In a recent blog post on The National Trial Lawyers, Larry Bodine outlines the plight of a Florida attorney suing for the right to know the identity of a negative reviewer on her Avvo profile.

I have long been skeptical of the value of contributing content to websites over which the attorney has no ownership interest or control. Putting aside my arguments about the commoditization of lawyers by companies such as Avvo, and where it is leading the legal profession, this lawsuit provides an useful framework to talk about control.

Let’s take the case of Attorney Thomson, who is rated 8.6 out of 10 on Avvo.

A search on Google for “Attorney Deborah L. Thomson” brings up several results. Two of the first 3 organic results on Google are from Avvo.

Attorney Deborah L. Thomson Google Search

According to the National Trial Lawyer’s blog post, Ms. Thomson wants to know the source of the bad review. It is unclear whether she is nevertheless getting a benefit from her Avvo listing. Things that would indicate that she finds her Avvo profile useful (or a necessary evil) are:

  • She has claimed her profile;
  • She had apparently added her picture;
  • She has apparently added her bio to the listing;
  • She has apparently added her law firm’s logo;
  • She has apparently added her rates and payment info;

Here’s her bio from her Avvo profile:

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 3.49.35 PM

And here’s her practice areas and payment information from her Avvo profile:

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.13.11 PM

All of this is to demonstrate that she has, at least at one point, exercised control of her Avvo profile and has participated in it.

Why does it matter that she participated in her Avvo profile?

I think it matters a lot for one simple reason. By participating in her Avvo profile by adding information, Deborah Thomson has given the profile, and Avvo itself, credibility.

Where does that credibility flow?

The two obvious answers are that the credibility she gave to Avvo by claiming and completing her profile flows to Google and the other search engines, and to her clients and potential clients.

I think there’s a strong argument to be made that it flows no credibility whatsoever to most competent lawyers, because most lawyers know that the Avvo ratings often don’t reflect the skill, integrity, work and reputation of lawyers that we know.

Ms. Thomson played Avvo’s game, and now there is adverse information about her in the form of the bad review. And, as much as I don’t like to give Avvo any credit for anything whatsoever, by filing the lawsuit she is presumably either:

  1. Indicating that her clients and potential clients see her Avvo profile, and perhaps even that she gets business from that profile; or
  2. She is using the suit against Avvo in WA to gain access to the identify of the poster who may also have posted on other review sites such as Yelp.

Why Ms. Thomson’s earlier participation in Avvo increased the negative impact.

By giving Avvo creditability by her (presumed previous) participation, Ms. Thomson has helped Avvo create an authoritative resource not only about the law and lawyers in general, but about her specifically. The problem is, as she found out when the negative review appeared, she neither owns nor controls the authority she helped create.

Her participation has done the following:

  1. Helped to make Avvo a highly ranked destination for specific searches for her;
  2. Potentially exposed everybody who is searching for her to her negative review;
  3. Potentially exposed everybody who is searching for her to all of her competitors;
  4. Potentially exposed everybody who is searching for her to a low cost alternative to hiring her (see image below).

Now anybody who searches for Ms. Thomson not only is exposed to her negative review on Avvo, they also see that they can get a “top reviewed lawyer” for a “$39 fixed fee” that has a “100% money-back guarantee.” For a deeper dive into this product, called AvvoAdvisor, read this.

Why would anybody contact Ms. Thomson after that Avvo review?

Avvo, not Ms. Thomson, is now in control of a piece of Ms. Thomson’s destiny that, most lawyers would probably agree, should remain in Ms. Thomson’s control. Why?

On the surface her Avvo profile does not look bad. She is rated 8.6 out of 10 as of this writing, which doesn’t sound terrible. And she has roughly a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars from 11 total client reviews. Not bad, better than most hotels, even the really nice ones.

But she is in Tampa, FL, and quick search on Avvo shows that there are close to 30 attorneys ranked a perfect 10.0, and there are 57 with better ratings than Ms. Thomson.

Put yourself in the shoes of a potential client who take’s Avvo’s authority at face value. Wouldn’t you:

  • Think about doing a $39 guaranteed money back consultation before hiring Ms. Thomson?
  • Look at all of the other, better rated, lawyers before hiring her?

If you are a layman potential client and you see Ms. Thomson’s negative review, how many positive reviews does it take to overcome it? Probably a lot when there are lawyers without the negative reviews.

The bottom line.

The bottom line is that Ms. Thomson is likely hurt, probably unfairly, by the negative Avvo review. At the same time, there is a strong business case to be made that it is good for Avvo and good for Avvo’s attorney-customers who don’t have that negativity.

What can attorneys do?

If you don’t own and control an online asset that you participate in, you are putting yourself at risk.

My bottom-line advice is to focus all of your energy on building up things that you do own and control, such as your law firm’s website and blog. This is because when you own it, and control it, you are not giving your power away. You are not letting yourself become a commodity.

You can never spend too much time working on your own website or blog. In fact, the more often you publish quality content, the more successful your law firm will likely be.

It really comes down to paying yourself first. By working on your own website and blog, you are helping your law firm build an appreciating asset. By working on your Avvo profile, you are helping them build an appreciating asset.

There are never enough hours in the day for any attorney to declare that they’ve done enough on their own website, now it’s time to go work on a website that features their competitors.

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