A.G. Underwood Announces Agreement With Online Legal Directory To Reform Its Attorney Ratings And Improve Disclosures For Consumers

News from the New York Attorney General's Office 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 24, 2018

Attorney General's Office Press Office / 212-416-8060
nyag.pressoffice@ag.ny.gov 

A.G. UNDERWOOD ANNOUNCES AGREEMENT WITH ONLINE LEGAL DIRECTORY TO REFORM ITS ATTORNEY RATINGS AND IMPROVE DISCLOSURES FOR CONSUMERS

Avvo Will Reform Its Attorney Rating System, Improve Consumer Disclosures, and Pay $50,000 to State

NEW YORK – Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood today announced an agreement with Avvo, an online legal directory, to reform its attorney rating system and improve its disclosures to consumers after an investigation by the Attorney General’s office revealed that the content and limits of Avvo’s rating system were not clearly disclosed. Avvo relied on attorneys to voluntarily provide additional information to their profiles to determine rankings – resulting in those that added information to their profiles generally having higher ratings than those who did not participate. In addition to changing its practices, Avvo will pay $50,000 to the State.

“When seeking legal advice, consumers most often turn to the internet – and directories like this have an obligation to ensure consumers know what they’re getting,” said Attorney General Underwood. “My office will continue to protect New York consumers and ensure they get the transparency and accurate information they deserve.”

Avvo, which was acquired by Internet Brands in January 2018, uses public records to create an attorney directory and then relies on the attorneys to add information to their profiles – such as their background and legal practice – in order to rank attorneys on a scale from 1 to 10. As a result, attorneys who shared their resumes with Avvo or added information about work experience tended to receive higher ratings than their peers who did not post to the website. In response to the Attorney General’s concerns about the neutrality and comprehensiveness of Avvo’s ratings, Avvo agreed to remove its rankings for attorneys who do not actively participate in Avvo’s directory and to disclose to consumers the content and limit of its ratings system.

On the webpages describing the Avvo rating, Avvo now tells users clearly and conspicuously that its ratings model relies on information attorneys add to their profiles, meaning that attorneys who claim their profiles and provide Avvo with more information tend to have higher ratings than those who do not. Avvo has also clearly and conspicuously informed users on the Avvo Rating page that the company does not independently collect all available information that could increase an attorney’s rating. Avvo will no longer refer to its ratings as “unbiased.”

In addition, Avvo changed the process by which it posts legal forms to its website for consumer use. Avvo agreed to ensure any legal forms posted to the website for consumer use are first reviewed by a lawyer admitted to practice in New York with relevant experience. Avvo also agreed to better inform consumers that the attorney disciplinary information may not be comprehensive or frequently updated, and that users should independently check a lawyer’s disciplinary status with respective state bar associations before hiring them. Avvo has committed to helping lawyers contact Avvo Customer Care via online chat, email, or phone to request correction of inaccurate information on their profile – such as the attorneys’ main practice area – without being required to create an Avvo account or agree to the website’s Terms of Use. 

Avvo will also pay $50,000 to cover the costs of the Attorney General’s investigation.

The Attorney General's Consumer Protection Bureau encourages all websites to ensure that their ratings systems are transparent to consumers. The Attorney General urges consumers to review these disclosures carefully, and to demand any further information they need to evaluate the accuracy and meaning of online ratings and reviews.

This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Mark Ladov, Deputy Bureau Chief Laura J. Levine, and Bureau Chief Jane M. Azia of the Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection. The Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau is overseen by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Manisha M. Sheth.