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Avvo Advisor and The Rules of Professional Conduct

Avvo Advisor is designed to solve a simple yet vexing problem: how to make it easier for consumers and small businesses to get access to legal services.

How it Works:

  • Avvo Advisor offers a 15-minute paid consultation with an attorney for $39.
  • Starting from Avvo Advisor:
    • To use the service, a user enters their zip code and credit card information, and selects the general area of law applicable to their issue.
    • The user can then choose from participating attorneys (attorneys who meet Avvo’s criteria, are licensed in the user’s state, and who indicate they practice in the area of law chosen by the user), or have Avvo choose the lawyer for them.
    • In the latter case, Avvo sends a notification to all participating attorneys who are licensed in the user’s state and have indicated they practice in the user's chosen practice area, and the user is connected to the first attorney to respond.
  • Starting from Avvo’s Lawyer Directory:
    • A user may also purchase an advice session directly from a participating attorney's Avvo.com profile.
    • Once the user checks out, Avvo sends the attorney the contact information needed to start the call and the attorney has 24 hours to call the user.
  • Once the call is completed, the user’s credit card is charged and the $39 fee is paid directly to the attorney.
  • If the user is not completely satisfied, Avvo will refund the entire fee. Avvo may seek reimbursement of the refund from the attorney.
  • Avvo will charge attorneys a separate $10 marketing fee for each completed consultation.

With this consumer-centric focus in mind, we have extensively researched the issues involved with directly charging consumers for legal services through Avvo, and we believe there should be no issues with any states’ Rules of Professional Conduct. Here are some of the primary issues that attorney participants ask about:

“Referrals.”

Avvo Advisor is not a “lawyer referral service.” Consumers always have the option of choosing from any participating lawyer. And even for those consumers who choose speed and have Avvo connect them with a lawyer, that connection is made to the first available lawyer in the client’s practice area, not to a lawyer who has bought marketing exclusivity.

Ethics Tip: A “lawyer referral service” is a marketing program that purports to match a consumer with the right lawyer for their specific legal problem, while actually referring that consumer to whichever lawyer has bought the right to that “lead.” The touchstone is the consumer deception that such a program can create. Legal marketing programs that offer consumer choice or that do not purport to do such “matching” are not subject to RPC restrictions on lawyer referral services.

Conflicts & Competence.

An attorney’s first interaction with a potential client is no different than the first interaction that attorney would have with a potential client who calls or visits the office. At the beginning of the call, the attorney must ensure that there are no conflicts and that the attorney is capable of competently providing the legal services requested. The fee paid by the consumer is not paid to the attorney until legal services have been rendered. Thus, if any issue prevents the attorney from being able to provide the services, the call can be concluded and the consumer can choose another attorney or obtain a full refund from Avvo.

Attorney-Client Relationship.

The form that potential clients complete on Avvo indicates the fact that the legal services provided are limited in scope. We also encourage attorneys to clearly explain the parameters of the services being provided, and to provide any additional documentation or disclaimers that help clarify the scope of the attorney-client relationship. This is the statement users see prior to completing the Avvo Advisor sign-up form:

Important information
  • Terms of use–By clicking the "Agree and pay" button, you verify you have read and agree to Avvo's terms of use.
  • Money-back guarantee–If you do not receive the service we promised, we will give you a full refund. Just contact us at services@avvo.com.
  • Additional legal services–If you want additional legal services beyond the purchased service, you can make arrangements directly with the attorney.
  • Attorney-client relationship–Once your phone call begins, everything you discuss is protected by attorney-client privilege, meaning what you share is confidential; this relationship does not exist until your call takes place.
  • Representation–The attorney-client relationship may not be formed if the attorney is unable to help you. This can happen if the lawyer feels they are not qualified to answer your questions or if there's a conflict of interest.
  • Representation agreement–For some legal services, the attorney could require that you sign a representation agreement before proceeding with the service.

Ethics Tip: The key thing is consumer awareness - making sure the potential client knows that the representation is limited in scope. This can be done in a variety of ways - agreements, disclaimers, verbal notice - but the best way is to find whatever means is most effective at getting the message across.

Trust Accounts.

Because Avvo does not transfer the fee paid by the consumer until after legal services have been provided, participating attorneys need not worry about trust account issues.

Fee-Splitting.

Avvo charges attorneys participating in the Advisor program a separate $10 marketing fee for each consultation. The entire fee for legal services is passed through to the attorney, thus obviating any concerns about fee-splitting.

Ethics Tip: Fee splits are not inherently unethical. They only become a problem if the split creates a situation that may compromise a lawyer’s professional independence of judgment. We believe that Avvo Advisor, like credit card fees, would involve the sort of “technical” fee split that would not create such a potential for compromise. Nonetheless, we have tried to keep things simple and clear by making Avvo’s marketing fee a separate charge.

Refunds.

Avvo will refund the fee paid by a consumer if the services paid for are not delivered, or if the consumer is not satisfied for any reason. In the latter case, Avvo will make such a refund proactively, without waiting to collect the fee back from the attorney. This eliminates any ethical concerns that may arise relating to reasonableness of fees, etc. (note as well that Avvo will not charge a marketing fee for a consultation where fees are refunded).


More Questions? Contact:

Josh King
General Counsel
Avvo, Inc.
josh@avvo.com
(206) 734-4113