- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2007

An Internet-based rating service for lawyers was introduced yesterday, claiming it will help consumers pick the best attorneys and avoid the worst.

The new service, Avvo.com, seeks to replace the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory as a primary resource for finding reputable lawyers.

It also represents another step in the migration to the Internet by consumers searching for lawyers.

“You’re able to get a lot more information — their education, their experience, their successes,” said Howard Bomstein, owner of the Bomstein Agency, a Washington advertising and marketing firm. “You just get on the Internet.”

In addition, “You’re able to do it anonymously, which means you don’t have to subject yourself to a sales pitch,” he said.

Lawyers from nine states and the District so far are rated by Seattle company Avvo Inc. Information on Maryland and Virginia lawyers still is being compiled.

The company seeks to rate all of the roughly 825,000 practicing lawyers in the United States and make money from ads on its Web site.

The service rates lawyers from 1 to 10, with 10 representing a superb performance and 1 “extreme caution.”

It also lists the disciplinary history of lawyers from their bar associations, peer reviews, client reviews and contact information.

It uses a mathematical model to determine their composite rating.

Many lawyers are listed by name on the Web site, but there is no rating for them or background information.

“That might be because it’s not out there in any public forum,” said Paula Gottlob, Avvo.com spokeswoman. “There’s not enough information on them.”

Company officials say they expect to avoid lawsuits from lawyers with bad ratings by relying on information from public sources, such as bar associations.

However, the value of the rating services to consumers is debatable, according to some lawyers.

“I think people look at these things as resources, but at the end of the day I don’t think it’s going to have a significant impact,” said Andrea Macintosh Whiteway, a partner in the Washington law firm Arnold & Porter.

Ms. Whiteway received a “superb” rating for her tax and estate law practice by Avvo.com.

“I will say that in D.C. there are probably at least a hundred other lawyers that should be getting a 10 out of 10,” she said as she browsed through the new Web site, including a former chief counsel for the Internal Revenue Service who was rated at 8.3, she said.

“Then there are lawyers on here who I don’t even consider tax lawyers anymore,” she said.

Washington lawyers who received low ratings on the Web site did not return phone calls.

The Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, which has been the nation’s premier resource for finding and rating lawyers since 1868, faces growing competition from the Internet.

The directory lists profiles of lawyers and peer-review ratings of AV, BV or CV, based on years of experience and ability. AV is the highest rating by Martindale-Hubbell.

Its credibility appears to be falling victim to the Internet, where much more information about lawyers can be found without the need to pay for listings.

Large law firms such as Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld recently dropped their listings in Martindale-Hubbell.

LexisNexis group, owner of Martindale-Hubbell, is responding to the competition with plans to expand its online reviews of lawyers. The company started its online service in 1996.

Martindale-Hubbell competes with Internet directories of lawyers such as Chambers guides, Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers in America.

“We’re certainly aware of the competition and keep an eye on it,” said LexisNexis spokeswoman Holly Michael.

Operators of the directories say they provide a means for consumers to cut through the mystery of legal jargon and advertisements.

“It’s an efficient way to choose a lawyer,” said Mark Britton, Avvo.com’s chief executive officer.

The company was organized last year by a group of computer executives and lawyers.

In the past two years, 25 million Americans avoided hiring a lawyer because they did not know how to choose legal representation, according to a survey cited by Avvo.com.

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