Lawyers Sue Web Site That Ranks Other Lawyers

A Web site that ranks lawyers is being sued by -- you guessed it -- a bunch of lawyers.

Avvo.com, which rates and compares lawyers in nine states and Washington, D.C., filed a motion Thursday to dismiss a lawsuit brought by two Seattle lawyers that claims that the Web site violates consumer protection laws.

The lawsuit, filed by Seattle lawyers John Henry Browne and Alan Wenokur, says Avvo's rankings are unfair and inaccurate. The site, which said its rankings are opinions protected by the First Amendment, said it gathers information from bar associations, courts, disciplinary hearings and from clients and other lawyers.

It promises to "evaluate a lawyer's background, based on the information we know about the lawyer, using a mathematical model."

But, say Browne and Wenokur, the site is inaccurate and incomplete.

"The suit was filed in order to stop a rating system that was false and misleading and not based on any objective criteria," Wenokur told ABC News. "When the lawsuit was filed, I was given rating based on no criteria at all. They didn't know anything about me."

According to court papers, Avvo gave Browne a 3.7, or "caution," ranking, in part because of a state disciplinary proceeding -- even though he says he was named one of Washington state's "Super Lawyers" by Washington Law and Politics magazine. Even after the site raised his ranking to an "average" 5.2, Browne said, he lost two clients because of the Avvo rating.

The lawsuit, which is seeking class action certification, goes on to say that the dean of Stanford Law School received a 5.7, or "average" rating, which was lower than the ranking given to Lynne Stewart, who was convicted of providing material support for terrorists.

Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel Alito each received a "good" ranking, the same rankings as Stewart, the suit says. A search on Friday showed that Ginsburg and Alito were not given numerical rankings. They were rated as simply "no concern."

An Attempt to Bomb Us Back to the Stone Age?

Avvo CEO Mark Britton, himself a lawyer, said the site is providing a public service to consumers who may have a tough time finding a good lawyer. "We bring these opinions together to help consumers choose the right lawyer," he said. "All of [the opinions] are imperfect, but all of them are important."

In a statement at the time the suit was filed, Britton said, "We consulted hundreds of attorneys and thousands of consumers in prioritizing the criteria to generate the Avvo rating, and we stand behind it."

The lawsuit "really is an attempt to bomb all of us back to the Stone Age," he said.

Britton and his lawyers say Avvo's rankings are opinions and that the First Amendment protects its right to rank, criticize and discuss the qualifications of lawyers. "The First Amendment protects statements of opinion, and Avvo's ratings and evaluation systems are classic opinions," Avvo's lawyer, Bruce Johnson, told ABC News.

"If these gifted attorneys have their way, nobody would be permitted to judge them or question their skills further," Johnson said in court papers.

With Reporting by Laura E. Davis

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