by Greg Beck
Web startup Avvo.com jumped into the business of rating lawyers this month and almost immediately found itself the defendant in a lawsuit that seeks to certify a class of all lawyers rated by the system. The suit claims that the rating system is arbitrary, noting that the dean of Stanford Law School was rated as “average,” while Lynne Stewart, who was convicted of providing material support to terrorists and disbarred, received a rating of “very good.” According to the complaint, the site engages in unfair and deceptive practices by “encourag[ing] consumer trust in a fallible system.”
As Eric Goldman points out in his Technology & Marketing Law Blog, the design of Avvo's system may take it outside the immunity for website publishers afforded by the Communications Decency Act. But while the site could likely be redesigned in a way that protects it from liability under the CDA, the complaint raises another troubling issue by claiming that running the website is a violation of state attorney ethics rules.