Avvo.com, a website that provides consumer ratings of attorneys nationwide, has been slapped with a lawsuit spearheaded by a Florida attorney. Larry Joe Davis, Jr. says he was defamed by the site and punished when he tried to fight back.
Davis, of St. Petersburg, says Avvo "purports to list over 90 percent of lawyers in the United States, and...all members of the Florida Bar." According to the suit, those listings are made "without [the lawyers'] knowledge, input or approval, based on allegedly available public information, primarily, information made available by the Florida Bar."
Davis, who is representing himself, claims much of the "public information" listed on the site is just plain wrong.
He notes that he is "board certified" in health law, meaning that he has attained "the highest level of evaluation by The Florida Bar of competency and experience within an area of law, and professionalism and ethics in practice."
Despite this certification, Davis says Avvo lists him "as practicing '100 percent employment/labor' law" -- an area in which he does not practice at all. Davis says Avvo never brought the error to his attention. Avvo made the same mistake with eight out of ten other board-certified health attorneys in the Tampa Bay area, according to the suit.
Plaintiff in the dark
Davis didn't become aware of the erroneous listing until August 19, when a prospective client called him seeking advice regarding a "hostile work environment," according to the suit. It was the latest of several calls involving such a situation.
When Davis asked the consumer how she found his number, the client "responded that she had found the name on Avvo.com and that [Davis] was listed (in a pie-chart at the very top of the screen) as '100 percent employment law.'"
If that wasn't bad enough, the client told Davis that she called him "because he was the lowest rated employment lawyer" on Avvo.com, and none of the other lawyers had answered her call. The client thought that Davis, "being a poorly ranked lawyer, might answer her call (i.e. she assumed that [Davis] would be desperate for employment law clients)."
Davis also alleges that Avvo got his address wrong, "despite that Avvo.com asserts it provides the business address 'of record' with the Florida Bar."
Error by design?
Immediately following the August 19 call, Davis logged onto Avvo in an attempt to correct the information on his profile. As soon as he logged in, according to the suit, his "rating jumped from a 4.3 out of 10 to a 5 out of 10."
After exploring the site a bit, Davis decided he was "not thrilled with Avvo.com's business strategy" and tried to get his profile removed altogether. As soon as he removed the information he had added -- leaving those fields blank -- his "rating...automatically became a '3.7 Caution' (in red letters) out of 10," according to the complaint.
According to the complaint, Davis's troubles were by design. Davis alleges that Avvo purposely and regularly publishes "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." Thus, Davis alleges, his rating jumped from a 4.3 to a 5 as a result of his simply logging into the site. Conversely, if a lawyer doesn't affirmatively participate on the site, the suit alleges, "Avvo.com punishes the lawyer with a much lower rating."
Davis's suit charges Avvo with libel, libel by omission, and violation of several Florida statutes. He is seeking damages and an injunction.