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- 2008 - April - 21st -

David Chapman

The Florida Bar’s Standing Committee on Advertising has reversed its previous ruling, and the Bar will now allow Florida attorneys to use ratings they earn on the somewhat controversial Web site Avvo.com in their advertising campaigns.

The 3-1 vote followed a presentation and site tutorial by Avvo President Mark Britton, who explained the methodology behind the site’s lawyer ratings and fielded questions from the panel.

On April 2, Florida lawyers joined the list of thousands of profiles on Avvo.com, a lawyer rating and review site intended to help consumers better choose legal representation much like travelers can choose hotels and airlines based on Web ratings and testimonials.

The site currently lists 3,401 Jacksonville lawyers, including deceased attorneys still in public records of The Florida Bar and the courts. Deceased lawyers cannot be rated.

Each lawyer profile includes a numeric rating from 1 to 10 based on, according to Britton, a number of factors including work experience, industry recognitions, case history and disciplinary action. The site also features peer and client reviews, which do not factor into the numeric rating. It appears few if any of the Jacksonville attorneys have received peer or client reviews.

Avvo rates lawyers in Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington, with the goal to have all U.S. lawyers listed in the near future.

Britton said other state bars have allowed attorneys to use their Avvo ratings in advertisements. However, the Florida Bar’s Committee on Advertising in March voted down that ability for state lawyers. Committee member Elizabeth Tarbert said the decision was due to questions of how the ratings were generated, especially with client reviews.

But after Britton’s presentation two weeks ago, the committee overturned its previous ruling.

“Their (Avvo’s) presentation cleared up the concerns we had,” said Tarbert.

Britton said the Florida Bar has been the only group that has had issues with the site’s methodology thus far, but he credits the Bar for giving him the chance to make his case.

“We know we’re new and different,” he said. “Sometimes I think there is the tendency of beating up the new kid on the block, and it just takes time to understand.”

After first visiting and using the site, several local and state bar members questioned the site’s effectiveness at “rating” certain qualities and characteristics of attorneys.

“How can you quantify reputation and other traits?” said Florida Bar Association President Frank Angones, who added people can view almost all the same information, although without ratings, on the Florid Bar’s Web site.

Jacksonville Bar Association President Caroline Emery said the concept of the site has potential if it can help people chose an attorney outside of advertising, “but it has too much potential for problems with inaccurate ratings. Personally, as a lawyer, I’m against it.”

Britton said he realized some of his critics might deem the site controversial, but he said he believes many times lawyers don’t necessarily understand the public’s difficulty in effectively choosing the best attorney.

He said one result that often popped up in focus groups was the lack of knowledge and intimidation factor that consumers have when trying to decide if they need legal representation and who they should choose.

While critics might chalk up the site to being misguided, Britton said that much work goes into making sure the site is a credible consumer source.

“Our system uses many, many factors,” he said. “We do our due diligence with research and have some of the best legal minds in the business contribute to the rating system. We also offer client and peer reviews, which totals three different points of view for the consumer.”

Lawyers can also “claim” their profiles and add photos, reports and other biographical and referral information. Britton said the site could help many lawyers establish a Web presence if they haven’t already.

Between assisting consumers and lawyers, Britton calls the site a “win-win” and hopes Florida lawyers will be the next to embrace the site.

“The mission at every bar association is to help everyone involved equally,” said Britton. “That’s our mission as well.”

Jacksonville’s Top 20

The following lists Jacksonville attorneys with the highest ratings on Avvo.com, a Web site intended to help consumers choose legal representation. Of the 3,401 Jacksonville lawyers on the site, only 320 currently have Avvo ratings from 1 (worst) to 10 (best).

1. Barry Ansbacher, real estate 10
2. Michael Cavendish, litigation 9.8
3. John MacDonald, business 9.8
4. John Mills, litigation 9.7
5. Michael Freed, business 9.5
6. Dianne Weaver, personal injury 9.2
7. James McKeel, commercial 8.9
8. Thomas Edwards Jr., personal injury 8.9
9. Kristen Van Der Linde, personal injury 8.8
10. Paola Parra, family 8.7
11. Blake Hood, employment/labor 8.7
12. Paula Brice, family 8.6
13. David Dunlap, personal injury 8.6
14. Jennifer Millis, personal injury 8.5
15. Craig Gibbs, personal injury 8.5
16. Timothy McDermott, defective/dangerous products 8.5
17. Glen McClary, employment/labor 8.5
18. Kimberly Israel, commercial 8.4
19. Gerald Harper, employment/labor 8.4
20. Linda Farrell, workers compensation 8.4

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