Avvo, Endorsement, Fraud.


Framingham, Massachusetts divorce lawyer Howard Lewis endorses Taylor:

Taylor

…and Weston:
Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 9.10.32 PM
…and Rich:

Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 9.10.50 PM

Also Ware:
Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 9.11.10 PM

…and Bellotti:

Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 9.11.27 PM

…and—oh, hell. 9,000-plus others, all of whom he couldn’t possibly know:

Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 9.15.38 PM

This practice of endorsing strangers on Avvo makes actual endorsements worthless. It’s as bad as—worse than—falsifying client reviews.

You don’t think Lewis picked 9,000 strangers to endorse, do you? It’s possible—he may have some paid marketeer posting endorsements to random accounts for him. But some of those endorsements are for people who have solicited them.

Those lawyers who solicit these reviews from people who don’t know them are committing a fraud on potential clients.

Do you think Avvo knows?

Of course Avvo knows. Avvo encourages it. I regularly receive emails such as this one:

Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 9.28.42 PM

They’re sent out by Avvo, I suspect to everyone in the perp’s email / Fæxbook / LinkedIn address book. Avvo wants lawyers who don’t know each other to endorse each other because it gives an imprimatur to the site as well as the lawyers.

Why would Lewis endorse 9,080 people—or, more likely, pay someone to post cookie-cutter endorsements? Is it out of the goodness of his heart? Oh, no. Howard Lewis knows lethal generosity. He knows the truth of endorsements—what I tell my friends when they ask for Avvo endorsements: it’s better not to ask for them. If you really want people to endorse you, endorse them.

I have endorsed several lawyers on Avvo; none of them asked, and each of them is someone I know well enough that I would refer potential clients to them in the real world. A number of lawyers have endorsed me; each of them knows me outside Avvo as well. I have removed Avvo endorsements when their subjects went off the rails. An endorsement means something to me—when I endorse someone I’m putting my name on the line. If I endorse a dud, my reputation suffers.

Guys like Howard Lewis? You can see the value they put on their reputations. And he’s nowhere close to the only one. He’s just the worst offender of the many—Eric Stepanov from Plainview, New York; Charles Franklin of Orlando; Edward Beckham of Caldwell, Idaho…—I quickly found by googling the boilerplate from some endorsements.

Avvo’s encouragement of fraudulent endorsements devalues real endorsements. I’ll still endorse those who deserve it, but I’ve also started giving endorsements like this one (to Bart Charles Craytor of Atlanta, Texas) to those strangers who send me solicitations:

In truth, I don’t know Mr. Craytor; never heard of him. But he doesn’t have many typos in his “about me” page, so when he had Avvo send me an email asking me to endorse him, I thought, “what the hell?” Why not endorse this guy who has this marketing website spam every stranger in his email address book with a request for an endorsement? That’s good enough for me. After all, it’s really hard to find a lawyer who offers contingent fees in criminal cases. And if I know nothing about him, so what? I don’t have to know him to endorse him, amirite? You don’t think the other lawyers endorsing him know him, do you? Why shouldn’t I bump up his endorsement numbers—that’s what uninformed potential clients are looking for (“Oooo, 35 endorsements. Shiny!”)—and help a brother out? After all, dear reader, we’re lawyers, and if we want to write endorsements that make you think that Bart is our nearest friend, the fact that we’ve neither met him nor seen him work won’t get in our way.

If you’d like an endorsement like that, then by all means have Avvo send me an email requesting an endorsement. If you wouldn’t, you’d better make damn sure I’m not in any of your contact lists before you sign up to have Avvo solicit endorsements on your behalf.

Better still, don’t let Avvo solicit endorsements on your behalf. Let your great work be your solicitation.


36 responses to “Avvo, Endorsement, Fraud.”

    • Okay, I guess you can remove endorsements on your Avvo profile. Shows you how much time I spend on my Avvo profile. That’s a shame. I want your endorsements to stick. (I suppose some will. Lawyers who solicit thousands of endorsements may not pay a lot of attention to what ends up on their profiles.)

        • I don’t think you can. I know one can give endorsements and get them from others, but I’m not aware of any particular ability to remove them.

