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.