Yesterday, I reported that Mark Britton, founder and CEO of Avvo, is leaving the company in the wake of its acquisition in January by Internet Brands. Following is the email he sent to Avvo staff informing them of this news.

Dear Team:

Many of you have been asking about what’s happening with Avvo now that the transaction is closed – and the answer is quite a lot.  While we will share more in town hall meetings tomorrow, I’m writing to let you know that a number of your SLT members will be stepping down over the next couple of months — yours truly, Monica Williams, Josh King, Sachin Bhatia and Kevin Goldsmith. While this may come as a surprise to some, the five of us have been working through this the past month, and our departures increasingly made sense as we planned for the future with Internet Brands (IB). I’ll let the others share their own thoughts at their own time – because all of our situations, while similar, are also different.

My situation is pretty simple: It’s time for me to go, and let me explain why.

In the spring of 2005, I sat late-night at a kitchen table in Sardinia (which sounds somewhere between comical and exotic) sketching out my rough ideas for a consumer-centric legal marketplace that ultimately became the Avvo we know and love today. Unbelievably, that was almost 13 years ago; and I’m not sure I appreciated the long, wild ride I was uncorking that night.  It has been a rollercoaster of epic proportions; but I sincerely would not change a thing . . . except maybe the passage of time. My reality is that I’m now 51, and I have only so many “top of my game” working years left. I’ve developed a Captain-Hook-quality tick-tock in my head forcing me to be very selective regarding the last decade of my professional life (ok, maybe a decade and a half).

As I shared with most of you in announcing this deal, my original intention was to spend something measured in years with IB to help them roll-up all of their great legal assets and maybe even get them public. That seemed to be good for IB, Avvo and me. But as I was able to spend more time with the IB team post-signing, it became clear to both IB’s CEO (Bob) and me that it was going to be hard for IB to keep my tick-tock at bay. The specifics here aren’t important or even that interesting, but this all led to me flying down to LA recently, and the two of us putting together a transition plan.

One of the reasons that Bob and I felt a faster exit may be better is that Avvo currently has such a deep, ambitious bench – and that bench will have greater opportunities to pursue interesting and expanded roles with me out of the way. A new leadership group will materialize over the coming weeks, and I’m confident it will have all the necessary skills to contribute to and realize the IB/Avvo opportunity.

So here’s the quick math:

13 years + tick-tock + solid IB platform + a deep bench = time for this founder to go

Even though it is time to go, I (along with Monica, Josh, Sachin and Kevin) are committed to a smooth and thoughtful transition. Our plan is to transition as much as possible over the next couple of months; but we realize there will be ongoing things that need our input. A good example is Lawyernomics: Josh and I will continue to help the team to plan and put on a great conference in Vegas. We are also committed helping the IB/Avvo integration move quickly, and the first step in that regard is our town hall meetings tomorrow. Calendar invites have already gone out; however, a friendly reminder that we are gathering with the Sales team from 2:00-3:00pm and the rest of the company from 3:30-4:30pm. Obviously, we have a lot to talk about regarding the future, but Monica, Josh, Sachin, Kevin and I are also happy to answer any questions regarding our respective transitions.

We will see you tomorrow!

Mark

Mark Britton

Mark Britton, the 51-year-old lawyer and entrepreneur who founded the often-controversial legal marketplace and lawyer-rating site Avvo in 2007 and served as its CEO ever since, is leaving the company.

In January, Avvo was acquired by Internet Brands, a web behemoth that already owned a portfolio of legal sites such as Nolo, Martindale-Hubbell, Ngage and Total Attorneys, as well as sites in several other verticals. When the acquisition was announced, Britton told me that he would remain with the company.

See also this update: Avvo Founder’s Email to Staff on His Leaving.

But in an email last week promoting Avvo’s upcoming Lawyernomics conference, Britton revealed he is leaving.

Lawyernomics is 53 days away, and I’m writing to encourage you to join me at my last Lawyernomics. Yes, you read that correctly: After twelve amazing years at Avvo (and one large acquisition by Internet Brands), I am turning the reins over to new leadership. …

This is my last Lawyernomics, but only the beginning of the next chapter for myself, and for Avvo. I look forward to staying closely involved in the legal industry for many years to come.

I reached out to Britton for comment over the weekend, but he asked to defer speaking until next week, because he is traveling.

Britton had been senior vice president and general counsel of travel site Expedia after it was spun off from Microsoft in 1999. In 2003, IAC Travel acquired Expedia and, nine months later, Britton left, having reportedly profited comfortably from the acquisition.

In 2005, he went to Italy to teach a semester of finance for Gonzaga University. While there, as he related during a 2007 interview on our Lawyer2Lawyer podcast, he began thinking about the difficulty consumers experienced in finding a lawyer. “When it comes to choosing a lawyer, your average consumer has no idea where to start,” he said in that interview. Those thoughts led him to found Avvo, named for the Italian word for lawyer, avvocato.