          • You can remove endorsements that others have given you. From your profile, click on the link indicating the number of endorsements. Then click “edit view”. Finally, click on the trash can icon underneath the endorsement.

          • Thanks!

            I started at a 9.4. Now I am at a 9.0, having eliminated the ones who I don’t recognize. (Oddly enough, some people I know give “I endorse this lawyer” ones which look false, and some people I’ve never met gave lengthy screeds.)

            This demonstrates three things:

            1) The Avvo ranking engine thinks that I am more capable if people recommend me. This is true whether or not they know me from Adam.

            2) The Avvo ranking engine thinks that I am less capable because I choose not to publicize those recommendations. This is true even though the effect is only on publicity: after all, my publicity decision is irrelevant to the strength or weakness of their recommendation.

            3) Ethics are expensive. I get quite a few clients online, and many of them have consulted Avvo. Chances are reasonably high that this purge just cost me some five figure case. I’m not surprised that people game the system. Frankly even though I’m focused on ethics it was STILL pretty difficult to keep deleting them and watching my ratings drop; it would be a very small step for someone to go into “what’s the harm?” territory.

  1. I read your blog as usual, searched my Avvo profile, and laughed–I have one from Howard Lewis myself!

    So, time for a bit of a peek under the curtain:

    I do participate on Avvo. Mostly I answer questions, mostly on consumer issues where they don’t know if they need an attorney (“No, your landlord cannot lock you out if your rent is five days late. Call a landlord/tenant attorney ASAP. You should be able to find someone who will take it on contingency; this statute shifts the attorney fee liability to your landlord.” And so on.) I fell for it and joined when it first opened, though I would never advise anyone to join it now. It’s a bit like the Hotel California: you can never leave.

    I have a 9.x rating. This is partly due to some publications (I wrote a chapter of an ABA-published real estate book;) partly due to some random Avvo-like awards (I’m a Super Lawyer, though I have no idea who nominates me every year; I’m not in a big firm. But I may as well put it into my Avvo profile) and partly due to endorsements–I think.

    Apparently I have seventeen endorsements. SEVENTEEN. Who knew?

    As I read them, I could see they are mostly from people who I recognize from the legal listservs that I frequent. That actually makes some sense. I’m an active participant: I answer a lot of questions in my specific practice areas and I know that I have helped some folks out over the years. I wouldn’t know most of them in person, but it’s at least possible that they know me. Or at least I hope so: I have no idea whether or not they’re sending out ten, 100, 0r 9000 endorsements to others, or whether they decided (on their own) to try and thank me for some sort of help.

    Without question, though: at least a few of them (including some of the most expressive and positive ones) are from people who I don’t know at all. Some of them are pretty laughable.

    But the behavior of such attorneys is unsurprising. Avvo works on a bizarre internal rating system which is susceptible to gaming: it does not require much to give a reference, and it doesn’t discount for reciprocity. There are 100,000 out of work attorneys out there and they are trying to rise above the fray. One simple way, apparently, is to get people to endorse you (presumably in exchange for endorsing them back.) I’ve even seen people who propose this openly on attorney email exchanges, though it has always seemed highly unethical.

    For sure, I get a lot of requests for endorsements. I don’t play ball: I’ve actively declined to “mutually recommend” people. In fact, I’ve only given two Avvo endorsements to other attorneys, both of which were based on personal experience working on cases with them. Not incidentally, neither of those were reciprocal; I’ve used their services and can comment on them, but the reverse wasn’t true. (Although it’s certainly common for two attorneys to know each other well enough to mutually recommend their service, it’s my opinion that many reciprocal endorsements are a good sign of gaming.)

    Quite ironically, one of them happens to be Phil A. Taylor, whose name shows up above in your Google example. I know Phil quite well–he’s been representing me personally in a sticky case for the past couple of years, and I’ve also worked on some other issues with him. He doesn’t need to solicit these things, because he’s good at what he does. I’ll eat my hat if he, like me, isn’t an unwitting recipient of this guy.

    But I know why people (not Phil!) do it: it works. I have no idea whether or not Howard Lewis is a good attorney, but your average client is likely to be highly impressed by his 10.0 rating. As such he’s likely to have found a very valuable niche to promote himself and to get more work than other graduates.

