Go Avvo!

The Madison County Record Jul. 13, 2008, 4:00pm

Congress is prohibited from making laws that prohibit free speech.

But that doesn't mean Illinois lawyers cannot enact their own rules that do, if only to prevent others from talking about them.

The state's legal establishment has erected roadblocks for Web-based lawyer-rater Avvo.com, which aspires to be an objective resource for those who seek legal counsel. The company is currently wrestling with Springfield bureaucrats over the state's "master roster" of attorneys licensed to practice law within our borders.

Undeniably, this is public information. Lawyers require state approval to practice law in taxpayer-funded state courts. And the list is maintained by a taxpayer-funded state agency, staffed by state employees.

Also undeniable is the community benefit of making this information widely available. How else to police lawyer-impersonators, or learn whether those we're considering hiring have been disciplined for bad behavior?

One would think this is sufficient justification to compel the keepers of such information to make it readily accessible, on-demand, to Avvo.

But the state Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) is resisting, suggesting it will dispense the list to whom it wishes, when it wishes.

Giving the list to Avvo would "lead to similar requests for this information from... other entities that wish to provide information regarding attorneys to the general public," wrote ARDC attorney Rosalyn Kaplan in a brief opposing the company's request.

And that's supposed to be a bad thing?

Perhaps Ms. Kaplan herself has reason to worry. In her brief, she went on to complain about how Avvo ranked her, arguing that the company should be denied because its ranking system isn't, in her estimation, fair enough.

So you're for hording public information because you don't like what one company says? That's a curious rationalization from someone purporting to have a J.D. Maybe she missed the day at law school when they taught the First Amendment.

If we've learned anything in our four years of closely covering the Madison and St. Clair County courts, it's that lawyers are more likely to abuse their authority and do the wrong thing when they believe nobody else is looking.

Sunlight serves as the best disinfectant, not just here but everywhere.

If Illinois lawyers cannot handle the heat of public criticism, then they should find a new profession.

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