Avvo’s Big Three? Not Me, Thanks

The other day, an offer came over from Bryan Jones, the advertising sales manager at Avvo.   The subject line of the email was a grabber: Avvo to Feature Only 3 Criminal Defense Lawyers in New York County.  Only three? 

Avvo.com is a resource for two million consumers per month who are seeking legal assistance. In New York County alone we had over 2,100 searches last month from consumers researching Criminal Defense Law. I am contacting every Criminal Defense lawyer in your area today to inform them of an advertising opportunity that would place their picture and contact information at the top of the page for every one of these searches.

Three.  Three lawyers will have the exclusive opportunity to have their picture and info placed on every search page for a criminal defense lawyer.  And if I act quickly enough, since it’s first come, first serve, I could be one of those three.

When Avvo first came on the scene, the fundamental justification for its existence, not to mention access to information about lawyers nationwide, was to aid consumers in finding an attorney and assessing competence by both providing basic information about every lawyer available and rating them on a ten point scale.  It was all about the consumer.  Just helping consumers.  Certainly, helping consumers is good, right?

For lawyers, the draw was a place where a lawyer could provide information about himself and his services that would be seen by many consumers of legal services.  For free.  A consumer would be able to search all lawyers in a given field in a given geographic location and compare them, making an educated decision about who to retain to represent them.  For free.

And now I’m told that my puss, a face made for radio, can grace the page of your Avvo listing.  For a small fee.  If I act quickly, because there will only be three, first come, first served.  It doesn’t matter whether I have good rating or a bad one.  It doesn’t matter if my disciplinary record is good or horrendous.  It only matters if I’m willing to pay the fee to make sure that when a consumer seeks to educate himself about you, he gets to see me. 

What an offer!  Everything Avvo said it stood for, every consumercentric argument, flushed down the toilet.  It’s not about educating consumers, but about promoting the three.  So what if it’s the three worst lawyers in the jurisdiction.  So what if their competence is one step above a rock.  So what if their blue pinstripe suit is covered in sludge from the gutter. They paid the tare and they are the lucky three.

I responded to Bryan.

I would pay you not to include me so the idiots who go to Avvo will stop bothering me with their incessant emails and phone calls for free legal services.

Yes, I did get a client via Avvo. One.  I’ve also gotten about a thousand calls and emails from people who want me to be their free source of legal advice.  Whether about a DUI in Phoenix or a question from a college student writing a paper or the mother who is seeking a pro bono lawyer to defend her child, they go to Avvo, find a lawyer and ask.  No harm in asking, right?  Except every telephone call I take, every email I read, sucks up a piece of time that I can never get back. Since time is a finite resource, it has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is the time I would otherwise spend on my clients, my family, myself.

I received calls from people actually looking for representation.  Sometimes, they were even from people in New York, given that it wasn’t really viable for me to travel to Seattle to handle their misdemeanor marijuana arrest.  But there was one common theme in the callers: None wanted to pay for a lawyer.  My favorite, oft-repeated statement from Avvo callers, is “why do I have to pay for a lawyer if I’m innocent?”

Avvo, you see, promotes the idea of lawyers providing free advice.  This is one of the ways it draws people to its website, offering people the opportunity to ask questions of “real lawyers” and getting free answers.  It’s even got a name for it, AvvoAnswers, perhaps the most dangerous concept in Avvo’s business plan.

After discussing the telephone call problem with Avvo’s CEO, Mark Britton, I made some tweaks to my Avvo listing to clarify what type of practice I have, the hope being that it would cut down on the number of calls and emails.  It didn’t work. 

Bryan got back to me after my snarky response.

Those are called leads if you do not wish people to call you I would recommend you remove your number from the website

Unwittingly, Bryan summed up the problem quite well.  I don’t want “leads”.  I’m not selling used cars.  I want people in need of my services to be able find me, compare me to other lawyers if they wish, and should they decide that I might be a good choice to represent them, call me for the purpose of retaining me.  I defend people accused of a crime for a fee.  I do not offer free advice, two-fers or loss-leaders.  I do not offer low, low prices.  I do not want “leads”.

As per Bryan, this is not the service that Avvo provides.  Avvo offers “leads”, people who want free legal advice and free representation.  If this is what you’re seeking, then you should take Bryan up on his offer to be one of the fortunate three.  But be quick about it.  First come, first served.

