Posted Sep 02, 2010 10:30 am CDT
A Florida lawyer has sued the lawyer rating website Avvo, claiming it engages in “punitive, coercive and manipulative business practices” that are “beyond unfair.”
St. Petersburg lawyer Larry Joe Davis Jr., a board-certified health lawyer who formerly worked as an associate at Foley & Lardner, says he learned he was incorrectly listed as a labor and employment lawyer on the website after he received a call in August from a would-be client with a hostile work environment complaint. The caller told Davis she decided to call him because he had a low rating on Avvo and might be more likely to return his calls than other employment lawyers she had contacted.
After the conversation ended, Davis visited Avvo.com and “proceeded in somewhat of a panic to enter the site, designate a password, log on to his profile page and attempt to correct the misinformation,” according to the Aug. 26 lawsuit (PDF posted by Avvo). After that, his rating on a one-to-10 sale jumped from 4.3 to five, he says. He then tried calling Avvo, and after two days of “back and forth” he attempted to delist himself. At that time, Davis says, his rating fell to a “3.7 caution.”
According to the suit, the up-and-down change in rating “is simply inexplicable, except as follows: Avvo has a routine business practice of publishing false and misleading information regarding attorneys, and by doing so attempts to coerce their participation in exchange for improving (making accurate) their Avvo.com listing and rating.”
He adds that “Avvo.com’s manipulation of lawyers via the join-us-and-fix-it-or-else strategy is beyond unfair and approaches actionable blackmail.”
Davis also claims that Avvo used an unauthorized picture of him from his law firm website. The suit claims libel and violation of Florida laws barring unfair trade practices and unauthorized commercial use of likeness.
Avvo CEO Mark Britton told TechFlash.com that the allegations aren’t based in fact and in many instances “make no sense.” Lawyers don’t have to claim their profiles to change information, he said, and there is no manipulation of rankings. Britton said Davis appears to be attempting to bully Avvo because he didn’t like his ranking, which includes information about a discipline case.
According to an Avvo press release, Davis was reprimanded by the Florida Bar in 2007 after twice being found guilty of refusing to pay court-ordered child support, failing to appear for his court dates and obstructing the Florida Bar’s disciplinary process.
Davis tells the ABA Journal that he viewed the child support hearings as unfair. In any event, he says, “I don’t know why the discipline is really being mentioned” by Avvo. “It’s a regrettable personal matter that didn’t have anything to do with my practice or representation of clients.”
Another lawyer who sued Avvo, John Henry Browne of Seattle, had sought class-action status in his challenge to the rankings he viewed as inaccurate and misleading. A federal judge dismissed the action in 2007, ruling that opinions expressed in Avvo ratings are protected by the First Amendment.
Davis acknowledges the First Amendment is likely to be an issue in his libel claim, but he says he believes he’s a private figure. Even if a judge finds otherwise, Davis believes Avvo was reckless in handling his information. He also says the First Amendment won’t protect Avvo from claims of unauthorized use of likeness or unfair trade practices.