The Train To Nowhere

My good buddies at Avvo throw a party for themselves every year in Vegas. You know, that place where whatever happens stays there?  When they got thin on in-house cheerleaders to lead the chorus in singing their praises, they decided to try something new, the Avvo flavor of Ignite Law.

In fairness, I’m a little miffed that I didn’t know about this sooner, as I would have submitted my bid for an all-expenses-paid trip to Vegas on Avvo’s dime:

Lose the iPad for the yPad:  Why buy shiny when you already have yellow on your desk?

But I didn’t know about the contest, and can’t compete with the seven minute blitzkrieg of “Bringing Sexy Back: Do you know what your contracts say?” or “Corporations are people too: Solving this other A2J-like problem is a huge opportunity.”  Important stuff, right?  Oh wait, Avvo doesn’t actually pay the freight? They have to pay Avvo to get a slot to market their wares?  Who would do something so asinine?

But then, it’s not like Avvo is playing in the same sandbox as the other tech-wankers.  Avvo CEO Mark Britton was given a chance to speak to the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates. Perhaps the House of Pancakes was booked already?

His director of promotion and general counsel, Josh King, explains at his well-named marketing blog, Socially Awkward:

The ABA Journal reports that Mark Britton – Avvo’s CEO, and my boss – told the ABA House of Delegates that bar regulators need to “get rid of UPL” and embrace innovation.

If you read the comments on the piece, you’ll note that Mark’s sentiment was not warmly or widely embraced.

That’s to be expected of the defensive members of my conservative and sometimes hidebound profession. Change is scary and unsettling.

That is so true, change is scary and unsettling.  But that’s not the problem with Mark’s pitch, and Josh is smart enough to construct a straw man for the foolish.

But something’s got to give. There continues to be a massive disconnect between lawyers and the potential clients out there who could use their services – if only the bars could get out of the way and seriously consider:

  • Allowing non-lawyer ownership of law firms, so that talented non-lawyers could import from other industries the innovations, merchandising, and customer service orientation so lacking in the practice of law.
  • Significantly carving back the definition of “the practice of law” so that non-lawyers could provide a much wider range of straightforward legal-related services.
  • Removing artificial geographic constraints, so that attorneys could more freely find and serve their clients, regardless of physical location.

And anyone who doesn’t agree is a dinosaur who is afraid of change. See how easy that is?  After all, lawyers are “defensive members of [Josh’s] conservative and sometimes hidebound profession.”  If he characterizes opposition with ad hominems, he doesn’t have to acknowledge, and then face, the legitimate reasons for opposition.

The professional independence of lawyers must be protected, deception and shoddy services must be rooted out, and competency to practice within a jurisdiction’s courts must be maintained.

But it starts with having a real discussion about whether the current structure of overreaching UPL restrictions serves any of these ends well.

Aside from Josh’s inclusion of the loaded word, “overreaching,” he’s right, but he’s contributing nothing to a “real discussion” when he chalks up opposition to fear and loathing.  Then again, he’s with Avvo.

Are we really protecting consumers and the integrity of the legal system, or are we just trying to maintain a monopoly?

I can’t speak for Avvo, but if lawyers are doing it right, we’re “really” protecting clients. In fact, that’s precisely what we do, and what we’re trained to do, and what we’re ethically required to do. Private note to Josh: Lawyers call them clients, not consumers. We don’t sell laundry detergent. YMMV.

As lawyers, we’re really good at pointing at the problems and potential risks in taking action. But the problems stemming from inaction are just as real.

What the hell does this mean? It kinda seems like it should mean something, but it’s gibberish. A competent lawyer parses all aspects of a client’s situation, action and non-action. Did you miss that day in law school, Josh?

And we’re feeling them in spades as the legal services market becomes increasingly inaccessible – and irrelevant – to the vast majority of the public.

That access of legal representation costs money is a problem, but is the solution to let Joe the car mechanic hang out a shingle? Divorces $10. Merger and Acquisition Agreements, $50. Felonies on sale, $79.99.

Some of these “points” have been discussed ad nauseam, like “removing ‘artificial’ geographical barriers,” because it’s not like states have their own laws and procedures. How dare clients expect their lawyer to know what to do when he walks into a court where they speak their local dialect, and he’s got no clue what they’re talking about.

But the baby lawyers, the ones to whom Avvo caters because they are desperate to create the appearance that they aren’t clueless by answering free questions on Avvo and, more importantly, buying advertising as an Avvo pro, and who want to practice law on the internet and take money from anyone willing to pay them, no matter where they are or their monumental inability to provide minimally adequate representation, love this idea.  An email from Des Moines to a lawyer in Jersey?

