Finding a lawyer: The Angie’s List Fallacy

Those who are commended by everybody must be very extraordinary men, or, which is more probable, very inconsiderable men. — Lord Greville

I’m not delighted about the promiscuous spread of American populism.

Whenever Angie’s List ads pop up on my TV, I shake my head at the credulity of my fellow Americans. Maybe I can blame our current populist movement on Tim and Nina Zagat—whose guides I do employ, mostly to locate restaurant addresses—but whatever its origins and however feel-goody and ever so democratic it seems, populism is a bad way to choose a lawyer. Here’s why:

Whether you are seeking a plumber, a physician, an electrician, a contractor, a politician or a lawyer, why would you assume that someone like you, an Angie’s List contributor, say—that is, someone without a professional degree in a service you now seek—can intelligently evaluate the work of someone who has a professional degree in a field complicated enough to require one?

I mean, it’s all this “I got a great idea, Judy! Let’s get the kids together and put on a show in the barn!!” philosophy. Fall for this, then why not be your own lawyer? Your own M.D.? Your own plumber? (I tried that once. Once.)

More important, why would you assume that any friend who, like M.’s friend, had what she proclaimed was a triumphant experience with a lawyer, is knowledgeable enough to judge her lawyer’s ability?

Your (non-professional) friend can’t, either. And it’s my life-long observation that friends not only always rave about their doctors, their lawyers, their dentists, their masseurs, but absolutely insist you go to them. “You have to go to my guy. He’s just brilliant.”

People tend to wrap themselves in the self-proclaimed superiority of their professional entourages because they think it gives them status. There’s a Yiddish word for it: nachas. Which (sort of) means reflected glory. (Kind of.)

That’s what happened to M. Not only did her friend insist that she go to that Bronx lawyer, she dragged her out of her house only a few days after her husband died. I’d like to give the friend kudos for grasping the concept of legal deadlines, but really now. Is there any legal deadline that requires a mourning widow to visit a lawyer two days after her husband’s death?

I’m not guaranteeing that your best friend will recommend a lawyer who hands you a retainer agreement but never gets in touch with you again. But your friend really doesn’t know enough about law and lawyers to imagine that this could happen.

Even if her case was, in her eyes, successful, she can’t interpret what “success” meant in this context. She doesn’t have the required professional expertise. Nor does she really understand what you need in a lawyer. [For that matter, neither do you at this point. Which is why you’re reading Sidebar.]

A friend’s recommendation of a legal professional is a random walk, a dart board throw. It’s like Angie’s List, except on all these “people’s recommendation” web sites you don’t know who’s doing the recommending and/or panning: a furious ex-husband? A vengeful neighbor? A professional competitor? An idiot? A scammer, or spammer? Someone who extracted a kickback, or who failed to?

Or someone who thinks that “D.C.” has to be in a state.

UPDATE ON ANGIE’S LIST 2/11/2015.  I read DailyKos as a supplement to my news reading. Today, via Leslie Salzillo, I learned a few additional bad things about Angie’s List: it’s one of Rush Limbaugh’s consistent advertisers. For that reason alone, Salzillo recommends a consumer boycott. And I didn’t know ole Angie fronted a right wing company.

Here’s what Salzillo wrote today about Angie’s List:

Honorable Mention:

Highly criticized Angie’s List has more than their share of bad reviews. They pulled their ads last year, but left a bad taste in the mouths of many consumers. The extreme Right-Wing company was one of the first Rush Limbaugh sponsors to return to his show, and stay there, after Limbaugh’s 3-day Sandra Fluke verbal attack (video), calling her a ‘slut’ and ‘prostitute’ while she was advocating for medicinal birth control in front of Congress. When Limbaugh attacked Fluke, she was an unknown student. That’s how he rolls. He’s a bully. Again, I need to stress Angie’s List finally pulled their ads (moving some to Sean Hannity), but they are worthy of a mention. The weakening company has also had a large share of customer complaints, as well as some bad press by Forbes.com.

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