Archive for the ‘Elsewhere in the Blogosphere’ Category

Avvo: Legal Services Boon or Boondoggle?

If you haven’t heard of Avvo yet, just hang on. Once it expands into your state, no doubt you will. The recently launched service aims to provide “free ratings and profiles for every lawyer so you can choose the right lawyer.” And if you had heard of the service, and were wondering idly, perhaps, how long it would take for the first lawsuit to hit, the answer may be “less than one week.” After its June 5th launch, a Seattle criminal defense attorney (by all accounts a pretty good one) sent a demand letter two days later (June 7th) to the company, complaining about its “ridiculously low rating” of his abilities, and those of other attorneys.

The Launch of Avvo

Avvo operated in “stealth mode” for awhile  but it wasn’t enough to keep details from being leaked to the blogosphere. Rumored to have raised over $13 million in venture capital, the company headed by CEO Mark Britton had stoked some serious buzz about its plans to rate lawyers according to some proprietary formula. Even Kevin O’Keefe of LexBlog called it a “credible solution”, due in large part to the strength of its board and other officers, all relatively well known, but mostly with prior dot-com startup experience – not consumer-representing lawyers. The company earned some kudos from techie types who lauded the secrecy of the start-up’s pre-launch phase, and debuted to some not-insignificant press.

Avvo’s Rating System

Avvo claims it uses several sources to come up with a single numerical rating – from 1 (extreme caution) to 10 (Superb). From the company’s website:

The Avvo Rating is our assessment of how well a lawyer could handle your legal issue. It is based on data we have collected about hundreds of thousands of lawyers – including their number of years in practice, disciplinary sanctions, and professional achievements. The data comes from multiple sources, including state bar associations, court records, lawyer websites, and information lawyers provide to Avvo. We have created a mathematical model that considers this information and calculates a score on a ten-point scale. The result is called the Avvo Rating.

Emphasis in original, found here.

The Concerns

Almost as quickly as the site debuted, bloggers started raising the red flags. Recognizing the inherent problems were, among others, Robert Ambrogi, who wrote at his Lawsites blog the following, on the same day of the launch:

So can the worth of a lawyer be calculated in a numerical score? Call me a skeptic. The problem is that the qualities that make a great lawyer are intangible. Yes, a disciplinary record is a tangible fact that reflects poorly on a lawyer. But what about a lawyer’s win/loss record in the courtroom? Perhaps the lawyer has lost more than won, but perhaps that is because the lawyer is a committed advocate willing to take on the tough cases no one else will. What kind of scoring system could calculate that? What kind of mathematical scoring system could measure a lawyer’s ability to provide sage counsel to distraught individuals or troubled businesses?

The problems inherent in a site such as this are illustrated in an article published today by CNET’s Declan McCullagh, Lawyer Rating Site Not Without Objections. After testing Avvo, McCullagh found it “riddled with bizarre errors, profiles of attorneys who have been dead for more than a century and inexplicable scores in which some felons received better ratings than law school deans and internationally renowned litigators.” For example, those searching for a lawyer in Illinois might be interested in one named Abraham Lincoln, described by Avvo has having been licensed to practice law in the state for 171 years.

And yes, the Lincoln profile is still up, which you can see for yourself by clicking on the link. However, I’m inclined to give Avvo a pass on this one as the portrait up on the page seems to clearly imply an homage (although the “Is This You? Click Here to Update Your Profile For Free” is a curious touch).

John Henry Browne’s Complaint

John Henry Browne is a Seattle-based criminal defense attorney. By his own admission, he’s a pretty good one:

“I have tried five serious felony cases in the last few months and received not guilty verdicts in four of those cases. Three of those cases were acquittals of sexual misconduct allegations that would have put my client in prison for 20 to 30 years. I have never lost a jury trial involving sexual misconduct (rape, child molestation, etc.)”

From Browne’s demand letter to Avvo, reprinted here (emphasis in original).

But Avvo rated Browne initially at a low “caution” of 3.7 (although it’s risen to an “average” 5.2 – note the drop of .3 points from the 5.5 reported in the Seattle PI article linked above). The “cautionary” flag seems to arise as a result of the sanction (“admonition”) reported on the site (dating from 2005). And in a five-point rating system on three factors – experience, industry recognition, and professional conduct – Avvo gives Browne four out of five points for experience and professional conduct (despite the admonition) but only two for industry recognition – despite Browne’s inclusion in the Best Lawyers in America list for the past eight years, an AV rating in Martindale Hubbell, and inclusion in the infamous Super Lawyers publication.

Curious? At the very least.

Browne has demanded the removal of his profile, and writes that he is exploring the possibility of a lawsuit against Avvo, possibly a class action. Avvo is listening – they’ve scheduled a conference call with Browne’s attorney; they’re not saying anything else publicly until that call is completed. But they’ve not removed the profile – it’s still up on Avvo, for all to see.

More thoughts on Avvo and how it might impact the Inspired Solos tomorrow.

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Second Circuit: Pro Bono Fees For Small Firm? Depends On Your Motives, Apparently

From Susan Cartier Liebel at Build a Solo Practice, LLC, comes this tale of a really bad 2nd Circuit decision that denied a successful pro bono lawyer’s application for fees on the amount submitted and held, basically (as far as I can tell from the snippet Susan published) that the client’s expectations (read: pro bono = free service!) determined the value of the fees assessed. So, Susan points out: “What is especially galling is if the attorney can show he did not take it on for moral reasons but strictly monetary ones, she will get her full fees.”