  2. I have to agree with Erik–Attorney Taylor happens to be a very knowledgeable attorney. I appreciate this post and endorse it, for it lead me to another serial endorser, whose endorsement I have since removed from my profile: Christopher Leroi. You can find him by Googling: “Despite being a judge, magistrate, prosecutor, and private attorney for nearly two and a half decades, I continue to learn valuable information from his posts every day.”
    For the record, though, I am sure Mr. Leroi can learn valuable information from my posts daily. I endorse myself.

    • Interesting. I look at other attorneys’ responses on Avvo and pick and choose who to endorse based on the responses that they provide to the asker of the question and to other attorneys on Avvo. I am not a “serial-endorser” as you have claimed. Obviously, now that I know a little bit more about your personality and the fact that you are somehow offended by a compliment, I am pleased that you removed my endorsement. Thank you.

  3. Josh King from Avvo here. A handful of comments:

    First, we don’t encourage lawyers to leave endorsements for any lawyers other than those whose work they are familiar with. We would much prefer to have a smaller number of thoughtful, detailed endorsements (of lawyers who actually know each other’s work) than a sea of empty “I endorse this lawyer” comments.

    Second, Avvo provides an email system through which lawyers can ask for endorsements, but it is on them to decide whether to use it and who to ask for endorsements from (and there’s no Plaxo-like “whole-address-book” spamming feature).

    Third, as with every category of information that contributes to the Avvo Rating, there’s a limit to how much endorsements can help. No one got to a “10” on Avvo via endorsement alone.

    Fourth, and back to my first point – we wouldn’t remove your “endorsement”; I think it’s a creative and appropriate way to react to something that we consider to be a pointless and foolish way to use the Avvo endorsement feature.

    Josh King
    General Counsel, Avvo

    • It’s a mystery, then, why I keep getting endorsement solicitations from faraway people with whom I’ve never even corresponded. I’m sensing marketeers—someone intermediating between the lawyer and avvo.

    • I was a 9.4 this morning.

      I removed seven unknown endorsements and now I’m a 9.0.

      Now, removing those seven endorsements had nothing to do with whether I got them in the first place. Howard Lewis’s opinions of me haven’t changed a bit, right? After all, it’s not as if HE retracted his endorsement, right?

      My removal is simply a measure of whether or not I choose to publicize a particular endorsement that I have already received, and which was not withdrawn by the endorser. That isn’t related to my competence by any stretch.

      Of course, those seven endorsements weren’t related to my competence either.

      But still: I call bullshit. If you want “a smaller num­ber of thought­ful, detailed endorse­ments” then you merely have to remove the “community” option, and require people to endorse only after referrals, representation, or actual working relationships.

      Instead, you set up a rating system which is susceptible to gaming by 2nd graders; promote ways to “increase your rating” which reinforces the ratings’ importance; advertise the ratings in a way which reinforces their importance… and then claim to be amazed, astaounded even, that someone would fail to follow the rules.

      Um… Bullshit. Don’t try to tell us you intended something else.

    • Hey Josh,

      So, long as you’re hanging out with us lawyer-types, I need to ask you: How did Gloria Allred’s daughter, television personality and Avvo Legal Analyst, the lovely Lisa Bloom get a 10? Granted, she has 37 industry endorsements, though apparently all from TV fans of hers except for the guy who wrote:

      Michael Lorence, Employment / Labor Attorney in Pittsburgh, PA – 7 months ago
      Relationship: Other

      Wow! She was best dressed woman of the year! There’s a legal criteria hard to beat.

      I like him. He’s funny, plus he noticed all the awards she’s garnered as a lawyer too:

      Listed Marquis Who’s Who in American Law 2012
      Best Dressed Woman of the Year Michael Awards for the Fashion Industry 2008
      Telly Award, excellence in broadcast journalism Telly Award committee 2007

      Wow indeed. So how exactly does she get an Avvo 10 Josh? I’ve wondered about this for a while, so it’s so cool that your here to explain.

      Hope all is well with you and the guys. Please give them my best wishes.
      SHG

  4. I participate on Avvo, but I am growing quite jaded about its utility. I had to delete an endorsement from an attorney from Pennsylvania that I had never met. Moreover, I have found that there have been a number of attorneys that are not licensed to practice in Georgia agreeing with the answers that I have given on Avvo about criminal cases in Georgia.

