Whether you like it or not, your Avvo rating is available for all to see. You cannot ignore it; your rating is part of your online reputation, which could impact your practice.
By Martha Chan, Marketing Consultant for Family Lawyers
By now, almost all lawyers know about Martindale Hubbell’s lawyer ratings, but not everyone is aware of Avvo’s ratings. Do you know that there might be a profile about you on www.Avvo.com, which might display peer and client reviews as well as rating you as a lawyer? If you know about it, are you happy with your rating? Not all attorneys think their rating is accurate, so I interviewed Mark Britton, Avvo’s founder and CEO, to gain some insights on his company and its lawyer rating system.
Although Avvo is a relatively new player in the online lawyer directory/ratings game, it has gained momentum with online users, lawyers, and investors since its launch in 2007. Monthly visits to Avvo currently stand at 5 million+; the company has rated more than 97% of U.S. lawyers, and 160,000 of those actively participate in the website by providing 3 million searchable answers.
Whether you like it or not, your Avvo rating is available for all to see — including potential clients, your competition, and opposing counsel. You cannot ignore it; your rating is part of your online reputation, which could impact the future of your practice.
Most people know they can’t trust everything they read online (“Consider the source!”). However, the debate about whether you are a good family lawyer worthy of being hired is now online for all to see — whether you like it or not, and whether you are aware of it or not.
Avvo’s Data Collection Process
The company starts by obtaining information from the State Bar Association. Then it uses a network of trained crawlers to collect publicly-available information about a lawyer from multiple sources – including court records, the law firm’s website, and mentions on other web pages. Avvo tracks the rest of an attorney’s information through the web on an ongoing basis. As a lawyer switches firms or experiences career growth, Avvo reassesses that lawyer and adjusts his/her rating periodically.
Rating System and Attorney Profiles
When they have collected sufficient data on a lawyer, Avvo creates a profile and numerical rating from 1 to 10 using a mathematical model developed with input from many lawyers. This system is meant to create an unbiased ranking for consumers to use along with the lawyer’s profile as two of the factors when deciding which lawyer to hire. Any work experience, industry recognition, achievements, and disciplinary history will be listed in the profile. A lawyer can add new and correct wrong information on their profile after “claiming” his/her Avvo profile.
This rating system uses multiple top-level elements, and there are many variables within each element. For example, Industry Recognition is a top-level element; in that category, Avvo’s big data team assesses which awards a lawyer has received are significant/relevant (e.g., an award from the ABA is more important then one for coaching Little League Baseball), considers whether the lawyer is a thought leader, and discovers whether the top publications or organizations look to the lawyer as a timely or academic commentator. When it comes to work experience, the system will consider many factors, including years of practice and whether the lawyer has held the most prestigious jobs in the given state.
If Avvo is not able to garner enough data about a lawyer to provide a numerical rating, it will display a rating of either “Attention” or “No Concern”. The former is used if there is information in the licensing records, such as a disciplinary action against a lawyer, without positive information to offset it. The latter is used when there is no negative information in the records. In both cases, consumers are advised to perform more research before deciding for or against hiring a lawyer.
Each lawyer’s Avvo rating is derived from a multifaceted mathematical algorithm that weighs many factors. Avvo is constantly adapting its system to be as current and impartial as possible, and the algorithm itself is both carefully guarded and regularly updated to prevent attorneys from “gaming” the system.
Understandably, Britton won’t discuss the secrets behind Avvo’s ratings in great details; both the threat of copycats and unfair manipulation prevent him from disclosing details about the algorithm. The challenge is to balance helping attorneys understand how to achieve a rating that genuinely reflects their skills and experience without allowing anyone to undermine the integrity of the system by gaming it.
What Factors Influence Ratings?
An attorney’s educational background, relevant work experience, and professional achievements will impact his/her Avvo rating. There are about two-dozen top-level variables measured by their algorithms, but there are hundreds of second-level variables and new information that will impact the overall picture.
Because your rating is based on publicly-available information, it pays to ensure that you have a great online reputation by having complete information about your work experience, achievements, and industry recognition on your own website as well as other relevant websites.
Britton says that claiming your Avvo profile does not impact your rating; in fact, many lawyers who are unaware of Avvo’s existence have received top ratings. However, a complete profile with relevant information will help to provide more information to the Avvo data team and the general public — which help a prospective client choose you over another lawyer.
The Impact of Clients Reviews
Britton notes that client reviews do not contribute to an attorney’s rating on Avvo. Although clients can be very passionate about their lawyers, they often have difficulty understanding what constitutes a legal “win”. Positive client reviews do, however, help lawyers appear higher in Avvo’s sort order.
Optimizing your Online Reputation
In one sense, your rating is a reflection of your qualifications as a lawyer: practices and actions that make you a good lawyer will help you obtain a good rating. However, lawyers who are marketing-savvy and understand the importance of making their qualifications and success known will get more visibility than those who do not. This is especially true in the online world, where the circle of influence reaches far beyond those who actually know you.
Having a good online profile and reputation is crucial — not just on Avvo, but on as many relevant websites as possible. With the power of the Internet at every prospective client’s fingertips, you are your Google results.
Providing detailed information on an online profile can transform a consumer’s perception of you from a collection of impersonal data to a living, breathing person who could actually help them. As much as possible, you should reinforce and keep updating your profile with information about your experience, knowledge, and skills. This will maximize your visibility — which helps to convert consumers into clients.
At the very least, you should correct inaccurate information, including contact information and place of employment.
You may not be able to make an unhappy client understand that you achieved the best possible result given their circumstances, but you can let others know who you are, your experience and skills, and your contribution to the legal community by ensuring your online profiles are in tip-top shape.
Martha Chan is a marketing expert for family lawyers and divorce professionals. She is a co-owner and vice president of marketing for Family Lawyer Magazine, Divorce Magazine, and Divorce Marketing Group, a marketing agency dedicated to promoting family lawyers and divorce professionals.