Say Goodbye To In-Person Consultations, Avvo Debuts ‘Marketplace’ To Let You Price Lawyer Fees Online

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It’s a given that if you get yourself into a big mess — say, a major accident or a big financial pickle — you’re probably going to hire a lawyer. But if you are going through something a bit more routine, such as a traffic ticket or a relatively peaceful divorce, you may hesitate to seek out legal advice, afraid that it will cost more than it’s worth. After all, even seeking out the right lawyer for the job and finding out how much their services would cost could take up a lot of time; and we all know that time is money.

Avvo, the Seattle-based company that brings legal reviews and Q&A online, has launched a new tool to make seeking out just that information much more accessible. It’s called “Marketplace,” and it essentially lets you research attorneys for your specific case and receive free proposals from potential legal representatives including details on price and approach. In the beginning, Marketplace, which launched this past week, is aimed initially only at the traffic ticket and divorce markets, with other segments to launch in the future.

The idea came organically from Avvo’s Q&A platform, CEO Mark Britton said in a phone call this past week. “We’ve allowed people to ask questions on Avvo, and often we see them say things like, ‘Gosh, I would never use a lawyer for a traffic ticket,’” he said. But, he said, if they knew that they could hire a lawyer for less than the citation amount to make it go away, perhaps they would. “There’s this massive middle market that’s not being served… but you need to get in touch with a lawyer to know that,” Britton said.

To many people, Marketplace sounds like a win/win for both lawyers and the people who may need their services. It is addressing a market of people who otherwise would probably not seek out legal counsel for their situations, fearing that it’s too expensive or too much of a hassle. If it gets those people closer to services that will save them money, and lawyers get clients that they otherwise wouldn’t have, it all works out, right?

But according to Britton, the company expects Marketplace to rock the boat a bit.

“The legal profession hasn’t really seen this before,” Britton said. “It allows anyone to raise their hand and essentially get multiple price points for lawyers, and ask several questions of each one about how much the case will cost, how long they expect it to take, what is the probability of success.” Many people in the legal profession, he noted, are not always comfortable with this kind of information being offered so freely.

But then again, resistance is something that Avvo has seen before. Back in 2007 it was actually sued by a group of lawyers over its lawyer ratings feature (the suit was ultimately dismissed.)

Britton explains Avvo’s controversial nature like this: “With everything we’ve done there is [a small group of] lawyers that somehow just assume that it’s all going ot go to hell in a hand basket. Lawyers are great risk spotters…in many instances you have a number of lawyers out there who are not web- or marketing- savvy, and they look at all of this as somehow degrading to their profession.”

But, as we all know, information can’t exactly be kept behind bars for long. The move toward making more people in more industries savvy on the web is not slowing down any time soon, regardless of how much mahogany and how many leather-bound books may be involved. And it seems that something like Avvo’s Marketplace could ultimately drive more business to the entire legal profession, if it all works out correctly. It’ll be interesting to see how the roll out is received, from both potential clients and the legal world.

Avvo, which has 87 full-time staffers, has raised $23 million in venture capital funding.