  5. As I started reading this post I realized I once had a case in which his firm was opposing counsel. I can state, unequivocally, that “I do not endorse this lawyer. Attorney Lewis is not one of the finest family (or business) attorney’s in [t]his state. He is an strong and zealous an alternately diffident and belligerent advocate for his clients and a credit to the legal profession. I highly recommend [client’s reconsider] his legal services.

  6. IinkedIn isn’t any better. So, I pulled the plug after getting requests for endorsements from people in far away places that I have never met or for skills of people that I knew they didn’t possess. Then, they started a policy of encouraging minor’s to use it. I pulled the plug, toot sweet. Nothing more to see there, so I just moved on. Ric

  7. Thank you Erik for the kind words, and to another who reads this blog and pointed out my mention. I participate in Avvo by answering some questions from time to time and admittedly did not notice this endorsement. I have deleted it as I do not recall knowing this the attorney that made it.

    Like Erik, I too noticed the direct relationship between endorsements and rating so it is clear that Avvo has created an incentive to give and receive endorsements. After deleting the endorsement my rating decreased. I have had other issues with Avvo, or other uses, as I always wonder why some would spend so much time answering questions from jurisdictions they do not practice in and in areas of law that they may not practice in either, but Avvo provides an incentive to answer as many questions as possible and to some it does not matter where those questions come from.

    Shall I take it as an endorsement that I was the first “endorsement” that Attorney Bennett used to call out Attorney Lewis? If I come across Attorney Lewis in Court in the near future I will have to ask him about his endorsement of me?

  8. I just looked and discovered that Howard Lewis has not endorsed me. Damn. I can’t even get into a club with no standards whatsoever.

    (I did, however, discover and delete an endorsement from someone who, while it seems likely I once met, I do not know and who I’m quite sure doesn’t know squat about me, so the search served some purpose.)

  9. I’m late to the game in your discussion, but I stumbled across a perhaps-related case here in Austin. I read Yelp reviews occassionally (yes, they’re often horrible). One “DWI DUI” lawyer recently posted his profile and immediately had a dozen people post 5 star reviews:

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/dwi-dui-law-offices-of-james-forrest-austin

    All reviews are from users who signed up that day, all 5-stars, all are careful to use SEO tricks like using the full name of the attorney in each review, and all use similar language bragging about the attorney’s bleed-and-plead strategy for handling DUIs. The reviews appear to use stolen pictures as well –compare “Amy M.’s” photo with http://apexexpress.wordpress.com/tag/aawaa/

    I’d probably laugh off the apparently false advertising, even by an attorney, if it wasn’t so obviously focused on separating the most desperate people from their money and tossing them to the tender mercies of the prosecutors so quickly.

  10. Ouch! I appear to be listed in Avvo myself, and worse yet it gives the phone number. If the Avvo guy is still around, let me ask: is there any way to get deleted or at least make sure the phone number does not appear?

  11. The Avvo ranking and lawyer endorsement system is questionable. I answer a few questions but I don’t pay it too much attention.

    In the end the endorsement of fellow lawyers and potential competitors is not as important as the endorsement of real clients on reputable sight.

    Recently they called my office to sell advertising on Avvo to get more Deferred Action clients. The cost was around $400 per month. They called again multiple times even though I requested them not to call. At that rate we would be paying them around $5000.00 per year.
    Would my rating be better if I were paying them $400 per month?

  12. Mr. Bennett – you might find it amusing to check the profile of Attorney Lewis.

    Looks like he’s got ~ 10 of those “He is a strong and zealous advocate….” endorsements himself, which I found amusing.

    Thanks for your blog, by the way. Enjoy lots of what you write about.

  13. I am the Bart Charles Craytor referred to in the above posts. While Mr. Bennett does have a sense of humor, and perhaps legal ability, he certainly has the opportunity to refuse to endorse, or endorse someone as his wit allows. I leave Mr. Bennett’s endorsement on the avvo.com listing as I prefer to be known by my legal acumen and skill rather than what the boy next door states about me anyway. Avvo is a marketing avenue. It provides an internet presence. But the same goes for those listed as super lawyers and other “peer review” awards. I have opposed super lawyers I didn’t think were that super. I work with lawyers who are listed as super lawyers and can attest to their legal ability. I’ve opposed unknowns who were quite good if not better than super lawyers. It’s a coin toss marketing scheme whatever one you examine. Just like having a “Yale” or “Harvard” sheep skin on the wall does not really mean that much without accomplishments.

