After reporting yesterday on Avvo’s launch of Avvo Legal Forms, I had an opportunity to speak today with the company’s CEO, Mark Britton, who is in Las Vegas, where he is attending Avvo’s annual Lawyernomics conference.

After my post yesterday, Ken Adams of the blog Adams on Contract Drafting wrote a post criticizing the new offering as “a real stinker.”

That Avvo has the gall to announce this dreck with some fanfare isn’t simply a failure on Avvo’s part. It’s symptomatic of a broader failure, in terms of quality, of the consumer market for fill-in-the-blanks contracts. That failure has to be attributed to hack vendors: you can’t blame consumers for not holding out for quality that currently isn’t available.

Britton’s reaction: “This is just silliness.” (See also the comment to Adams’ post by Josh King, Avvo’s chief legal officer.)

“The point that is being missed here,” Britton says, “is that you have over 50 percent of people who have money and are potential clients but who are not using lawyers. You have this explosion of DIY [do it yourself] that is like a virus.”

“The question is how do you get in front of those people who want to do it themselves,” he continues. “Even though they say they want to do it themselves, they don’t really mean that.”

Mark Britton
Mark Britton

Avvo’s research indicates that most people who say they want to do it themselves would actually value a discussion with a lawyer, Britton says. 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.

“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.”

Britton draws an analogy from his experience at Expedia, where he was its first general counsel. People would come to the site thinking they want the lowest airfare. But when they’d realize that the lowest fare required two stopovers, they’d realize that wasn’t really what they wanted. “We helped them get to what they want.”

I asked Britton why the forms site is not more explicit about opportunities for do-it-yourselfers to connect with a lawyer. That will come, he says, after Avvo has had more of an opportunity to get the forms out there and responsive to Internet searches and then learn how people are using them.

“Our product roadmap will have a cross-sell coming in quite quickly. We just have to be careful that we understand how they’re using those forms first.”

Britton says that Avvo hired lawyers to create the base forms and to be sure that they are compliant in all states. It is unfair, he suggests, to compare these forms to ones created by a lawyer.

“You cannot compare a bespoke product from a lawyer that will cost you thousands of dollars to a product that is an entry-level product designed for people who are doing everything they can to avoid a lawyer,” he says. “Let’s get them that product and then start the conversation from there.”

  • I think that offering free legal forms can be a traffic generator for the AVVO web site. However our research and experience in the US and the UK doesn’t support the proposition that these prospects will convert to an upsell to connect with lawyers for legal advice. AVVO’s experience may turn out to be different, which would be an interesting development.

    Some years ago we did a market test by giving away free wills,powers of attorney, and other estate planning documents from one of our web sites. These particular automated forms are very robust and complex (as distinguished from the AVVO forms which are very simplistic), and sell for a fee regularly from our web sites. See for example: http://www.smartwillforms.com. Several years ago, we created a link to a network of attorneys to see if the free legal forms offering resulted in an upsell for a purchase of legal advice. The conversion rate was almost zero.

    At point we also created a web site that offered free legal forms that linked to our network of virtual law firms at http://www.directlawconnect.com . Again the conversion rate for an upsell was not existent.

    Moreover, we also offer these same estate planning forms through major financial institutions to be provided to their customers or policy holders for free. (In this case, the institution pays us directly for the service.). The number of users who request the legal advice of a lawyer is miniscule. And we sell or distribute thousands of these automated legal forms every month.

    In my view, lawyers in practice areas such as estate planning are still looking to sell estate plans for $3,500 – plus — to a much smaller percentage of the U.S. population that can afford these fees, and ignoring everyone else — leaving the field open to companies like ours to provide a legal solution for an affordable fee.

    I would be interested in seeing more of the market research that Mark refers to. Perhaps the market is changing, or the power of the AVVO brand creates a different kind of credibility that results in an upsell to a lawyer’s service from a free legal form offering. Frankly, I find all of these developments very interesting and I humbly submit that the answers are still unclear to me — so for me — I think that the free legal forms offering is a very welcome development and an interesting experiment which will take some time to see what the results are. I would hope that AVVO would consider sharing the results of this experiment.

  • Sacha Kirk

    This is a great response to the criticism from a skeptic. I completely agree with the response posed by Britton. This is a healthy debate to be had, for sure.

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