Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Legal ethics is an area that is a lot less interesting than it sounds: mostly it is about not stealing from clients and maintaining independence. There is little that is intuitive about it, so I have made it a practice to avoid steering close to the wind, and conduct my practice along bright line rules. One of those rules is that we can't fee-split with non-lawyers, and another is that we can't pay non-lawyers for referrals. Another is that we aren't supposed to  hold ourselves out as "experts". There are, as you would expect, services out there which kinda maybe sort of come close to doing these things, and I have always been troubled by them. Perhaps the most venerable is Martindale-Hubble, which is kind of a national and international directory of lawyers. If that was all it did I'd be fine, but the reality is that Martindale also runs a peer-review system that rates some of the lawyers in its listings. An "AV"  rating is the top for ability and ethics (you can't just be really capable, you also have to be "ethical"). BV is a tier below, and after that a lawyer is just listed. Lawyers and firms can buy bigger listings-- back when I was at a large firm the firm bought listings for everyone. The expanded listings include details like a lawyer's educational background, publications and presentations, bar association memberships and representative clients, and are crazy expensive. Lawyers who care about this stuff carefully cultivate their Martindale bios, updating them to include only the most recent publications, for example. Martindale maintains that its listings and its ratings are independent from each other, but they sure are aggressive in marketing their listings.There are clients who have made an AV rating an essential prerequisite for retaining a particular lawyer, so this matters.

A few years back Thompson-West decided to get into the act with its own ranking system, called (stupidly) Superlawyers. These rankings are also supposed to be based on peer reviews, and the listings are also super expensive.

A third service is called Avvo, and Avvo is different from the others because in addition to its ratings system it offers, for a fee, an on-line referral service. The New York State Bar Association's Committee on Professional Ethics has ruled that New York lawyers may not participate in this service, but I see no evidence that this has reined in the practice, and I get at least a couple of calls every other month or so soliciting me. Frankly, all such services should be banned.

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