The D.C. Bar’s Avvo Issues

I haven’t always had nice things to say about Avvo.  I hate Avvo Answers, and don’t think much of their new paid lawyer advertising business model.  And for me, Avvo has been far more of a time drain than benefit.  But that said, Avvo has a place and serves a purpose. 

Others have gotten good clients, good case, through Avvo, and just because that hasn’t been my experience doesn’t mean I should ruin it for anyone else.  And it does provide an appropriate forum for people to check out lawyers, even if substantially less than perfect.  The bottom line is that Avvo should exist, and my critiques are nothing more than one lawyer’s effort to help guide Avvo away from perdition.  Don’t thank me Avvo, it’s the least I can do.

But the D.C. Bar doesn’t share my love.  They want to destroy Avvo.  The reason is simple.  Avvo data-mined their members and they got nothing for it.  Most people assume that bar associations exist to help their members.  Not me.  I believe bar associations exist to generate money to continue their existence.  Not all, but most.  Apparently, the D.C. Bar Association falls into the most category.

Carolyn Elefant, perhaps the most reasonable and even-keeled lawyer I’ve ever met, who just happens to be a member of the D..C. bar, has challenged this attack on Avvo.

So why does the DC Bar want to shut down Avvo? Well, from what I can tell from its explanation, the Bar is ticked off at Avvo for downloading public information on its website regarding member names, business addresses, membership status and disciplinary history.  So what?  Isn’t that information supposed to be free so that the public can learn about lawyers?  And if it’s already public, then companies like Avvo ought to be able to capture it and aggregate it. 

The DC Bar’s timing couldn’t be any worse. Of all the times to lash out at Avvo, why now when it provides a service that lawyers can use to find work?  With unemployment in the legal profession on the rise, more and more lawyers, from new graduates to former biglaw associates are considering the option of starting a law firm.  Cash-strapped and debt-ridden, many lawyers will be forced to hang a shingle on a shoe-string, looking for the most economic ways to build a practice. 

Granted, Carolyn is fonder of Avvo’s features than I am, and far more supportive of its marketing purposes than I could ever be.  But we need not agree on the efficacy of Avvo to agree that, for better or worse, it’s there, it’s something, and it’s far better than nothing.  And, as Carolyn notes, as bar associations do nothing to help lawyers during the tough times we’re experiencing, Avvo at least offers the potential to help.  Whether it works for me is irrelevant; the laid off Biglaw lawyers who chose not to smarten up and find an alternative career path need options right about now.  Avvo offers options.  Bar associations offer squat.  And you have to pay dues for the pleasure.

I expect that one day in the near future I’ll have something to say that will keep me off Mark Britton’s dinner invitation list (again).  But for today, it strikes me that the member of the District of Columbia Bar Association need to grad their offices by the scruff of the neck and shake them hard.  The attack on Avvo is not merely ludicrous from a legal standpoint, but wrong for the benefit of its members.  While Avvo may not help nearly as much as Carolyn suggests, it most assuredly offers greater aid to the lawyers who need it most, when they need it most, than anything the D.C. Bar could conceive.

And as for my belief that the true motive of this scheme is to sucker some cash out of Avvo for the coffers of the bar association, which I understand is simultaneously raising its dues (always a good idea when the financial fortunes of its members turn south), this might also be an awfully good time for lawyers to assess whether the cost of maintaining bar associations is justified by the benefits they provide.  Not the rhetorical ones that fill the porn they mail out when your dues payment is late, but the real membership benefits that actually provide help and support to the bar.  Considered in that light, Avvo looks awfully good and bar associations, like the one in D.C., may not fare so well.  Viva Avvo, for better or worse.

11 thoughts on “The D.C. Bar’s Avvo Issues

  1. Josh King

    Scott, thanks for your support. We always appreciate your objective take on what we’re doing at Avvo, even when you don’t agree with our direction.

    I think many lawyers and bar associations suffer from letting the perfect be the enemy of good – i.e., if our information, rating and service isn’t perfect, then Avvo shouldn’t exist. As you point out, lawyers need whatever works for them right now, and while our service may work better for some lawyers and practice areas than others – and while some may perceive “warts” in are offerings – that’s no reason to deny whatever benefits Avvo can offer to lawyers (and consumers).

    Incidentally, while I harbor no hope of winning you over on the utility of Avvo Answers, I think you’ll find that our advertising remains respectful of a user’s ability to go directly to search results (much like sponsored listings on Google). Check it out in early March and let us know your verdict – good, bad or indifferent.

  2. Jon Katz - Underdog

    Thanks for posting on the D.C. Bar and AVVO. (You suggested I post this paragraph to your blog, which I privately emailed you earlier this evening).) Your post interchangeably discusses the DC Bar and the DC Bar Association. You may not want to drag the DC Bar Assoc’s name in this, because the D.C. Bar Assoc is a voluntary bar group in D.C. (Called Bar Assoc of DC), whereas the D.C. Bar is doing the AVVO schtick, and is the mandatory bar association for people wishing to practice in D.C.