Doesn’t do much for supporting pro bono efforts in small firms and solos, does it?

Gmail As Your Nerve Center? Could Work…

This post from MicroPersuasion details Steve Rubel’s methods of using Gmail plus Google tools to create a web-based super-nerve center, providing such assets as a personal database, real-time news updates, storing bookmarks, managing calendar and to-do lists, and even blogging all from Gmail as the base.

I applaud this kind of out of the box thinking. Cooking up inventive solutions is what being an Inspired Solo is all about. But I have a cautionary note to sound and it’s best summed up thus by Lifehacker, the uber-site when it comes to all things technologically combined:

Rubel’s methods are certainly inventive, and though they lack the speed of similar offline tools, they are spot-on if you do a lot of work from different computers. Though it’s hard to imagine doing all of this from Gmail (sometimes it’s best not to try to make an apple out of an orange), it can make life easier to integrate tools when you can, and Rubel offers several interesting ways to squeeze more functionality out of Gmail.

This is essentially my watershed test when it comes to any new tech solution: is it actually going to save me time? Or does it just feel like it? Be careful to ensure you’re really creating juicier oranges – not trying to turn an apple into an orange, as Lifehacker puts it – when you explore new “hacks” that promise to make your practice easier.

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Blawg Review #104 Up at SC Employment Law

Boy, I’m slipping – I thought I’d already done this but seeing as I obviously haven’t – I had the privilege of hosting Blawg Review #104 at the SC Employment Law Blog this week. I was even able to pawn the writing duties off on a very talented young writer who’s a real dog.  No, I mean she’s a dog. Go take a look.

Got a Tiger In Your Tank? Let It Loose!

Pamela Slim, the author of the brilliant Escape from Cubicle Nation blog, also publishes an e-zine on a monthly basis. Last month’s (March 2007) issue featured an article I think every Inspired Solo and IS-to-be should read, entitled “Is Your Inner Tiger Choking On A Short Leash?

Here’s what Pam has to say about those of us living life on that short leash:

I believe that each of us is born with a strong, creative spirit that wants to jump, dance, learn and grow. I call it the “inner tiger,” and it is the life force that propels us towards an active, open, engaging, healthy and fulfilling life. It can also be called your higher calling or life purpose. So why do we often chain it up and not let it roam freely?

Well, the short answer is “fear.” I’ve been corresponding lately with a reader who is strongly drawn to the life of an Inspired Solo, but is battling a number of (very rational) fears. In her story, I see my own, so recent and so vivid in my memory yet so distant from my current “space” emotionally speaking. So, with the benefit of distance and hindsight, I can offer her quaint and perhaps somewhat trite cliches, such as:

  • What is it that you’re really afraid of? Identify it and plan a way around it. Once you feel prepared for “the worst” – whatever that might be for you – you can let go of that fear.
  • Courage isn’t the state of not being afraid. It’s the act of being afraid and doing it – whatever “it” is – anyway. It’s a choice.
  • If an idea keeps presenting itself to you – keeps coming back up, time and time again, after you knock it down with practical objection after practical objection – then it’s obviously something you want to do. At this point, you have two options: (1) continue doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result (the definition of insanity, according to one old saw) or (2) accepting that you want to do it, and putting all that energy into figuring out how you’re going to do it.

Well, they may be trite cliches, but they’re cliches because they’re also true. If you want to let that tiger loose, as Pam suggests, you need to cut through the leash of fear, which truly has us tightly reined in.

Guest Post at Susan Cartier Liebel’s “Build a Solo Practice, LLC” Today

Just a head’s up for those who might be interested – I have a guest post up at Susan Cartier Liebel’s excellent blog Build a Solo Practice, LLC

Thanks to Susan, for inviting me to participate!

There’s a New Solo Blog in Town

Duke Drouillard, an Omaha, Nebraska solo, debuts Solo Law Center – “a legal information and reference center for Solo attorneys.” Duke and I both participate in Solosez (another fantastic resource for solo lawyers), and I’m thrilled to see him participating in this fast-growing segment of the blogosphere. In the coming weeks, Duke and I have agreed to guest-post on each other’s blogs – that should be fun!

Duke always has insightful opinions and great wit, so I’m sure his posts will entertain as much as they inform. Check out this excerpt from yesterday’s post, “Wasted Opportunity“:

When you attend a local bar meeting or CLE course, are you checking out
the competition or making friends and possible sources of referrals?
Some solo attorneys tend to have a general practice that handles every
client that calls or walks in. For the most part though, solo attorneys
are focusing their practice on only a few related areas. Who do you
refer your clients to for service outside your practice area? Are other
attorneys making referrals to you?

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Blawg Review … Prequel? April Fools!

No joke! Blawg Review 102’s got itself a prequel at the brilliantly titled “a fool in the forest.” Tomorrow, we are told, the real deal will be up at Declarations & Exclusions. Both sites are maintained by George M. Wallace, a Pasadena, CA attorney with a fine wit and a way with words.