New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood recently announced an agreement with Avvo – an online legal directory – to reform its attorney rating system and improve its disclosures to consumers. The announcement comes following an investigation revealed that the content and limits of Avvo’s rating system were not clearly disclosed.

According to the NY OAG, Avvo relied on attorneys to voluntarily provide additional information to their profiles to determine rankings – resulting in those that added information to their profiles generally having higher ratings than those who did not participate. In addition to changing its practices, Avvo will pay $50,000 to the State.

“When seeking legal advice, consumers most often turn to the internet – and directories like this have an obligation to ensure consumers know what they’re getting,” said Attorney General Underwood. “My office will continue to protect New York consumers and ensure they get the transparency and accurate information they deserve.”

In response to the Attorney General’s concerns about the neutrality and comprehensiveness of Avvo’s ratings, Avvo agreed to remove its rankings for attorneys who do not actively participate in Avvo’s directory and to disclose to consumers the content and limit of its ratings system.

On the webpages describing the Avvo rating, Avvo now tells users clearly and conspicuously that its ratings model relies on information attorneys add to their profiles, meaning that attorneys who claim their profiles and provide Avvo with more information tend to have higher ratings than those who do not. Avvo has also clearly and conspicuously informed users on the Avvo Rating page that the company does not independently collect all available information that could increase an attorney’s rating. Avvo will no longer refer to its ratings as “unbiased.”

In addition, Avvo changed the process by which it posts legal forms to its website for consumer use. Avvo agreed to ensure any legal forms posted to the website for consumer use are first reviewed by a lawyer admitted to practice in New York with relevant experience.

The NY OAG encourages all websites to ensure that their ratings systems are transparent to consumers. THE OAG also urges consumers to review these disclosures carefully, and to demand any further information they need to evaluate the accuracy and meaning of online ratings and reviews.