“Send money, bro. Sure, I can handle . . . uh, what was that called again, oh yeah, a secured transaction. Whatever. No prob. I’m a secured transaction wiz, bro.”

Are there changes that can, and should, be made for lawyers to better serve the needs of clients? I think so. I’ve said as much. But it was with some serious consideration of the real arguments for and against, the real problems and the real drawbacks.  But mostly, it was always with what’s best for clients.

Want to talk about this, Josh? Mark?  Want to have that “real conversation”?  So let’s do it. Except it’s not going to happen in a seven minute flash session at Ignite Law, where no thought gets more than a three second slide.  And of course, since this is all about cheering on Avvo, you will never ask anyone who could engage in the other side of a thoughtful conversation to come to Vegas.

Plus, you would have to pay their way, and I’m pretty sure the last traunch has no line item for honest discussion.  Then again, it probably wouldn’t matter since what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.




7 thoughts on “The Train To Nowhere

  1. Sgt. Schultz

    It was shocking to learn that the ABA allowed Britton to speak. I wonder how much he paid for the soapbox? But that pretty much tells me all I need to know about the ABA. Not that it was worth much before, but now it’s worthless.

    1. SHG Post author

      Not being an ABA insider, I can’t speak to what they possibly could have been thinking when they decided to let someone, appropriately guided by corporate self-interest, speak. But I have my suspicions that they are so clueless as to the “cutting edge,” and want to so desperately to be relevant that they saw Mark as being all tech-ish and thought he would bring that special coolness to the House of Delegates. Yeah, I think they’re that out of touch.

  2. losingtrader

    I particularly liked the session titled, ” Growth Hacking Your Law Firm to Six Figures.”

    Since we know what you think of Avvo, why do you list it on your website as a practitioner ?

    1. SHG Post author

      Because, nonsensical as it may be, it exists. People ask because they think it matters, so I list it because it exists. This is the world the internet has created. Tons of information, most of which is worthless.

  3. John Barleycorn

    “Legal Practitioners”? Did you come up with that credential title all on your own esteemed one?

    “Legal practitioners” working completely independent of lawyers thing-ie is interesting though.

    I like to call them “____________ freaks”, “___________ specialist” for those that can’t get their head around all the beauty of the term freak.

    I happen to know a contract freak. I am pretty sure my lawyer gives her the right side of the cut for her time that shows up on his bills too. Who knows she might even get all of it because she is definitely a super freak.

    Lets face it, a lot of lawyers have brain hemisphere transfrence issues most ___________freaks don’t. Thats why they are freaks. Don’t worry, your lawyer will thourghly review the “freaks” work just because and I guess for some “legal” reasons too.

    P.S. Dear cheap seat reader you may get lucky and one day secure a lawyer that is a freak, but whatever you do never hire a lawyer that isn’t s freak who doesn’t have at least a few freaks helping them out or the sense to call in the freaks of the lawyer or legal practicioner variety when needed.

    P.S.S. Must be some reason your guild doesn’t niche ‘um out and make the baby lawyers specialize right out of the gate and then imprison them in apprenticeships for five years or so. But I can’t really or rightfully say with any certainty.

    In the meantime set the practionor freaks free or at least have the decency of giving them a more proportional cut of the cut depending on the depth of their freakish competence.

    But be careful out there… minimal competence seems to be working up a full head of steam because, i guess, it turned out freakishly compatent is too hard or something like that.

  4. William Doriss

    ‘… as the legal services market becomes increasingly inaccessible – and irrelevant – to the vast majority of the public.”

    Let me say this about that: No disagreement here. But here’s an idea–as if there were any scarcity of such: Let’s pass some new legislation, along the lines of 0’Bomba Care where every Amerikan is required, under penalty of law, to sign up for some form of minimal legal insurance, covering everything from soups to nuts. It could be a sixteen hundred page tome which the representatives could debate without reading or understanding it. We could then leave the interpretation and administration of the new program to legions of governmental lawyers. That might draw down the glut of unemployed and underemployed lawyers produced by the growing numbers of law schools around the country.

    Insurance cartels in this endeavor could blossom, employing even more accountants and pencil pushers, and their supervisors.
    That is what happened when medical services became increasingly inaccessible and irrelevant to the vast majority of the public in the 20th C. Problem solved. Avvo itself thus becomes irrelevant, but still accessible to the gullible.
    The legal profession is in crisis. Josh and Mark above are correct. They got that part right. Parkinson’s Law: Clutter accumulates to fill the spaces available for it.

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