The dishonor of gaming/buying a reputation

  Photo:  My 10 best nomination from AIOPIA before it hit the recycle bin.

Photo:  My 10 best nomination from AIOPIA before it hit the recycle bin.

There are a lot of lawyers in America.

Lots and lots.

With the demise of the telphone book, most lawyers now have websites.  Growing numbers use social media. A few pay for TV and radio ads.  And thankfully only a few (grossly) advertise on buses, cabs and billboards.

In days gone by, lawyers belonged to Martindale Hubbell.  A formal widely respected peer vetting system was involved where lawyers were rated as Average, Good, Very Good and ultimately Best.  Actually this system is still in place but appears to be an endangered species.

Then came Super Lawyers.  First as a regular magazine.  Now a once a year publication devoted to promoting lawyers with an associated website.  It is primarily a popularity contest.  But to the extent that lawyers are voting for those whom they know and respect, it is not such a bad thing.  Though some of the cronyism can be annoying.

Enter the new lawyer advertising venues.  Avvo.com tops the list.  Oftentimes, an Avvo profile ranks higher on Google than an attorney's own website.  Started by attorney Mark Britton, Avvo uses a rating system that includes objective factors like date of graduation, bar activities, bar troubles.  The system is sometimes criticized for its ability to be gamed by those who put forth the effort and expense to fluff up their ranking.  I've found lawyers who have only practiced a few years who have higher ranking numbers  than well known excellent longstanding lawyers.  Despite its flaws, Avvo does have a certain level of rigor that puts it at the head of the marketing pack.  Plus it does not try to pretend that it is something that it isn't.

Dialing down to my specific profession, personal injury lawyers are very concerned about attracting potential clients.  One of the ways that an attorney can bolster their resume, is by the addition of memberships in socieities and awards.  The public is impressed by those sorts of things.  And sometimes they should be.

Any personal injury lawyer who is a real personal injury lawyer, will belong to a state or national trial lawyer organization.  The national organization is AAJ (American Association for Justice formerly known as ATLA - Association of Trial Lawyers of America).  The state organizations affiliated with AAJ are all trial lawyer associations though some of their names have been changed to match the ATLA to AAJ transition.  In Washington State, we are the Washington State Association for Justice formerly known as Washington State Trial Lawyer Association.  These are legitimate organizations made up of peers and run as bona fide nonprofits.  The common mission is to advocate on behalf of injured people in the courts and legislatures.  When these organizations give out awards, there are actual legitimate peer vetting processes in place.  The awards are covetted, treasured and have meaning.

There are other trial organizations that are real.  Such as the invitation only American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) which is a collection of experienced plaintiff and defense civil lawyers who have vowed to uphold the right to jury trial.  And Public Justice  which fights cases of broad public import and whose membership overlaps with AAJ.

And then there are trial attorney organizations that are really marketing organizations.  You are invited to be a member.  Pay a fee.  And then get to put a sticker on your website saying that you are great, when in fact you did nothing other than pay the fee.  These organizations  make money catering to this hunger for accollades.

Today I received an invitation from AIOPIA.  American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys.  I went to their website to see who they were and found no evidence of  humankind.  Just the use of the royal "we": "The American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys is an impartial third-party attorney rating service recognizing excellence of fellow practitioners in the field. We compile an exclusive list of the “10 Best” Attorneys for each State..."

I  get the award if I fill out the form and pay them $275.00.  Which leads me to Webster's dictionary.    Award: something (such as a prize) that is given to someone or something for being excellent or for doing something that is admired

Buying an award is an oxymoron.

Maybe AIOPIA is seeking to compete with Avvo.  Maybe it is simply a Buy a Reputation organization.  Don't know which.

But this is what I do know.  The only real plaintiff lawyer organizations are AAJ, the State TLAs, and Public Justice.