    I appreciate Mr. Bennett’s humor, and posting, and I admit, I laughed myself. I really don’t think people put too much confidence in the attorney endorsements anyway. If I have endorsed someone on Avvo, it is because I have a sense of familiarity with them from their contributions, and/or having corresponded with them. I have been requested to endorse others, but I don’t do so unless I can make an honest endorsement from what I have seen of their accomplishments and contributions to the legal community.

    Perhaps, someday, Mr. Bennett may have the privilege to know me. I think it best for the legal profession as a whole, not to make mockery of our colleagues and courts casting a tainted shade over our own very profession. So, I will continue to withhold endorsements from those I don’t know, without disparaging them, and endorse those I am confident about their legal ability.

    Sure, our legal system is not perfect, nor are any of us. But we can make strides toward perfection, or in tearing it down. In the end, lets all hope that we have done something laudable and worthy of recognition in its own right. Folks will know what we are, by how we live.

    Regards and Best Holiday Wishes,

    Bart

  14. Oh, and by the way, I do not accept contingent fee cases in criminal cases. So I am sorry to disappoint you. I do take matters in other areas of the the law. Sorry if I was unclear about that.

    Best Regards,

    Bart

  15. As a frequent contributor to a statewide criminal defense listserve that we are both members of, I became acquainted with your efforts. I was hoping perhaps that you had seen the same qualities in my contributions to our colleagues in the trenches (of which, I am one.) While we may not be personally acquainted, as I often find myself helping many of our brothers and sisters, I have visited with many over the telephone and often in person. We have actually met before, You spoke at the advanced criminal law seminar and I complimented you in the lobby. But I would not expect you to recall me at all. I want to say it was in 2011 or 2012 and your talk was on jury selection. But I would have to get the books to narrow it down farther. I also read your articles in the Voice.

    In any event, while I do appreciate your humor and wit. (Not quite as sport related as Brian Wice’s commentaries, but that’s ok, I don’t follow sports too much anyway.) I do feel a bit scorned from your “endorsement” appearing on my Avvo page. But that’s OK, as most people around here don’t know who you are anyway (and face it…. it is a little funny… rude but funny), and I continue to have a reputation as a fighter and warrior for the clientele I serve. I have my reputation because of my hard work, dedication, and results, not because some lawyer from Pennsyltucky has endorsed me. And it is no tragedy not to know me, as you have already cast me in the sea of insignificance. We in the rural areas don’t seem to be quite as well known as the city slicker media savants. But we deal with legal issues just as important as the big city lawyers do, before judges and prosecutors who sometimes appear to be indistinguishable as to which one is the judge and which one is the prosecutor.

    So, I thought…. I just thought, that if you followed the listserve, you might have caught a glimpse of my offerings to others seeking some assistance and find me endorsement worthy. Yet nay… I was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and the brunt of your ridicule. But as long as you spell my name right. Any publicity is good publicity. (Or is it?)

    I, like you, value my reputation and do feel that if I endorse someone, I put my “good” name on the line. If I don’t know someone, or have a good grasp of what I feel about someone, I will withhold any endorsement. I usually follow the old saying that if you can’t say something nice about someone then just don’t say anything at all. I know, probably an old outdated maxim from an honorable time but lost in this digital age where the folks who buy ink by the barrel no longer have the upper hand in public forums.

    I will bore you no more with my commentary. (Funny that lawyers are the folks who draft 300 page documents and call them a “brief”. Nothing like giving a lawyer a chance at the microphone.) Happy holidays, and until we meet again, I wish you the best.

    With Kindest Regards,

    Bartman

  16. Does anyone think avvo has people on staff manufacturing questions? I know some of the potential clients are real as I have received calls. But at same time many of the questions are framed in same way and have same stylistic idiosyncrasies like no caps, no punctuation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.