In a recent post I wrote about how the Internet is transforming the process of buying a car by eliminating haggling. Open information has made consumers smarter and the slimy car salesperson is less and less effective. And dealerships are finding that fixed prices help them reduce costs and increase loyalty. In today's post I shed light on another way consumers are using the Internet to shed light on a profession that has been denigrated often in the past: lawyers.
The Wall St. Journal reported recently that a Seattle judge turned down two lawyers' request that he shut down Avvo.com, a lawyer-rating website. The two filed a class-action suit claiming that their ratings were inaccurate, but Federal District Judge Robert S. Lasnik ruled that it was protected under First Amendment grounds. (Interestingly, Lasnik is rated highly on a similar site called Lawdragon).
It is fairly obvious that a lawyer rating site is not only legal, but helpful for consumers. Hiring a lawyer is not something we do everyday - yet when we need their services our world is at their mercy. We have little ability to "try them on for size" and refunds after a poor performance and lost case do not happen. And since we didn't go to law school and lack the skill to argue in court, we have to put enormous trust in the hands of people we do not know. This information asymmetry puts more power in lawyers' hands, and consumers can be taken advantage of.
But just as I recently described a new site where entrepreneurs can rate Venture Capitalists, these ratings open up the market for legal services in a way that challenges lawyers to perform better, or pay the price. The best will be rewarded with more business, the worst will have to move on to new professions. Consumers will also feel better about a very stressful decision and tend to trust the highly-rated lawyers' guidance more.
It is unfortunate that some lawyers' first response would be to sue - rather than just addressing their negatives directly and improving - but I guess that's more evidence that they are poor lawyers in the first place.
Call me a dreamer, but the opening, challenging light of the Internet, and ratings sites specifically, just might elevate the standing of professions like car salespeople and lawyers. For centuries, the worst of them took advantage of their customers - and spoiled the reputation of all. But we are starting to see more pressure on the worst, and incentive & reward for the best. Challenge from new Internet models could lead to improvement for customers - and for those who chose to practice these professions.
Now I've got to work on something to elevate the standing of advertisers...