I attended Clio’s conference, ClioCon, recently in New Orleans. I was curious about the Avvo vendor display after their recent acquisition and recent announcements of a settlement with the New York Attorney General in September 2018. The booth was staffed by a Legal Marketing Specialist, who explained that Avvo was still providing marketing services, including attorney ratings as part of their listings. In fact, right after this conference, Avvo announced a rebranding as Martindale-Avvo, with the latter being for attracting more clients with these listings.
I believe that lawyer ratings used for lead generation or advertising to clients need transparency and some oversight. The legal industry’s goal should be to ensure that consumers fully understand the background of the information displayed on the listing along with a few other principles as I discuss below. Consumer protection is imperative and consumers need real ratings and real reviews of attorneys.
No Pay to Play
Like sponsors of a conference who sell from the stage, payment for listings with ratings and reviews undermines confidence in the information. A google search for lawyer ratings yields three sponsored advertisements that are clearly marked ‘Ad’ followed by paid companies like Avvo & Martindale. However, the average American will not understand that the lawyer listings that follow are paid for by the attorneys. The confusing information is intentionally deceptive.
The best approach to provide some impartiality is to be sure that paid for advertisements are labeled as an advertisement and make sure that ratings and reviews are based on real customer reviews. The should not be advertising or higher ratings based on paying for a service or based on how much of a profile an attorney may complete.
Martindale Hubbell Peer Review Ratings have been around for over a century and describe their system as based on client and peer attorney input. The website talks about ratings, using a one to five scale, by clients on the following:
- Recommend or not.
The notion that clients provide the input is critical to the usefulness of any rating. The peer review rating is not as relevant because consumers are not interested in what lawyers think of each other. Instead, the focus for any feedback system should be impartial data from actual clients. The recent announcement this week of the Martindale-Avvo legal services and ratings has the potential for consumer confusion and deception.
Sufficient Sample Size
One of the aspects for Avvo and other ratings systems, even Yelp, is that the ratings are only averaged, regardless of the volume of reviews. There should be a minimum number of inputs regardless of the type of measure. One or two reviews is not enough for any meaningful calculations, qualitative information perhaps, but not ratings. Or at a minimum, there should be a note of how many ratings are included for each attorney.
A recent Twitter chat between lawyers read as follows, “Where AVVO falls down is in the verification and execution of its rating system that leads to gaming of it.” As I outlined above, the public needs transparency with an adequate amount of data as input to arrive at true and meaningful ratings. An overarching requirement is some type of independent validation of the entire system to ensure that the client reviews are genuine.
Use Net Promoter Score (NPS) or Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)
To achieve much of the above, a lawyer or firm should be gathering actual reviews based on an appropriate number of Net Promoter Score (NP)S results. I have written before here about how this simple metric can be a powerful indicator of client experience. Although, some of the above companies are using rating systems, those are different from the core principle of NPS; how likely the client is to recommend the firm to others. NPS or CSAT is client driven only. It is real numbers based on real results from real clients. It is not something an attorney or law firm can pay for.
Also, the feedback from NPS can be used for training and continuous improvement. In the end, the goal of these rating systems should be to improve the profession and the image of attorneys.