Avvo formally launched on June 5, 2007, with the then-audacious plan to rate every lawyer in the country on a scale of 1 to 10. As I reported at the time, the launch was controversial. Within days, two Seattle attorneys filed a class action lawsuit trying to shut it down. (We interviewed the attorney who filed that lawsuit in another Lawyer2Lawyer episode.)

When Britton appeared on our podcast just a month after Avvo’s launch, I asked him whether he had anticipated the backlash from the legal community. He did, he said, but his principle focus was on consumers and getting them the information and guidance they needed. “Even though we knew some lawyers would take issue with what we were doing, our focus in this product — was in serving the consumer and on getting them the help that they need.”

Needless to say, the class action failed and Avvo thrived, although not without continuing controversy and a few missteps — most notably its aborted 2010-2012 effort to expand into doctor ratings.

As for Britton, the ABA Journal named him in 2009 to its inaugural group of “legal rebels” and Fastcase named him in 2012 to its second-annual Fastcase 50.

Will he, as he said in his email last week, stay involved in the legal industry? We’ll be watching for his next act.

The listing that gave rise to the lawsuit.
The listing that gave rise to the lawsuit.

A federal court has dismissed a putative class action against Avvo under the Illinois Right of Publicity Act, ruling that Avvo’s lawyer listings are comparable to the editorial content in Sports Illustrated and deserving of the same First Amendment protection. This is the second time in six weeks in which a right-of-publicity class action against Avvo has been dismissed.

Lawyer John Vrdolyak filed the lawsuit in the Northern District of Illinois, alleging that Avvo was using his identity for commercial purposes without his consent, in violation of Illinois law. It did this by listing his profile without his consent and by placing paid advertising on his profile page, including advertising by competing lawyers, he contended.

But in granting Avvo’s motion to dismiss, U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman found that Avvo’s lawyer listings constituted non-commercial speech fully protected by the First Amendment. (The full decision is embedded below.)

[T]o hold otherwise would lead to the unintended result that any entity that publishes truthful newsworthy information about individuals such as teachers, directors and other professionals, such as a newspaper or yellow page directory, would risk civil liability simply because it generated revenue from advertisements placed by others in the same field.

The plaintiff had analogized his case to one brought by basketball star Michael Jordan against Jewel Food Stores after Jewel placed an ad in a commemorative issue of Sports Illustrated honoring Jordan’s
induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Jordan claimed the ad violated his trademark and the Illinois publicity law. Jewel argued that, because its ad did not propose a commercial transaction, it was non-commercial speech protected by the First Amendment.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Jordan, holding that the ad had a commercial purpose and was therefore commercial speech entitled to a lesser standard of constitutional scrutiny.

Judge Gettleman disagreed, finding that the correct analogy was not to the ads in Sports Illustrated, but to its editorial content.

Defendant publishes non-commercial information and sells and places advertisements within that information. Sports Illustrated publishes a magazine that contains fully protected non-commercial speech. Within the magazine it sold and published advertisements, including Jewel’s. Jewel’s advertisement was commercial speech. The “Sponsored Listings” are commercial speech. Jewel’s ad did not convert the entire commemorative issue into commercial speech. Nor do the Sponsored Listings turn the entire attorney directory into commercial speech.

Based on this reasoning, Judge Gettleman concluded that Avvo’s lawyer listings are fully protected by the First Amendment and that plaintiffs’ attempted application of the right of privacy law does not survive a strict scrutiny analysis.

Last month, a California lawyer dropped his putative class action against Avvo after Avvo brought a motion to strike the complaint under California’s anti-SLAPP law. You can read more about that case in my earlier post.

“This is further validation that publishers like Avvo needn’t obtain the consent of their subjects prior to exercising their First Amendment rights,” Josh King, Avvo’s chief legal officer, said in a statement issued last night. “The purpose of a free and unfettered media is to provide transparency and openness. While we never felt like the principle was really at risk here, we’re pleased at the explicit recognition that our efforts to help people better understand lawyers and the legal profession is fully protected by the First Amendment.”

 

avvo_legal_services2

 

Recent legal developments have brought both good news and bad news for Avvo. Let’s start with the bad news.

Earlier this year, Avvo launched Avvo Legal Services, a service offering fixed-fee, limited-scope legal help through a network of attorneys. In an earlier post, I explained how this works:

Avvo sets the services to be provided and the prices. Attorneys who sign up for the service can choose which legal services they want to offer. When a client buys the service, Avvo sends the client’s information to the attorney. The attorney then contacts the client directly and completes the service.

