Saturday, April 9, 2016

Avvo now offers free legal forms

A few days ago, Avvo announced it has started yet another new law practice related service:  Avvo Legal Forms, which offers free legal forms.  According to one report, Avvo describes the forms as “a selection of no-cost, high-quality legal forms for family, business, estate planning and real estate.” So far, Avvo Legal Forms lists just 20 available forms. But Avvo says that it expects to have more than 200 forms available by the end of the year. The forms include a “wizard” feature to assist in filling them out, as well as e-signature capability."  

This new venture places Avvo in competition with LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer, both of whom have been offering legal forms for some time.  Only, and big, difference is that Avvo is offering the forms for free.

And free is good, right?  Well, yes and no.  Free is good if you are only thinking about the initial cost.  But cost also must take into account quality because if the product is lousy it may end up costing the consumer more in the long run.

I have not looked at the Avvo website carefully nor at the forms so I can't comment on the quality, but the first review I saw (Adams on Contract Drafting) calls it "a real stinker."  You should read the review to get the details.  One part of the argument is that the forms are sloppy, imprecise, confusing, etc - in other words that they are not very good.  The other part of the argument is that Avvo's business model creates a race to the bottom where lawyers are willing to give up quality of service in general, which in the end is bad for consumers.  [Interestingly, this was part of the argument originally made against allowing attorneys to advertise (remember Bates?).]

Avvo, on the other hand, as it has done in the past, claims that what it is doing is providing avenues for people to get better access to legal representation.  But I find the way Avvo explains its position curious.  In an interview in Law Sites, Avvo's CEO states that "By providing free legal forms, Avvo Legal Forms is an attempt to get in front of consumers who would otherwise go to paid form sites such as LegalZoom and RocketLawyer and bring them to Avvo, where they can be introduced to Avvo’s various services for connecting consumers with lawyers."  Also, in the comments to the review itself, Avvo's general counsel wrote:  "While our forms are designed to cover a wide range of basic situations . . . they’re not – or at least, shouldn’t be – comparable to a lawyer’s custom work product. And that’s where your post misses the larger point: we believe that many consumers who are currently trying to go it alone would benefit from counseling with an experienced attorney. The purpose of our forms is to give those do-it-yourselfers a frictionless starting point, while also making it as easy as possible for them to step up to a paid legal check-up of what they’re doing (or full-on legal representation if they find their situation is more complex)."

So, am I reading too much between the lines here or does this sound like they are admitting that the free forms are just bait so the prospective clients feel they actually need to consult a lawyer after all, and to get the consumers to pay Avvo to connect them with the lawyer?   Here's how Avvo's CEO put it, after all:  "Our belief is if we can get in front of these consumers at the time that they think they need DIY and get them — I guess the term is upsold — but introduce them to our directory or our Q&A or Avvo Advisor, then we can start tapping into this market of people who wouldn’t mind having a lawyer involved."

Looked at this way, the free legal forms is just a way to attract prospective clients to Avvo's other services where Avvo operates as a lead generator for lawyers who pay Avvo's fees.  For my comments on Avvo's other services go here and here.

You should also read the comment posted by Matthew Kreitzer below the review in Adams on Contract Drafting in which he argues that there is “a disconnect between the ideal of what websites like Avvo are trying to accomplish, and what the likely end result will be.”  Go read the comment to see his full argument. 

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