizations, publications, and conferences that do boost the score, though.
In other words, adding a fake award from a fake organization will not increase your score. But adding a fake award from a real organization, might.
In Greg’s case, it was probably due to his fake Creighton Law Review article, “Reexamining EPA Regulations Regarding Plastic Fencing, BPA, and Chewable Contours of the Farm,” and his Minnesota CLE speaking engagement, “Tech Tools for Lawyers, Goats, and Canaries.”
A Related Issue: Endorsement Spamming
Since I had King on the phone, I also asked him about the endorsement spamming Mark Bennet discovered. King called it a fairly new development in the way lawyers use Avvo, and that they are looking into it and considering what to do with it. He did point out that, beyond a certain number, endorsements do not affect the Avvo Rating. On the endorsement spam, King said “It’s weird because it doesn’t really do him any good.” Likewise, he thinks endorsing lawyers you don’t really know just reflects poorly on the lawyers involved.
I’m not sure my endorsement of the Goat Lawyer reflected well on me, but it did make me laugh: