Recently I was asked to give my opinion about the website Avvo.com. Avvo is a website that attempts to list all the attorneys in a given area, and rank them based on client reviews and other information. It also gives basic information about an attorney's education, licenses and disciplinary history. According to their website, they first began in 2007. Therefore, in the long scope of the history and development of the legal profession, Avvo.com is a very recent development. You can read more about how Avvo describes itself here.
Every attorney is automatically given a free profile on Avvo. Some attorneys choose to "claim" their profile, while other attorneys are not even aware this site exists. For this reason, you will often see very good attorneys (oftentimes older attorneys who have been in practice a long time before the internet age) with a "low rating" or no picture or contact information, simply because that attorney does not realize this website exists and that consumers of legal services are using it to seek out information regarding hiring attorneys. In addition, Avvo allows anyone to ask a question regarding a particular area of law. Attorneys who are active on Avvo can then review the question and often provide basic answers free of charge.
Avvo.com exists to make money, and part of how they do this is by encouraging attorneys to "advertise" on their website, under what they call a "sponsored listing." You can read more about how this works here. An attorney does not have to advertise on the site to be listed, rather as mentioned earlier, Avvo attempts to list all licensed attorneys on their website. Every attorney starts out with this basic free profile. It is then up to the attorney whether or not to "claim" and fill out their profile with a picture, contact information etc.
You can check out my free Avvo profile here. I decided to fill out my profile with contact information and a picture, so in case a potential client runs across me on this site, they know how to contact me. I have also contributed to the site by publishing a few "legal guides" on particular areas of the law. These guides are similar to the blog posts I provide here and are designed to provide basic information on certain areas of the law in which the contributing attorney has knowledge and experience. As a result, when I write a blog post on a substantive area of the law, I often share it on Avvo.com as well. You can also read reviews from clients I have helped on this site. Since this website exists, my attitude has been to embrace it as a tool to help educate potential clients, and to make them aware of what I do and how I can help them.
Overall, I think Avvo can be a useful place to start when you are seeking an attorney in a certain area of law, especially when you have not had any previous interaction with attorneys or the legal system. Avvo is attempting to make the law more understandable and accessible to members of the public (such as through their question and answer feature). They have also created a user friendly website that is easy to use and understand. For these reasons I think they are providing a useful and valuable service.
I should caution that Avvo.com is only one tool a potential client should use when researching attorneys. You should know that the "ratings" Avvo assigns to attorneys, are just a system that Avvo itself has developed. It is Avvo's attempt to "evaluate a lawyer's background" as they say on their website. You can read more about their rating system here. These ratings are not approved or given by a professional legal organization, such as a Bar Association nor are they a formal rating system given by the Office of Lawyer Regulation or the Supreme Court in each state. In fact, in my opinion they should not be relied upon as an indication of an attorney's legal ability. To Avvo's credit, they even state that the attorney rating is "not intended to be the only thing you use in choosing a lawyer." However, I do think that reading about the attorney's education and disciplinary history, as well as client reviews of their experiences with the attorney can be helpful, as long as you take the client reviews with a grain of salt. The attorneys on Avvo do not control what clients write about them, and we all know that it is oftentimes the unhappy people who leave the most reviews. Therefore, if you read a review that gives you pause about working with a certain attorney; I would ask that attorney about the review before you immediately dismiss them as a potential attorney for you.
Talking to friends and family and asking for a good referral for an attorney they know and trust is often the best place to start when you are seeking an attorney. Even if the attorney referred to you by a satisfied friend or family member does not handle the area of law in which you need help, that attorney can often refer you to an acquaintance who does. Another good resource is to contact your local bar association, or state bar association for a referral for an attorney who can help you. In addition, the State Bar of Wisconsin operates a Lawyer Referral and Information Service. Click this link to learn more about this service. You can speak to a legal assistant about your case, and that assistant will help to refer you to an attorney in your area who handles that type of legal matter. Any attorney who agrees to participate in this program will conduct a half-hour initial consultation with you via telephone for no more than $20.
The amount of information on the internet continues to grow every day, and attorneys are not immune to the development of the internet in the way they obtain clients and practice law. I expect that attorneys will continue to adapt to the changing landscape of both the provision of legal services, and the way consumers of legal services seek them out. Avvo.com is currently trying to fill a void by helping consumers find and evaluate knowledgeable attorneys in their area and obtain basic responses to legal questions for free. As discussed above, in many ways, this is a noble purpose. However, like any commercial venture, they have their own interests and profit incentives, and consumers should be aware of what exactly Avvo.com is, and what it is not, before deciding how to evaluate the information they provide.
If you have any questions I can help you answer, or questions about Avvo.com, please feel free to contact me or another Attorney for help. The information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only and is not legal advice, nor is it intended to create an attorney-client relationship. For advice regarding a specific legal issue, please contact Attorney Thomas B. Burton or another attorney for assistance.