It will be interesting to see who the lucky three turn out to be, now that we know what they are willing to do to get “leads”.

19 thoughts on “Avvo’s Big Three? Not Me, Thanks

  1. Andrew Winters

    I suspect you get a lot of calls from people who can’t pay from many sources, not just avvo. Would it be feasible for you to set up a screening system whereby callers would have to get through a gatekeeper and pay for an initial consultation? Even a nominal amount would really separate the wheat from the chaff. Of course, callers from your legit, high-quality referral sources could easily be excepted.

    As criminal lawyers still relatively new to private practice, and trying to build our practice, we take many similar calls that lead to nothing and take up a lot of time. At this juncture, however, we feel like we have no choice as a certain percentage do turn in to quality, paying cases.

  2. SHG

    The point is somewhat different.  It’s not merely calls from people who can’t afford to pay, but calls from people, a lot of people, who have neither desire nor intention to pay.  They want it free.  They expect it free.  That’s why they’re calling.  Whether any particular caller has the resources to afford representation is always a question, but it’s an entirely different matter when a person is calling to obtain representation rather than get free legal advice.  The former is part of the nature of our practice.  The latter is part of the nature of Avvo.

  3. Danielle

    I had a similar offer from one of the big lawyer advertising websites (I forget which one) a few years back. They made a big fuss over how few criminal defense lawyers tend to advertise through these sorts of sites, and so it was the practice area where they really had to seek out people. I still wonder if that’s true, or if they just use that schtick on lawyers in every practice area. (I didn’t take their scam offer. No thanks.)

  4. Windypundit

    I think you’ve misstated the problem, at least in your case. Putting you at the top of the Avvo listing would do nothing for you, because you’re already at the top of the listing for criminal defense in New York. So what they’re really doing is asking you to pay money or else they’ll remove you from the top of the listing. That sounds like a protection racket. “Nice listing you’ve got there. It would be a shame if anything happened to it.”

  5. Venkat

    Just shoot me if I ever refer to a client or potential client as a “lead.” I’ve heard lawyers use sales lingo when taking about the practice and it’s always jarring to me. If there’s one thing I couldn’t do it’s to look at practicing law through a salesman’s lens. No offense to salesmen (or saleswomen) who I’m sure perform an important task in society, but I just couldn’t do it.

    There’s this awesome short series called “confessions of a used car salesman.” Nicely written/great read.  I wonder if a lawyer will be writing a similar confessional 50 yrs from now?

  6. SHG

    Who cares about me?  It’sabout every lawyer who bought into the free listing, good for consumers, transparency story.  Now it’s just who pays the cash first, no matter how sleazy or incompetent. 

  7. Conrad from Avvo

    Scott – Is this really news? Everyone knows that Avvo offers Google-like advertising. We have for some time and we talked about it when we launched. And even though we are ad sponsored, we are far from the all-too-common pay-to-play model that pervades the industry. We clearly designate what is advertising; we do not sell placement in our organic listings; we do not charge for our rating; we do not charge for lawyers to display our rating; and advertisers cannot buy a higher rating. We still offer our robust, free profile, as well as our free Q/A forum and free legal guides forum.

    And maybe the ultimate irony is that you are complaining about Avvo having *only* three paid listings when others offer pages of undesignated paid listings. Would you feel better if Avvo did the same, so that we were one big for sale billboard? I realize you like to beat up on Avvo, but I feel your criticism is misplaced on this one.


  8. SHG

    And maybe the ultimate irony is that you are complaining about Avvo having *only* three paid listings…

    Is that what you think I’m “complaining” about? You disappoint me.  Or is your paycheck so big that it blinds you?

  9. Mike

    There are some criminal defense firms hiring non-lawyers to work as “closers.”

    The loan-mod scam people (several have lost their licenses, but it’s good business; so why not risk it?) have been seeking closers for a while. Here is how a typical ad on Craigslist reads: “We are a rapidly expanding law firm in Los Angeles seeking a highly skilled closer to oversee our loan modification case management division.”

  10. mike

    avvo is a very big joke
    what is supposed to be a site for consumers to review attorneys is really
    a money making machine for avvo using bad algorithms with a sprinkle of lie promotion

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