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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ind. Courts - "Illinois keeps list of lawyers private"

That is the headline to this story by Bruce Rushton in the Springfield Illinois State Journal-Register. Here in Indiana our Courts site maintains the "Roll of Attorneys" where anyone can find whether an attorney is licensed to practice n Indiana, plus whether or not there is a disciplinary charge pending. Not so, it seems, in Illinois.

Or at least that is what I thought when I first glanced at this story. But on closer read, a different issue is involved. First, from the end of the story:

[N]ames already can be accessed on the ARDC’s [Illinois] Web site, which also states addresses, disciplinary records and whether lawyers have malpractice insurance.

However, there is no way to get a complete list of lawyers from the ARDC’s Web site, which requires users to punch in names to get information. So, if you already know Abraham Lincoln is a lawyer, you can check him out (and yes, Lincoln is listed on the ARDC’s Web site, which states he is deceased and not authorized to practice). But without knowing Lincoln’s name, he would be a very tiny needle in a very large haystack that includes more than 85,000 practicing lawyers.

So Illinois is much like Indiana. Now from the beginning of the story:
Who’s licensed to practice law in Illinois? None of your business.

That’s what the state Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission has told a Seattle company that wants to post the names of lawyers on the Internet and assign grades based on performance, awards, experience and disciplinary records.

Avvo has posted information online about lawyers in more than a dozen states. The company, which started its Web site a year ago, says it has received lists of lawyers from 30 states. Illinois, however, has balked

The company has been trying for the Illinois list for months, says Josh King, Avvo general counsel. Now, the company is, politely, going after the state Supreme Court, which is in charge of the state’s master list of attorneys. A petition — don’t call it a lawsuit, the company says — requesting the list was filed Wednesday after the ARDC, an arm of the Supreme Court, refused to hand it over.

“It makes eminently good sense that a list of persons licensed to practice law in Illinois would be considered public information,” writes Avvo attorney Steven Pflaum in the petition. “Consumers should be able to determine whether persons holding themselves out to be lawyers are, in fact, licensed attorneys.”

James Grogan, ARDC spokesman, said court rules prohibit giving out lists of attorneys for political or commercial purposes. The only entities authorized to receive the list are the bar association, courts and continuing legal-education providers, he said, and unless there is specific authorization in court rules, the list can’t be released.

“It’s the Supreme Court’s call to make,” Grogan said. “We’re more than happy to do whatever the court wants us to do.”

The court has ended its May term and won’t begin its next term until September, Grogan said, so a decision could be months away.

Anticipating that the court might not be eager to release information that would put lawyers on junk mailing lists, Avvo says in its petition that it would be satisfied with names only, without addresses.

And if the Supreme Court says no?

Pflaum acknowledges there would be no avenue of appeal. “They’re the Supreme Court; they control information,” Pflaum said. “It’s their call.” * * *

Avvo has been controversial in legal circles. Less than a month after the Web site launched, a Seattle lawyer sued, saying the low grade he received wasn’t fair. The case was dismissed. New York Times reporter Adam Liptak, who is also a lawyer, has poked fun at the site, noting that he was graded higher than two U.S. Supreme Court justices.

The clerk of the New Jersey Supreme Court refused to turn over names of lawyers to Avvo, but reversed himself after Avvo filed a motion much like the one now pending in Illinois. And the Florida Bar Association initially barred lawyers from using their Avvo ratings in advertisements, but relented after an Avvo executive explained how the grading system works.

Here is the Avvo site. Like Illinois, Indiana is NOT one of the state covered.

Avvo apparently also ranks lawyers. Robert Ambrogi has an article on this, from June 5, 2007. So does Law.com, from June 18, 2007.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 12, 2008 03:03 PM
Posted to Indiana Courts