Clients pay the full price for the service up front. Once a month, Avvo deposits earned fees into the attorney’s operating account. As a separate transaction, it withdraws from the account a per-service marketing fee that the attorney pays to Avvo.

Some commentators and readers expressed concern that this arrangement could constitute inappropriate fee sharing. Avvo’s CEO Mark Britton and General Counsel Josh King dismissed that, maintaining that the arrangement is OK because the marketing fee is paid as a separate transaction.

Now, one ethics panel says otherwise. The South Carolina Bar’s Ethics Advisory Committee issued an opinion last month (Ethics Advisory Opinion 16-06) concluding that Avvo Legal Services violates the prohibition of sharing fees with a non-lawyer.

[T]he service collects the entire fee and transmits it to the attorney at the conclusion of the case. In a separate transaction, the service receives a fee for its efforts, which is apparently directly related to the amount of the fee earned in the case. The fact that there is a separate transaction in which the service is paid does not mean that the arrangement is not fee splitting as described in the Rules of Professional Conduct.

A lawyer cannot do indirectly what would be prohibited if done directly. Allowing the service to indirectly take a portion of the attorney’s fee by disguising it in two separate transactions does not negate the fact that the service is claiming a certain portion of the fee earned by the lawyer as its “per service marketing fee.”

The opinion further holds that the fee arrangement would violate the prohibition against giving anything of value to a person for recommending a lawyer’s services.

The service … purports to charge the lawyer a fee based on the type of service the lawyer has performed rather than a fixed fee for the advertisement, or a fee per inquiry or “click.” In essence, the service’ s charges amount to a contingency advertising fee arrangement rather than a cost that can be assessed for reasonableness by looking at market rate or comparable services.

Presumably, it does not cost the service any more to advertise online for a family law matter than for the preparation of corporate documents. There does not seem to be any rational basis for charging the attorney more for the advertising services of one type of case versus another.

A disclaimer attached to the opinion notes that the Ethics Advisory Committee has no disciplinary authority and that its opinion is purely advisory.

(H/T to Christopher Miller for bringing this to my attention.)

Now On to Avvo’s Good News

A California attorney has dropped his putative class action against Avvo in which he claimed that by using attorneys’ names and likenesses on its website, Avvo was violating California’s laws on rights of publicity and unfair competition.

Aaron H. Darsky, a San Francisco litigator, agreed to dismiss the case after Avvo brought a motion to strike the complaint under California’s anti-SLAPP law, according to Avv0’s press release.

Courthouse News Service, quoting Avvo GC Josh King, reports that Darsky agreed to dismiss the case to avoid paying Avvo’s attorneys’ fees after a judge indicated his claims couldn’t hold up. U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam made “very, very clear” that he would rule in Avvo’s favor, King told Courthouse News.

The order of dismissal was entered by Judge Gilliam on Aug. 2.

A similar class action remains pending in Illinois, according to Courthouse News.

AvvoLegalFomrs

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.”

AvvoLegalFomrs

Crossing into a territory already occupied by companies such as LegalZoom and RocketLawyer, Avvo announced today the launch of Avvo Legal Forms. But Avvo’s new offering has one big difference from those other companies — all of its forms are free.

Today’s news, announced at Avvo’s annual Lawyernomics conference in Las Vegas, comes just two months after the company launched Avvo Legal Services, provided fixed-fee legal services in a number of states.

Avvo describes the forms as “a selection of no-cost, high-quality legal forms for family, businss, 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 (via HelloSign). Forms can be shared with those who need to process or sign them.

The forms feature is tied in to both Avvo Legal Services and Avvo Advisor, Avvo’s phone consultation service. Consumers who create a form through the feature can opt to either discuss it with a lawyer by phone for $39 or have it reviewed by a lawyer through Avvo Legal Services for flat rates starting at $99.

Avvo’s announcement says that offering free forms to consumers can help drive business to lawyers:

Forty-two percent (42%) of consumers who try to handle their own legal affairs end up consulting an attorney for a solution to their legal problem. Avvo gives form creators the ability to seamlessly move from drafting and receiving a form directly, to scheduling a document review with a lawyer.

In a related blog post, the company expands on this, saying, “We developed forms to bring more consumers to you.”

 

AvvoLegalServices

Avvo is beginning to roll out a service that offers fixed-fee, limited-scope legal services through a network of attorneys.

The service, Avvo Legal Services, offers a variety of limited-scope legal services at a fixed fee. The services range from review of legal documents such as business contracts and non-disclosure agreements to more involved matters such as uncontested divorces and citizenship applications.

Last year, Avvo launched Avvo Advisor, a service that provides on-demand legal advice by phone for a fixed fee of $39 for 15 minutes.

Avvo is currently offering the new Avvo Legal Services in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Phoenix, according to an FAQ on Avvo’s website. According to an email I received from Avvo inviting me to enroll, the service will launch in my state of Massachusetts in mid-February. The Avvo website says that the service will be expanding to new areas quickly.

