Have you claimed your Avvo profile yet? If you have, there are some ethics issues you should be aware of, and if you haven’t, you may want to read this before you do so. My husband and law partner, Doug and I are on different sides of this debate. He has not claimed his Avvo profile and doesn’t intend to, as far as I know. He’s safe and secure in knowing that he has no control over the contents of the profile and if they get it wrong, it’s not his fault. I claimed my Avvo profile a long time ago, in part, because the information posted about me was not accurate. I felt duty bound to correct the information about me that was out there. Once you claim your profile, however, you should be aware that you are now on the hook for ensuring that the information is correct and is updated in a timely fashion. What I did not realize many years ago, when I claimed my Avvo profile, is that there is some information, such as testimonials, that I would have a duty to monitor but would have no control over.
I don’t use Avvo very much and only check on it rarely, as not much has changed in my professional life recently. Plus, I’m more of a LinkedIn gal. I have only one endorsement on Avvo and I don’t solicit endorsements from my clients. What I understand from the State Bar is that you are required to check periodically on social media sites that you exercise some control over, and to make reasonable efforts to ensure that the information on the site pertaining to you complies with the advertising rules. See 2012 FEO 8 and 2014 FEO 8.
Here’s the rub. You have control over your profile on Avvo once you claim it, but you don’t have control over testimonials that may be posted on your profile without prior approval or authorization from you. What if someone posts a testimonial on your profile that is untrue or that would be considered misleading under Rule 7.1. For example, suppose someone posted, “Attorney Smith is the best attorney in the state,” or “Attorney Smith has won more personal injury cases than any other attorney in the county.” What do you do? Either of those statements would violate Rule 7.1, according to the State Bar, but you have no control over that client’s post.
2012 FEO 8 suggests that you should contact the client and ask them to remove or modify the post so it complies with the advertising rules. In some cases, it may be appropriate to add disclaimer language to the page where the testimonial appears. On Avvo, however, you cannot add disclaimer language to a testimonials page, except by responding to each individual endorsement that would require a disclaimer.
What if adding a disclaimer won’t “cure” the problem, as in the two examples above, and what if you cannot reach the client, the client refuses to change the post, or you can’t identify the client from the substance of the post? There is no clear answer in the Rules or ethics opinions. In my opinion, if you have not solicited the testimonial and have no control over or ability to change it, then you should not be held responsible for the content of the testimonial. 2012 FEO 8 seems to suggest that control over the testimonial is what is key: “When a lawyer has control over the content of postings on his or her profile on the networking website, the lawyer may accept a recommendation from a current or former client subject to certain conditions. The lawyer may only “accept” recommendations that comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct that pertain to advertising.” 2012 FEO 8, Opinion #1 (Emphasis added).
For Avvo, you may not have a choice whether to “accept” a testimonial or endorsement. The Rules of Professional Conduct are rules of reason. If that’s the case, then when faced with a testimonial that would violate the Rules, and over which you have no control, you can only do what’s reasonable under the circumstances.