Avoo Maria, Part 1: Talking About The Avvo Legal Services Shutdown

Welcome to another session of the profane legal ramblings that appear on this site, which we have politely named Lawyers & Liquor.  I’m your host with the half cup of coffee and the stained suit, the Boozy Barrister, here to curse the day that I decided a scholarship offer from a law school was a good idea.

So the big news, or rather the not so fucking big news, in the legal world this week is the shutdown of Avvo’s fixed price legal services platform.  You may remember Avvo if you’re a regular reader as the high-pressure sales environment that puts on its slimy car salesman suit to harass the fuck out of any lawyer stupid enough to claim their profile on the site.  Well, imagine if the guy that was showing you your own car and then calling you twenty fucking times a day to see if you wanted it painted decided to move on from that and then offer a service where other people could drive your damn car at a certain price that they decide, not you!  That was essentially Avvo’s fixed price legal fee service, and like all bad ideas it was destined to either go down in flames or get elected President.  Luckily, in this specific situation, it was the former.

So let’s spend a little time today providing erotic elucidation (because anything that negatively impacts Chris who calls my office to get me to buy ad space certainly gives me a half-chub at the very least) on what Avvo was offering and why it was shut the fuck down faster than a nerdy kid gets shut down by the head cheerleader.  Break out the marching band and let’s move on ye of little experience as we discuss why a lawyer advertising service somehow decided that exempted it from impermissible fee sharing agreements in today’s Lawyers & Liquor.

What Was Avvo’s Flat Fee Service?

First, full fucking disclosure: when Avvo first announced its fixed rate lawyer service I went and signed the fuck up for it.  Look, moral objections to Avvo in general aside, I am definitely not fucking averse to someone paying me an extra bit of cash that I can then secrete away into a secret bank account somewhere.  I got bills to pay, houses to buy, decent bourbon to finance as I sit in my underpants in a locked office, my suit pants draped carefully across the back of my chair.  If someone wants to click on my profile on Avvo, then hire me to read over a contract and hop on the phone with them to say “Yep, you’re fucked, now come into my office and negotiate a non-Avvo rate for representation in seeing if there’s anyway I can make you unfucked,” I’m all behind it.  I like money. It lets me buy things.

At the same time, I wasn’t exactly excited about doing it.   Essentially the whole concept was that someone, instead of using Avvo to locate an attorney, call their office, come in, sit their asses down, and talk to you for the normal consultation fee and retainer, could click on the “Avvo Legal Services” link and locate a desperate attorney that was willing to provide advice sessions via phone that lasted somewhere between 15 minutes and 25 minutes.  So, to put that in lawyer speak, a .3 (16 minute) or .5 (30 minute) billable.  Because we, as the esteemed attorneys of the law firm of “Fuck you, Pay me & Associates, P.C.,” live our lives in six minute increments and round those fuckers right up.  In return, the “client,” who you know was probably jerking off with Cheez Whiz or something while talking to the lawyer from the comfort of their own trailer, would receive general legal advice on a restricted series of topics.  The call would end, and the lawyer would get paid.

Sounds like an okay deal, right?  I mean, frankly, I could lawyer from my love seat in my Superman onesie while chugging bourbon from a sippy cup and my clients would have been none the wiser in that situation!  Never shall we be forced to meet face to face as I tell the client “Welp, you’re fucked.  And you have 20 minutes left on the call.  Wanna talk about My Little Pony or something? Who’s your favorite pony?  Mine’s Applejack because she’s down to earth by sassy!”

Then you looked at the fucking pay scales on this shit.

Onesie or Not, It Wasn’t Worth It.

Here’s some more full disclosure…I sort of, kind of know Josh King, the former Chief Legal Officer for Avvo.  Like, we don’t go out and get beers or anything, and I’m pretty sure he has absolutely know clue what I look like behind the sentient whiskey glass, but we’ve talked.  And he, and others at Avvo, were well fucking aware of my disdain for their services and offerings, especially those goddamn sales calls that never fucking stopped at my office during the goddamn work day.  We’ve even joked about that shit.  Josh is a cool guy, and we would respectfully agree to disagree about my position on the company and the way it did business as we tried, in the super secret Lawyersmack community, to find common ground.  But I never told him my big fucking issue with what Avvo referred to as “bespoke legal services.”

