Friday, July 6, 2018

Avvo Legal Services is dead

Whether participating in Avvo Legal Services violates rules of professional conduct was one of the most debated questions in legal ethics recently.  Long time readers of this blog know I have written extensively, both here and in law reviews, on the subject, which is why I was dumbfounded when I saw the news today.

Internet Brands, the company that recently acquired Avvo has announced that Avvo Legal Services will be discontinued by the end of the month.  

That's it. No more explanation. They are not going to continue to argue there are no ethical issues to worry about.  They are not going to continue to try to convince that the rules should be changed. They are not going to continue to argue that the rules are unconstitutional.  They are done. Avvo Legal Services is dead.  

Evidently, whether that is a good thing or a bad thing depends on what your opinion is about the service, the company and the regulations involved.  That, we can debate some other time.  For now, the interesting question is simply "why?"  Why now?  (particularly because it seemed that the position to recognize and allow services like Avvo Legal Services seems to be gathering support.)    Was it the opinions of the bar associations that held it would be unethical to participate in Avvo Legal Services?  Was it that it was not profitable?

I don't know.  Others have concluded that Internet Brands did not want to fight the regulatory agencies, stating that "[f]rom a business perspective, it is understandable that Internet Brands didn’t want to continue this service given the regulatory obstacles it faced." 

But that's not exactly what the spokesperson for the company said in a letter disclosing they are discontinuing the service.  There, all they say is that "[a]s a part of our acquisition of Avvo, we have evaluated the 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.”

Whether the closing of Avvo Legal Services is "good news" or "bad news" depends on your view of the service itself, and reasonable people can disagree about that (although, as your probably know, almost all the published ethics opinions that addressed it held it would be unethical for lawyers to participate).   

But I am sure that Avvo's demise will not mean the demise of entities trying to do what Avvo was doing, ie, profit by creating ways to connect prospective clients with lawyers.  This may be the last we hear of Avvo Legal Services, but I am sure it won't be the last we will hear of such matchmaking services.

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