User-generated litigation

The inherent fairness of wisdom-of-the-crowds ratings matters very little when applied to things like recipes, R&B songs, videos, restaurants or blog entries (Digg this entry, folks, please!).

When public opinions are gathered about lawyers, however, things get a little stickier.

Witness Browne v. Avvo, Inc.

Avvo is a web 2.0 site that invites users to rank lawyers. Browne is John Henry Browne, a Seattle attorney who was ranked by Avvo. I’m guessing you know where this story is headed.

Bottom line: Browne’s class-action suit against Avvo’s CEO and 25 “John Does” was thrown out. Frankly I don’t want to get into much detail here, because I don’t need Browne or any individual so situated to sue my puny butt. But read David Ardia’s summary of the Browne v. Avvo on the website of the Citizen Media Law Project for all the details.

I will, however, share this one ripe bit of commentary from U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik, who granted the defendants’ dismissal of the suit:

[P]laintiffs Browne and Wenokur want to make a federal case out of the number [[the rating published by Avvo–cs]] assigned to them because (a) it could harm their reputation, (b) it could cost them customers/fees, or (c) it could mislead the lawyer-hiring public into retaining poor lawyers or bypassing better lawyers. To the extent that their lawsuit has focused a spotlight on how ludicrous the rating of attorneys (and judges) has become, more power to them. To the extent that they seek to prevent the dissemination of opinions regarding attorneys and judges, however, the First Amendment precludes their cause of action.

If there’s been a more astute observation about the practice of aggregating public opinion to provide consumer guidance, I’ve yet to read it. It’s a dumb practice. And it’s pointless to fight it.

[Conflict-of-interest note: CMLP’s David Ardia is a former attorney for my ex-employer, the Washington Post. On several occasions he managed to keep stories I edited on the proper side of the law.]

Explore posts in the same categories: legal issues, Web 2.0, wisdom of the crowds

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