Attorney Misconduct, Bad Ideas, Lawsuit of the Day, Legal Ethics, Social Networking Websites, Technology

Lawsuit of the Day: Why is This Guy So Angry with Avvo?

Ed. note: This post is by “The Gobbler,” one of the two writers under consideration to join Morning Dockette as a Morning Docket writer. As always, we welcome your thoughts in the comments.

Lawyers tend to define their careers by numbers (school rank, class rank, firm rank) – at least when the numbers are to their liking. Unfortunately for Larry Joe Davis, he does not have a good number (a 3.7 out of 10). He is angry about it and, like any good American, expressed his anger in the form of a lawsuit. Larry Joe’s rambling 21-page complaint, which he of course filed pro se, makes him the latest of several plaintiffs to take a shot at Avvo, the Zagat-esque rating website for the legal industry. I haven’t read the other complaints, but I’m still sure his is the worst of the group.

It reads like a Jack Kerouac novel, jumping around and running together, making it harder to follow than a screenplay-style blog post. The two main points seem to be that Avvo has a “routine business practice of publishing false and misleading information regarding attorneys” and that it coerces attorney participation via a “join-us-and-fix-it-or-else strategy” that “approaches actionable blackmail.” In other words, Larry Joe doesn’t like what’s on his profile and can’t figure out how to change it. His Internet ineptitude seems far-fetched at first, but given his statement in the complaint that web searching is a “new field,” maybe he really can’t figure it out.

So what “misleading information” is making Mr. Davis one of the mad ones?

First, his office address is wrong, which he mentions four times in the first several pages of the complaint. Second, he is absolutely dying for the world to know that he is Board Certified in Health Law, a fact he subtly brings to the court’s attention on 16 of the first 19 pages of his filing. Seriously – 16 for 19. And yet, even after 21 pages, Davis leaves us guessing about what he means by “blackmail.” It’s almost like Davis is hiding something. Don’t worry, he is.

Avvo’s CEO, Mark Britton, tells us exactly what’s in Larry Joe’s closet via his informal response on the site’s blog:

Sadly, not a word of [the complaint] speaks to the real issue: that Mr. Davis was sanctioned by the Florida State Bar in 2007 and he doesn’t want you to know about it. And I get it — Mr. Davis has had some serious problems involving child support payments and failing to appear for court dates – so much so that he was twice convicted and spent eight days in the pokey (you can read more about it here). He was also found to have willfully obstructed the Florida Bar’s disciplinary process relating to these matters. I wouldn’t want people to know about these things either.

Bar sanctions generally aren’t good for business, which explains at least some of the plaintiff’s frustration with Avvo. Britton describes his company as a flashlight, shining bright into the dark places where lawyers like Davis hide their misdeeds. It’s a good idea in theory, but Avvo still has plenty of room for progress. One of the few salient points from the complaint is that Avvo appears to get the majority of its information through auto-trolling bar association websites (which is exactly what the D.C. bar was fired up about when it filed its lawsuit last year). How often that information is updated, and by whom — the lawyers themselves? manually by Avvo? more trolling? — is still somewhat of a question.

So perhaps we should use LJ’s run-on sentence of a lawsuit as a reason to pause and question whether Avvo, after three-plus years of existence, is actually bringing a net benefit to the public. Then again, maybe we should just use it as a reminder to go check our own numbers at the site. Do you know what yours is?

Avvo Sued by Another Sanctioned Lawyer [Avvo Blog]
Avvo: Find A Lawyer. Free Legal Advice. Lawyer Ratings. [main website]

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