    I wonder if the D.C. Bar’s AVVO statement was done in haste and in true GroupThink style If the D.C. Bar knew it was looking bad over this statement, maybe it would rescind or water it down. I am a member; I don’t want such statements being made in my name.


  3. SHG

    Thanks for clearing up any fuzziness in my language, Jon.  I didn’t realize there was a “DC Bar” and a “DC Bar Association.” 

  4. Greg

    One of the problems with Avvo is, as an attorney who has been listed on their website through data mining, you have no choice to opt-out. They avidly promote their website on search engines like Google; therefore, making the name of the lawyer pop-up in the first 20 or so search results.
    This is fine if you want to be found, and want your personal information posted for all to see with the click of the mouse. I had given my personal cell and home address to the bar as the bar requests up-to-date contact information of their members. To find it, you had to search for my specific name on the bar website. Although the information was public, the distribution was limited to the people who visited that specific bar website. The information was not splashed on a high ranked Google search page.
    It was very annoying to have the my personal information mined and posted on Avvo website raising safety concerns as my home address was exposed to the world. Furthermore, it is mainly posted as a “money making” tool for Avvo. I assume they are a “for profit” company at the expense of using lawyers profiles without their consent. You may not mind and encourage it for your personal gain, but really I do not want to be listed on their site.
    Avvo should have an opt-out section for people who have special concerns such as identity fraud or have safety issues related to their work. Many information aggregate website do have opt-out options including Lexis Nexis. The phone book allows you to be unlisted. Avvo never should have posted any of the personal information such as addresses or phone numbers without verifying them first with the lawyer to make sure they were accurate. They also should keep that information private as the default option unless the party opts to show it.

  5. SHG

    You make good points.  If you claim your profile, you can edit the information and remove whatever you don’t want to be publicly available.  Also, have you asked Avvo to pull you?  I would be interested in hearing their reaction.

    Avvo is most definitely a for-profit enterprise, free-riding on the coattails of attorneys.  On the other hand, they believe they are providing a material benefit for lawyers in return, and many agree.  On the third hand, whether it’s really a benefit, or a benefit any particular attorney desires, isn’t their choice but yours.  While Mark Britton can make a persuasive case for the benefit to lawyers from an Avvo listing, he should similarly respect the fact that some disagree and prefer not to be the lunchmeat in the Avvo sandwich.

  6. Josh King

    We at Avvo don’t have an interest in publishing personal mobile numbers or home addresses, but a few states (including New York) give them to us as the official address of record when the attorney doesn’t list any business contact data. We’ll delete such addresses or numbers on request, or you can claim your profile and delete the information yourself (or replace them with up-to-date business contact information). We have also requested that New York provide us blank data fields instead of home contact information when no business information is provided, but the state is still working on this.

    However, we never delete profiles in their entirety. A profile free of contact information will still display licensing information and disciplinary history. Such a profile will not show up in geographic or practice area searches on Avvo (thus freeing you from “lunchmeat” status), but will show up when searched for by name.

    Why not delete profiles? Because while we believe that Avvo can be a powerful marketing tool for lawyers, we also want the site to be as useful as possible to consumers, some of whom use Avvo to do “background checks” on lawyers they are considering hiring. Our directory would suffer from selection bias if those attorneys with disciplinary sanctions, Avvo Ratings or client reviews they didn’t like could simply delete their profiles.

    Josh from Avvo

  7. blah

    Scott you miss several important distinctions. First, no one is forced to join the D.C. bar against their will. AVVO forces people to do just that, and you can not “unjoin”. They will not delete you from their site.
    In addition, they commercially exploit people’s names without their consent. They use a person’s name as an ad to drive revenue, without said person’s permission.
    That is just wrong. Furthermore, if you want to change information, you have to procure a credit card, to verify your identity, which of course does no such thing. This seems to me that qualifies as a deceptive trade practice.

  8. FH

    Thank you for this information. I am admitted to the New York bar and they require providing your home address as a business address if you do not have a seperate one. Unfortunately, if you are a licensed attorney still looking for work (either because you recently graduated and the economy is rough or for other reasons) this means that your home information is posted everywhere. In addition, I have concerns that my information is available when I do not work directly with clients instead I am working as a temporary consultant for in house counsel. I am not even sure that ultimately I will keep working in the legal field, but AVVO makes my information public simply on the basis that I am admitted to a bar. I find this pretty disconcerting.

  9. SHG

    I’ve got some very bad news for you.  If you find this disconcerting (and not easily circumvented), you’re going to have a truly miserable time as a lawyer.  There are bigger problems ahead of you.  This ain’t nothing.

  10. Josh King

    If you haven’t done so already, you can contact Avvo customer care and we will remove your home address from your profile. Or just send me an email – josh at Avvo dot com – and I’ll take care of it.

    Josh from Avvo

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