Avvo’s 15 Minute Solution

Its launch has been fairly quiet, but Avvo has reinvented itself again, this time with Avvo Adviser:

Avvo, the leading online legal marketplace, today announced the launch of Avvo Advisor®, available online or via a free app for iOS® devices. Avvo Advisor offers consumers on-demand legal advice from an experienced, top-rated lawyer anytime, anywhere, for a fixed-fee of just $39 for 15 minutes over the phone – a savings of up to 71% over the average hourly fee for a lawyer.

Certainly a step up from the leading legal Q&A website, with its awful Avvo Answers, which have proven a substantive disaster and ethical gutter, as lawyers paraded across jurisdictions and practice areas to log as many “calls to action” as possible.  But this could be different.

Putting aside the hyperbole of “an experienced, top-rated lawyer,” which begs the question of Avvo’s ratings trustworthiness and acquiescence in scoundrel lawyers abusing Avvo for their financial gain, the idea of biting off smallish chunks of time for a quarter of a $156 per hour fee, prepaid, changes the equation.  After all, if a lawyer has an open chunk of time, he can fill it with a phone call.  It’s not a bad deal for the lawyer, as he’s not forced to take the call or under an obligation to make himself available at midnight.

But does it serve clients well?

Avvo Advisor is the solution for legal issues that should be simple and affordable to solve, but are overcomplicated by today’s one-size-fits-all method of getting legal help. With Avvo Advisor, consumers no longer have to spend days and dollars finding an experienced lawyer to help with everyday legal situations.

Huh? This is incomprehensible, a string of words designed to appeal meaningful when it is not. By “today’s one-size-fits-all method of getting legal help,” does Avvo mean consulting with a lawyer?  And that “overcomplicates” “legal issues that could be simple”?  Granted, this comes from a press release, which by definition is meant to appear to the lowest common denominator and suck them in for a buck, but it’s kind of hard to embrace a company that claims to be providing a benefit to legal consumer when it uses gibberish to try to convince them to give it a try.

For now, Avvo Advisor is launching in a limited number of states, and in nine practice areas:

Legal Categories: Small Business, Divorce, Family, Immigration, Real Estate, Landlord-Tenant, Criminal Defense, Employment, and Bankruptcy/Debt

For obvious reasons, I’ll address criminal defense.  Having fielded thousand of calls in more than 30 years of practice, my experience is that callers have the most incredible lung capacity in the world and will fill up the entire 15 minutes without taking a breath. They will tell you their life story, replete with every irrelevant detail they insist you must know about them, ending either without a question or with the amorphous, “what should I do.”

Others may disagree with me on this, but I see the likelihood of being able to offer any meaningful assistance in a 15 minute call as ranging from slim to none. Even assuming you can cut their monologue short, there are a series of questions that must be asked to gain a basic understanding of their needs.  Then there are a series of questions that must be asked to get beyond the self-serving descriptions of their innocence or the wrongfulness of their arrest, to what they’re actually accused of doing, what they’re charged with, and why.

Frankly, I don’t see any competent lawyer reaching the point of offering anything worthwhile within the constraints of a 15 minute consultation, even under the best of circumstances.  Maybe 30 minutes would be doable, but my experience is that it usually takes an hour to get to the point where the lawyer has a basic working knowledge of the case and can offer something useful.

Most importantly, if I can’t offer any helpful information, I can’t justify taking someone’s money. In a criminal matter, I suspect most advice will be, you need a lawyer. The options are limited.

It was my plan to test my theory by signing up for Avvo Advisor, seeing whether my experience held true.  It was then that I learned that in order to participate, the lawyer needs to work through text messages.  Avvo will notify the lawyer of a question via text, and the lawyer will text back if he’s available and interested.  It’s unclear, but it appears that the phone consultation will also be done via cellphone.

First problem was that I don’t do text.  Not even last decade, when it was popular, especially with the teenagers.  At my desk, I’m happy to take emails and phone calls, but I do not text. And, I might add, texting doesn’t work in my office anyway, despite what Verizon says in its TV commercials about coverage.  That pretty much killed the idea for me.

Second problem, I do not engage in substantive discussions with client about legal issues on cellphones, because it’s unsecure. I’m weird about giving the government a chance to listen in on attorney/client consultations.  Now, I realize that these won’t likely be earth-shattering cases, of the sort that would likely interest the NSA, DEA, FBI and any other alphabet agencies, but you never know. More to the point, there being no doubt that cellphones are not secure, why create a consultation medium that you know to be problematic?

On the bright side, Avvo Advisors is certainly a huge step above Avvo Answers, which was a disaster from the start.  Whether it’s worth the $39 for 15 minutes to clients remains an open question.  I doubt it, at least in criminal defense.  Perhaps it’s more viable in other practice areas.  Can you competently consult with a client in 15 minutes and provide the client with legitimate, ethical legal advice?

14 thoughts on “Avvo’s 15 Minute Solution

  1. william doriss

    And then there was the lady lawyer in CT who, at 3:55 p.m. gave me five minutes of her precious time to explain what “this” was “all about”. At four o’clock, she said, “I have to go pick up my daughter.” True story.

    I hung up and never called back. (Never got a lawyer either; they got more excuses in CT why they–the CDLs–can’t take your cases than god. And I don’t mean maybe.) It really stinks.
    Don’t think I’ll be trying Avvo Advisors anytime soon. Good Luck with that ingenious idea.