First, my objection was pedantic as hell:  All legal services are somewhat bespoke.  “Bespoke” simple means that the shit is tailored to the client’s specifications and demands.  It is not some off the rack bullshit that you then take to the dry cleaner down the street with one poor overworked bastard that has to struggle to let your pants out because let’s just face it, we never fucking need the suit pants taken in anymore.  Rather, it means that the services are provided as specified by the client and that’s the complete fucking definition of all legal services.  I can’t just slap your name on someone else’s Complaint without crafting it to your situation.  Not how the shit works.  We are not McLawyers!  So to call that shit “bespoke” like it somehow differentiated from the other services lawyers provide typically was, I though, capitalizing on the fact that the majority of Americans would have to look up the word “dictionary” online to locate the book they would need to define the term and understand just how much bullshit pandering the use of the phrase was here.

The second, and much fucking larger, issue I had was that the Avvo pay rate fucking sucked balls.  It worked like this:  Avvo would charge a client that used their services $39 for a 15 minute session with an attorney or $69 for a 25 minute session with an attorney on the phone.  The client would be able to ask legal questions, and we would answer them.  The money would go directly to the lawyer.  However…then Avvo would take a set “marketing cut” from the attorney, which was $10 for a 15 minute session or $25 for a 25 minute session.  The end result, then, was that the lawyer would essentially end up receiving $29 for 15 minute sessions or $44 for a 25 minute session.

Avvo Expected You To Undersell Yourself.

Add that up and here’s where we are:  the lawyer received somewhere in the area of $116.00 per hour of actual fucking time that the legal advice was rendered.  Now, guys, that’s fucking cheap.  Go on.  Go out there and find a lawyer who bills at $116 per hour.  I’ll fucking wait.

That’s not even to mention that if you look at it on the standard “tenth of an hour round up” billable system, you end up with something like this:  At $29 for 15 minutes, you are actually billing .3 hours.  That’s 16 minutes worth of time.  That means for every 1/10 of an hour, you’re billing somewhere in the range of $9.667.  That comes out, when multiplied into a full hour, to roughly $96.67 per hour.  When was the last fucking time you met an attorney for less than $100 per hour?  Motherfuckers, I don’t even put on pants for less than $100 an hour.

In my esteemed opinion, this made Avvo the abusive pimp on the street corner with a website full of willing, eager, bright-eyed young lawyers just off the Greyhound and looking to make ends meet.  Sure, they seem sweet and nice, but motherfuckers you are going to earn for them.  I look forward to the sweet pictures of Josh in his fur coat with his pimp cane, walking through a recent admission ceremony whispering sweet nothings into the ears of recently admitted idiots.

“Come on baby,” he would coo while stroking the arm of their Jos. A. Banks two for one special suit, “I gonna make you a star!”

Love you Josh, really.  You’re my favorite pimp.

Besides, It Didn’t Create Clients.

Now, I hear some of you saying “But that’s profit, not overhead!  Avvo does all the heavy lifting!”  Really?  Avvo paid my fucking malpractice insurance, office rent, licensing fees, power bill, phone bill, internet bill, etc?  Fuck no, no they didn’t they most definitely did fucking not.  They just say there and scraped a “marketing fee” off the service while tossing it out to an attorney at starvation rates.  The idea being that it’s a “loss leader” that will bring the client into your office, and then you can bill the fuck out of them…except…

That shit doesn’t happen.  Clients that go to a website known amongst the muggles as a place to ask for free fucking legal advice and selecting their phone-sex-line-lawyer from it aren’t exactly known for coming into the office and paying your normal fucking rates.  They are known for taking their 15 minutes and telling you to go fuck off to McDonald’s with the amazing $29.00 you get from telling them they’re fucked, though.

Plus, there was the whole fucking set of ethical issues that came along with it.

Conclusion

But we’re up over 1,500 words, and I got shit to do today, so that’ll wait till next time, okay?

We got a little background, so next time let’s talk about how Avvo really pissed off some bar associations with this shit, and why they did it in a little piece I’ll call “Avvo Maria Part 2: No Fee Sharing For You.”

Till then, I’m the Boozy Barrister.

-BB

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