When I reviewed Avvo’s latest effort, Avvo Advisor, my perspective was whether this notion, clients reaching out to lawyers for a 15 minute consultation for $39, could provide a meaningful service to clients. Clients. That’s where my head went.
But as Sam Glover at The Puddle relates, I may have completely, totally missed the point.
But now I realize that’s not really the point of Avvo Advisor. Although some clients will certainly get the advice they need, it’s really a lead-generation service for lawyers. Granted, lead generation services for lawyers are a dime a dozen. I get please-write-about-our-company requests from lead-generation companies almost daily. They mostly follow a similar model: the company finds the potential clients, you pay a fee for each “lead,” and you do the legal work. The problem is that a lot of the leads are tire-kickers looking for free advice or just dead-ends (wrong jurisdiction, wrong practice area, etc.).
Duh. What was I thinking? So this isn’t a means of providing inexpensive, quick legal advice to clients at all, but just another lead generation gimmick designed to eliminate the tire-kickers, the freebie question callers, by sucking $39 out of the naïve and making them pay the freight for lawyers to use the 15 minutes to throw on their hotpants, strut down the boulevard and score the case?
Crucially, Avvo does not hang up the phone after 15 minutes. The 15 minutes is just the beginning of the phone call. You are free to continue the conversation or quote the client a fee for further representation.
This could be, of course, a tip to the generous nature of lawyers to continue the consultation until such time as they have provided the client with value for their money, notwithstanding the fact that they’ve only paid for 15 minutes of lawyer time. But that would depend upon the lawyer, who might feel obliged to prolong the consultation in order to serve the client, or might be inclined to “advise” the caller that what he really needs is representation, and, ta da, the lawyer on the phone is just the right person to give it.
Duh. How did it not occur to me that lawyers would abuse the trust of the client by using the 15 minutes as a marketing opportunity to get a full retainer for further representation.
Lawyers obviously have to be able to help people in 15 minutes at least some of the time, or people will stop using the service. But Avvo obviously doesn’t think every legal problem will be solved with a 15-minute phone call. The phone call is really just a paid consultation with a potential client who has already demonstrated a willingness to pay for legal advice.
Obviously? This isn’t obvious at all. This isn’t a repeat business gig, but a one time gig. People won’t stop using the service if they perceive it as having served the purpose of getting them the advice they needed, that they need to hire a lawyer and that the lawyer they were fortuitously connected to is just the right guy for the job.
Now that I’ve read the interpretation of Avvo Advisor from the perspective of the greedy and self-serving, the lawyers who think this is all about them and not about the client, I realize just how badly I missed the boat. I apologize. I feel horrible about how badly I’ve misunderstood its purpose. My bad.
And yet, the vision of Avvo Advisors as a “lead generation” mechanism remains the perspective of the insipid, hungry, self-obsessed lawyers who see the legal world as merely a means by which to trick unsuspecting clients into paying them money. It doesn’t require lawyers to either abuse the 15 minutes that the caller thinks is all about his legal question and use it as a weapon for lead generation. No one can make you steal that $39 from a caller for your own benefit.
So Avvo, if Glover’s right and this is just another attempt to create a weapon of mass deception, you fooled me. It still doesn’t mean it will work, and it still doesn’t mean that all lawyers will be so self-serving, so venal, as to get that call and flip it around from a 15 minute consultation to a 15 minute sales pitch.
But then, given the demographics of lawyers who care about Avvo, not to mention lawyers who read The Puddle, Sam is probably right and I, much as it pains me to say, am probably completely wrong. My focus on serving clients and providing value for their fee is just another example of a silly old lawyer thinking that professionalism and integrity matter. I am so out of touch.