@Avvo, Not Just Alive

Amongst lawyers, there isn’t much talk of Avvo anymore. Way back when, Avvo was not merely an upstart challenging the hegemony of Martindale-Hubbell’s lawyer ratings, which were utterly meaningless to anyone outside of the profession (what the heck does “AV Preeminent” mean to a normal person?), but an opportunity for lawyers to lay claim to a numerical rating they could promote to consumers that would be understandable and, assuming the consumer naïve enough, persuasive.

Yeah, it was nonsensical, but that’s not a bug in the internet age.  The problem for Avvo, of course, is that there is no money to be made in handing out free ratings.  So in the dark of night, Avvo morphed from a lawyer rating service to a lawyer marketing.  And much to my surprise and chagrin, Avvo has made a go of it.

Avvo has attracted $37.5 million in fresh capital, a huge capital infusion that the Seattle company will use to grow its marketplace for matching attorneys and clients. Total funding in Avvo — founded seven years ago by former Expedia general counsel Mark Britton — now stands at $60.5 million.

Avvo didn’t necessarily need the money, since the 150-person company was solidly profitable last year. But Britton said that they’ve got big plans in store, including the possibility of international expansion as well as some undisclosed products in the works.

When was the last time you attracted $37.5 million in fresh capital?  From the old days, I got to know Mark, as well as one of the other original founders, Paul Bloom, who was originally VP of marketing until he disappeared, also in the middle of the night. It seems a lot of stuff happens in the middle of the night in Seattle.  To be totally honest, I really like these guys. Avvo, not so much.

Yet it not only lives, but thrives.

Avvo is attracting six million visits per month, some of whom come to the site to find a lawyer or research a legal question. About 160,000 attorneys participate on the site, with 99 percent of the legal questions answered. Britton calls that an “unbelievable number,” noting that no one else “has ever had that number of lawyers using a single platform.”

While the 160,000 attorneys “participate” claim doesn’t bear up to scrutiny, as “claiming” a profile once means you participate forever, and there is no mechanism for unclaiming an Avvo profile should a lawyer decide he wants nothing to do with the place, I would assume the 6M visits per month is real, and that’s a lot of visits.  It’s unclear what that number means, or what it does for either lawyers or people who ask idiotic questions, reveal confidential information or get such insightful response as “you should retain a lawyer, and lucky for you, I’m available !!!”

Some lawyers spend as little as $100 per month on Avvo, while others spend into the ten of thousands, Britton said. From the beginning, Britton said they’ve focused on building a high-quality and trusted community.

And the vast majority don’t spend a dime, and never will.  On the bright side, the ones who spend “tens of thousands” on Avvo (and I use the word “ones” to suggest that the number of fools who part with their money is limited) are critically important, as they provide the resources that allow Mark Britton to pay for lunch when we see each other (thanks again, Mark!).

“So many sites just make the consumer feel like a piece of meat, rather than providing a meaningful marketplace where they can interact and understand their situation,” said Britton. “The legal profession does not need to be complicated, and to the extent that we can create equations where someone with a legal problem or a legal question gets the legal help they need … and great lawyers are getting more business. That’s the Avvo equation we are looking for in all of the different products.”

This is great news, which I interpret as meaning that Avvo will shut down its really, dangerously awful “Avvo Anwers” and create a new product, called “Avvo’s Correct Answers,” where potential clients will engage in meaningful discussions, that includes salient information, with competent lawyers from the proper jurisdiction who will then conduct some research, perhaps put in a bit of actual thought, and provide worthwhile and, for the most part, accurate advice.  And get paid for it. Woo hoo!

I don’t begrudge Avvo’s success. In fact, it’s enormously impressive that Avvo, under Mark’s leadership, has gone not merely profitable, but held its attraction to venture capital.  Avvo is a business, and this is what businesses strive to do.  There is no shortage of wannabes in the lawyer marketing space, but none hold a candle to Avvo.

Yet, the next step beyond profitable is credible.  The lawyer ratings piece has been left in the dust as a joke, Avvo Answers is downright dangerous, and some of its new ideas were, well, just plain bad.  While Avvo may never be the source of business that would interest me, that doesn’t mean the damage it does in creating a mindset that lawyers work for free isn’t damaging to the profession as a whole.  Nor does the vapid blog nonsense it promotes do much to illuminate.  But Avvo’s still standing, and making money.

Maybe the next phase of Avvo’s growth will involve enhancing the thoughtfulness and dignity of the profession?  Maybe Avvo can come up with an “exciting new product” that will both illuminate and help both lawyers and clients without involvement of hot pants?

It could happen.  So too could that long-awaited call from Mark asking me to give the keynote address to their Lawyernomics or Avvocating conference.  When you’re ready to shoot for credibility, rather than just profitability, I’ll be there for you, Mark.


15 thoughts on “@Avvo, Not Just Alive

  1. GGVV

    I tried using Avvo by asking questions that were legitimately tied to my case/situation. The answers are one step removed from the average Attorney blog (yours excepted and a few others) that reiterate the statement you made, such as a law or article or court decision, (gee just like in the real world!) then promptly say you did not provide enough information so I cannot answer and you need a Lawyer.

    The pro bono clinics are one step removed from that as that is pretty much the same here in Seattle home of Avvo. Many many Attorney’s I have since met have never used it since inception or ever as it has always been just a pyramid scheme of some type, they all are. And anyone “visiting” is just that its Facebook for Attorney’s frankly.

    There is an immense crisis in this country and yet oddly a surplus of Lawyers and yet to find affordable un-bundled services that are not at hourly rates beyond the pale of the ordinary person makes Avvo seem to the desperate and needy a place to visit. But after one “get a Lawyer” or I don’t know the details which would mean confidentiality is therefore breeched and on public website – the hypocrisy is hilarious.

