Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hating the Rating

Some great information on rating lawyers at the Wired GC blog. A recent controversy involving anonymous online feedback gives some valuable insight into the controversial practice of online ratings for lawyers.

The website involved, TheFunded, claims to offer information on VC firms and deal terms from anonymous entrepreneurs, allegedly with experience. One recent feedback posting involved EDF Ventures. Rather than repeating it, there’s more on it here.

EDF didn’t like the posting and somehow thought it was advisable to subpoena TheFunded to discover the identity of the poster. One of EDF’s founders was quoted in this week’s Crain’s Detroit Business (scroll down) as saying:

With anonymous postings, you can either let something patently untrue just sit there, or you can try to find out who it is. We want to talk to them and set the record straight.

You can probably guess how this turned out. EDF has succeeded in one sense: putting a rather large exclamation point on the matter.

When we move from the VC shpere to the legal space, the case of TheFunded shows that online ratings and feedback have pitfalls for the raters and the rated.

The problem isn’t just that the feedback’s anonymous–that’s actually a cornerstone of most client surveys. It can be honest and constructive or vindictive and brutal.

Any feedback about lawyers that’s not anonymous will almost always be favorable, when you think about it.

Lawyer rating site Avvo drew some fire when it started out; it has now emerged from beta and is scaling well, targeted more at consumers than the corporate counsel crowd. That latter market will do what it’s always done: rely on personal referrals when possible. Increasingly, however, the search may start by looking at a rating in a gated legal community or a recommendation in a lawyer-only network.

The other lesson: if you have the urge to “go after” something published online about your company, consult two lawyers: (a) one about how to do it, and (b) another about whether you should.

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