Below is the best account I’ve found of the decision to close the AVVO attorney referral business. In half a dozen states private bar or state bar committees had ruled against the company’s business model. They found that the “advertising fee” structure – which went up as the legal fee rose -constituted illegal fee sharing or referral fees to non-lawyers. In New Jersey the Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics (on which I serve) responded to an inquiry by the private New Jersey State Bar Association. Although we found AVVO in violation we cleared Legal Zoom as a lawful referral system. In contract to AVVO’s demise Legal Zoom – in the New York – New Jersey region at least – is advertising heavily. – gwc
Legal directory Avvo is shutting down its controversial Avvo Legal Services, a service that provides fixed-fee, limited-scope legal services through a network of attorneys.
Internet Brands, the company that acquired Avvo last January, has decided that the service does not align with its business and focus, according to a letter sent by B. Lynn Walsh, Internet Brands’ executive vice president and general counsel, to the North Carolina State Bar last month.
At Internet Brands, we are focused on our users, and making sure we provide them with accurate, and consumer-friendly information to help them navigate the difficult tasks of identifying and hiring lawyers. As part of our acquisition of Avvo, we have evaluated Avvo product offerings, and adjusted the Avvo product roadmap to align more comprehensively with our business and focus. Accordingly, we have decided to discontinue Avvo Legal Services. The discontinuation began this month, with completion expected by the end of July.
The service had generated controversy within the legal profession. A spate of ethics opinions had concluded that lawyers may not participate in Avvo Legal Services. Within the last two years, eight states have issued such rulings: New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, New Jersey, Utah, Virginia (pending Supreme Court approval), and Indiana.
Last month, as I reported here, the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission published for comment its report that recommended loosening rules on attorneys’ participation in for-profit referral services such as Avvo Legal Services. Loosening the rules would help Illinois address the unmet legal needs of poor and moderate-income individuals in the state, the study said.