June 14, 2007 – SEATTLE- LAWFUEL – The Law Newswire – An attorney rated by lawyer-rating Web site Avvo.com as one of the best in the profession today filed a proposed nationwide class-action lawsuit on behalf of other attorneys claiming that the site is unfair and highly deceptive.
Steve W. Berman, the managing partner of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleging that the site launched by the creator of the successful travel Web site Expedia (NASDAQ:EXPE) violates unfair methods of competition and deceptive acts in the conduct of commerce as stated in the Washington Consumer Protection Act.
“When the site launched, they had a very slick media campaign that led consumers to believe the site would give them accurate and insightful information about attorneys,” Berman said. “In reality, we believe the site’s rating methodology is prone to error and wide open to manipulation.”
Avvo, which launched on June 5, 2007, touts itself as a resource for consumers looking to hire an attorney by grading attorneys from one to 10 using a mathematical model based on multiple – but undisclosed — sources of information. A low score indicates that an attorney should be approached with “extreme caution” while higher ratings denote “good” to “superb” performance.
According to Berman, the site’s rating methodology is flawed, citing examples ranging from profound to comical.
According to the complaint, Bellevue attorney Enrico Salvatore Leo listed an award he earned in 2006 for his athletic prowess in playing recreational softball. His score immediately jumped despite the fact that the achievement had nothing to do with his practice. Before removing the listing, he added a second softball award which caused his score to again increase.
“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 – it dupes consumers into thinking the site is an accurate reflection of an attorney’s ability,” said Berman.
The complaint also cites rating trends involving Avvo insiders. While the site claims to be an unbiased system Deborah Rhodes, an Avvo board member and Stanford ethics professor scored a perfect 10, while the dean of the Stanford law school scored significantly lower, the suit states.
I think it is highly dangerous to have a consumer making important choices based on a jack-legged system that puts as much emphasis on a softball award or the attorney’s relationship with Avvo’s CEO as it does legal prowess,” Berman added. “Consumers deserve more than to be manipulated and misguided by a site claiming to be working in their interests.”
In perhaps the most stunning contrast, the complaint notes that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel Alito each received three out of five stars for trustworthiness when the site launched, awarding them a 6.5 or “Good” rating, while giving Lynne Stewart the exact same rating. Stewart is currently serving a prison term for conspiracy to defraud the government, the suit contends.
“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,” Berman noted.
Berman received a 9.2 rating, characterized as “superb” on the site’s rating system, one of the highest ratings for his practice area of securities fraud, class action and anti-trust law.
“We are all interested to see if my rating 9.2 will drop once they are served with this lawsuit,” Berman noted.
Currently the Avvo site rates attorneys in Washington, California, New York, Illinois, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona, Texas and the District of Columbia.
“We have heard from attorneys across the country also concerned that consumers are being misled,” Berman said.
The suit claims that Avvo violates Washington’s Consumer Protection Act, stating the site is deceptive in its ratings and that it provides consumers with biased, subjective and unreliable information.
About Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro
The law firm of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro is based in Seattle with offices in Chicago, Cambridge, Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Francisco. Since the firm’s founding in 1993, it has developed a nationally recognized practice in class-action and complex litigation. Among recent successes, HBSS has negotiated a pending $300 million settlement as lead counsel in the DRAM memory antitrust litigation; a $340 million recovery on behalf of Enron employees which is awaiting distribution; a $150 million settlement involving charges of illegally inflated charges for the drug Lupron, and served as co-counsel on the Visa/Mastercard litigation which resulted in a $3 billion settlement, the largest anti-trust settlement to date. HBSS also served as counsel in a $850 million settlement in the Washington Public Power Supply litigation and represented Washington and 12 other states in lawsuits against the tobacco industry that resulted in the largest settlement in the history of litigation. For a complete listing of HBSS cases, visit www.hbsslaw.com.