    Go put a question on Avvo with the caveat “do not answer, I should seek an Attorney, why would I be here if I could afford one” and see how many non responses you get.

    For the record I have had one legitimate response and the two women did their best with the vague “for a friend” type question I posed. But the rest were scolds and reprimands. One gets used to that with your profession. The Jurisprudence system is like a Principal to the bad student. You may just get scolded, you may get detention or you may just get kicked out. It’s all sad pathetic and grim

    1. SHG Post author

      There is a lot right with your comment, and a lot wrong, but this is a post about Avvo and not your expectation that lawyers should serve the public for free, because we get free food, free offices, free phones, free cars, free clothing, free education, free medical, etc., or we’re all fabulously rich!!!

      I’ve read a good number of the questions and answers at Avvo. Most of the questions are utterly incomprehensible, wholly lacking in the info needed to even begin to offer a meaningful response, but the people asking the questions don’t realize what matters. That’s a flaw of the concept, not the people asking. They aren’t supposed to know.

      The other side is the lawyers responding, who do so to get business, not because they love humanity. This might seem offensive for those who feel entitled to free legal services because they can’t afford to pay, but lawyers take an oath to zealous represent their clients and defend the Constitution. We do not take an oath of poverty. When the guy at the car dealership tells me it’s on the house, I’ll be more than happy to be compelled to give free advice. I’ll let you know when that happens.

  2. GGVV

    The adage you get what you pay for applies. Free advice is just that free. But to use that site as offering free questions when in reality it is a bait switch scheme is absurd. It is an open forum and anyone who is going to put detailed legal matters on an open site is foolish and has a fool as an Attorney who would do so either.

    That being said, simple questions such as “what is the time frame from when an appeal is filed to receipt of the perfection notice which provides the needed confirm of acceptance of the appeal and needed number for moving forward arrives. Is it 10 days, 5, another 30?” Is that hard of a question that is some type of company secret?

    If you cannot afford an Attorney there are many many agencies that can help in certain fields and those are the best resources frankly than some marketing site. And so why not encourage and have that information there if that is what most people want. Most people will pay for good quality advice and referrals but as I was told by a retired Attorney on Avvo that the bar association will have hungry lawyers looking to make a name for themselves and go to them to find an Attorney. Wow and you wonder why people are disdainful of you and yours.

    I would happily pay for an Attorney and have and have I gotten what I paid for… no. And I can say that with certainty. They never speak to me. Not ever unless to ask for more money. So please tell me your ire with those trying to go without having to write more 5 to 6 digit checks to get help in a system as broken as this.

    1. SHG Post author

      Your first paragraph is correct. You would have done well to stop there.

      Your second paragraph would be correct if your simple example was a reasonably accurate reflection of the types of questions people asked. It’s not.

      Your third paragraph is fine, until you reach the end, where your conclusion doesn’t follow and is totally irrational. Why in the world would hungry, hard-working young lawyers make you disdainful? That’s bizarre.

      And your last paragraph demonstrates a gross logical failure and, I suspect, some flagrant hyperbole. I seriously doubt you’re written a 6 digit check to a lawyer, or anyone else. Your experience with a lawyer (or 2 or 5, who knows because you don’t say, and since you want to make a point without any responsibility, you could just lie about it anyway) doesn’t taint a profession, but at best only those you dealt with and at worst, perhaps you. If a lawyer didn’t speak to you, it could be because you chose a lousy lawyer. Or because you were a royal, demanding pain in the ass who called constantly and annoyed the hell out of her. Other lawyers are great with communication.

      Like I said, you should have stopped when you were ahead. Your need to go off the rails undermined your point and your credibility.

      1. GGVV

        And so much for following your own rules of discourse. When you insult a person without knowing them you must be a lawyer. Thank you for proving my point.

        1. SHG Post author

          It’s becoming clear why you have problems with lawyers, and it doesn’t appear that the lawyers are the problem.

          When you insult a person without knowing them you must be a lawyer.

          When you make an anonymous assertion that relies on personal credibility, then complain that you don’t get a tummy rub and attack irrationally, you’re a nutjob. My rules of discourse are twofold: I invite thoughtful comments. Your comments are irrational. On the other hand, my rules are for you, a guest in my house. Nutjobs aren’t entitled to tummy rubs.

          Yes, I’m sure you think this confirms your anger with lawyers, who just won’t love you as you want to be loved, and do it for free. It’s a conspiracy, I’m sure.

          1. Eric L. Mayer

            On the bright side, you did give GGVV “something to think about.” He should be happy, and you should be thrilled to have provided a wanted legal service.

            1. SHG Post author

              I don’t think I did. I think I validated her disdain for lawyers. I should get a cupcake for that. Or maybe a maple bacon donut.

            2. Eric L. Mayer

              I had a MBD the other day. Did I tell you?

              It was delicious, but I’m sure you could’ve figured that out on your own.

              How’s that place in your neighborhood that serves MBDs? Just asking.

  3. david

    I find it incomprehensible that more people don’t wear hot pants when seeking legal advice, or even attending court. Incomprehensible, I say.

  4. Jack

    I doubt its soul is based on helping citizens in an “online law clinic ala carte” as much as is about making money off of those “ones”.

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s a business. The point of businesses is to make money. Don’t blame a business for being a business, and don’t confuse it with a charity for the betterment of mankind.

  5. Bruce Godfrey

    As bad as Avvo Answers are, Avvo Questions thereto are far less fit for their ordinary purpose; they provide non-privileged inculpatory evidence, or at least lines of inquiry, to investigators, detectives, counterparty counsel and career prosecutors.

    1. SHG Post author

      You can’t have an answer without a question. But then, you can have a really bad question with a really bad answer.

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