    1. SHG Post author

      Whoa, let’s not mix apples and Fords, Bill. Did you pay for her time? I suspect not. And if, using Avvo Advisors, the lawyer begged off after five minutes, I would hope you would get a refund. That’s just not the deal regardless of anything else.

  2. Steven M Warshawsky

    To answer your concluding question, No. I use telephone consultations mainly to determine, as best I can, if the caller’s legal issue is something I can handle and want to handle. If so, I tell them that further consultation, and more information and documentation, is necessary. I regularly tell people that I cannot give them “legal advice” based on an initial telephone conversation. I assume this is how most lawyers work, so it seems to me this new Avvo program is unlikely to be successful.

  3. Mark Draughn

    When the grocery near my house installed those automated checkout machines, I thought it was nuts. Sure the lines are shorter, but why would I want to bag an entire cart full of groceries myself when I can get everything professionally bagged at no additional charge? Then one day I was making something for dinner and I realized I needed sour cream. The 7-Eleven doesn’t have the kind we like, so I went to the grocery for just that one item…and I realized that I could be out in less than a minute if I used the automated checkout. This was a completely new way of shopping at the grocery store: Because it was so quick, I could now use the grocery store like a very-well-stocked convenience store.

    The point is, it may be that for something like Avvo’s new idea to work, lawyers will have to figure out some new legal services that make sense to sell this way but which didn’t make sense to sell the old way, and Avvo will have to help them with clients who need those services. I know very little about how the legal business works, but maybe this is a way to encourage people to call a lawyer before things get to the stage where they have to have one. E.g. “There’s a police officer at my door who says he wants to come in…” or “I just found out my idiot kid shoplifted something and he’s got to give it back but I don’t want him to get arrested…” or “I’m buying a gun but there’s a question on the form that I’m not sure how to answer…”

    Obviously, I have no clue if any of that is actually a good idea, but I think it’s probably the right kind of idea. If Avvo’s new idea works, it will be because it opens up something new. Or it may just be another bad idea.

    1. SHG Post author

      If clients use the call effectively, for the right purpose, etc., I can see it working. But you’ve seen Avvo Answers, and the way people ask questions, and the nature of the questions. When the stars align, everything is great. Will the stars align? Who knows?

      By the way, great analogy between sour cream and lawyers.

  4. Peter H

    In non-litigation patent matters, I can normally give some substantive advice in a 15 min call. For most clients, if the invention patentable subject matter can be determined in 2 or 3 brief questions, unless the invention is software related. Our firm gets a surprising number of calls for “I want to patent my logo and put it on a t-shirt.”

  5. Fubar

    “Frankly, I don’t see any competent lawyer reaching the point of offering anything worthwhile within the constraints of a 15 minute consultation, even under the best of circumstances.”

    Be patient. Press release technology is advancing spectacularly:

    Our technology’s just what you need
    To augment you and increase the speed
    of your talk with a client.
    Our ultra-reliant
    Vulcan Mind-Meld™ will make you you succeed!

  6. EH

    You probably know the anecdote:

    A carpenter gets hired to fix a squeaky floor. She looks around for a minute or two, thinks, and hammers in a nail. The squeak stops. When the client gets a $100 bill, he protests “why is it so much?” So the carpenter takes the bill and scribbles: “Add nail: $1. Knowing where to put it: $99.”

    This AVVO arrangement is set up to pay that carpenter $1.

    I do so many landlord/tenant cases that I know the quirky details of my specific state law better than most people I know. But that knowledge is what I sell. Selling 15 minute blocks means I’d take my expertise and functionally use it to DEVALUE myself, as opposed to ADDING value.

    Who would sign up for this? And what people would pay for this, expecting to get the good folks in return?

    1. SHG Post author

      If you help out someone who wouldn’t otherwise have the wherewithal to pay you what your experience is worth, it doesn’t diminish your experience or your value. It just helps someone who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it. It costs us nothing to help out those who need, but can’t afford at regular prices, our services if it’s in our spare time.

      My concern is that we actually help, if people are being charged, regardless of how much we make.

  7. EH

    Sure. And actually I answer questions for free on Avvo all the time, especially since I can often steer someone on the right track in a few lines, e.g. “The security deposit statute contains a mandatory triple damages and attorney fees penalty. So you should talk to an attorney; everyone in the field takes these on contingency and you should not have to pay up front.”

    Those are generic questions which don’t point the finger at me. But the issue is that the new Avvo setup creates an attorney/client relationship (with a host of conflicts, malpractice, etc.) It’s one thing to tell someone “hey, you need to talk to an attorney” or “most of the time that isn’t legal, though without knowing any details i can’t be sure.” It’s another thing to tell them “you need to write a letter under 186 15B(6)(e)” and then two months later when they write a (bad) letter and (stupidly) try to represent themselves, they’re blaming you if they do it wrong.

    This service seems likely to filter for people with complex legal problems who are looking for suckers. You know, the folks who will ask for generic “contract advice” and then it turns out that they really want to set up a form business contract for all their work. Just like selling “health insurance, instant coverage, no exclusions” will filter for sick people.

    1. SHG Post author

      That could be. Being a CDL, I don’t tend to view it that way, but it could very well be different for other areas.

      I suspect that attorneys who buy in will do so in the hope that they will get a longer term client out of the deal, and offer such brilliant advice as, “you really need to get a lawyer,” as they do in Avvo’s Awful Answers. If so, then the whole deal turns into another debacle. And that may very well prove to be the case.

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