Avvo sets the services to be provided and the prices. Attorneys who sign up for the service can choose which services they want to offer. When a client buys the service, Avvo sends the client’s information to the attorney. The attorney then contacts the client directly and completes the service.

Clients will be within the attorney’s geographic area and are able to choose the attorney they want to work with. They pay the full price for the service up front.

After the service is completed, Avvo sends the attorney the full legal fee. (Fees are paid once a month.) As a separate transaction, the attorney pays Avvo a per-service marketing fee. This is done as a separate transaction to avoid fee-splitting.

The email provided these examples of services and fees:

  • Document review services: $199 client payment, $50 marketing fee.
  • Start a single-member LLC: $595 client payment, $125 marketing fee.
  • Uncontested divorce: $995 client payment, $200 marketing fee.
  • Green card application: $2,995 client payment, $400 marketing fee.

The terms of the service require attorneys to contact a new client within one business day for a 30-minute introductory call. If the attorney determines the client is not the right fit, the attorney can decline the representation.

There is no cost for attorneys to participate except for the per-case marketing fee.

More information about the service can be found here.

 

A Florida lawyer has lost her bid in a defamation action to force the legal directory site Avvo to reveal the identify of an anonymous poster who wrote a negative review of her.

The Washington state Court of Appeals ruled against the lawyer, Deborah Thomson of The Women’s Law Group, Tampa, after determining that the First Amendment required her to provide evidence that she was defamed.

“Considering the speech at issue here, we agree that supporting evidence should be required before the speaker is unmasked,” the court said.

The opinion, Thomson v. Doe, was released on July 6.

At issue was a comment posted on Avvo by someone identified only as “Divorce client.” It said:

I am still in court five years after Ms. Thomson represented me during my divorce proceedings. Her lack of basic business skills and detachment from her fiduciary responsibilities has cost me everything. She failed to show up for a nine hour mediation because she had vacation days. She failed to subpoena documents that are critical to the division of assets in any divorce proceeding. In fact, she did not subpoena any documents at all. My interests were simply not protected in any meaningful way.

Thomson filed suit against the anonymous Jane Doe, alleging that she was not a client and that the post defamed her. In a Washington trial court, she subpoenaed Avvo seeking the identity of the poster. When Avvo refused to provide the name, Thomson moved to force Avvo to comply. The trial court denied the motion and she appealed.

The question of the showing that a defamation plaintiff must make on a motion to unmask an anonymous defendant had not been decided in Washington. After reviewing cases on the issue from other jurisdictions, the court concluded that the evidentiary standard must match the First Amendment interest at play, and therefore the nature of the speech at issue. Commercial speech, for example, would be subject to a lesser standard than political speech.

The court conclude that Doe’s speech fell between commercial and political and was therefore entitled to an intermediate level of protection. Having determined that, it then held that the plaintiff was required to make at least a prima facie showing of circumstances that would support her claim.

“In fairness to Thomson,” the court said in a footnote, “when she filed her motion, the requisite showing was unclear. And, Avvo brought no motion challenging the adequacy of Thomson’s pleadings. But, because Thomson did not produce any supporting evidence, her claim fails whether we review it as a direct appeal or discretionary review, de novo or for abuse of discretion.”

DunwelloHome

When the lawyer-rating site Avvo was launched in 2007, some lawyers were so incensed at the idea of being rated that they filed a federal lawsuit to shut it down. A judge dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that Avvo’s ratings were protected by the First Amendment, but even he called the idea of rating attorneys “ludicrous.” Fast forward to 2014, and lawyer ratings have become so commonplace that you can find them on Yelp.

Given this, I was interested to learn — via this Boston Globe column — about a potential new site for rating lawyers. Called Dunwello and launched in beta last month by a Boston-based start-up, the site encourages users to rate peoples’ performance of their jobs on a scale of 1-10 and to add comments explaining the rating.

The site can be used to rate any kind of worker, from a yoga instructor to a hair stylist to a realtor, but it expressly lists “lawyer” as a category. In fact, as of this writing, lawyer is listed as the top search, ahead of realtor and crossfit instructor.

That said, only one lawyer so far is listed on the site, Kevin Mahoney, a Cambridge, Mass., criminal defense attorney, and there is not yet a single review of him.

As the Globe piece notes, one of the first profiles to appear on the site was of Boston hairdresser Erika Alvarez, who happens to be the hairdresser of the fiancee of the site’s founder Matt Lauzon. So far, her rating is a perfect 10.

Users who submit reviews are asked to rate the worker on a scale of 1-10 in response to the question, “How likely are you to recommend this person to a friend or colleague?” They have 1,000 characters to explain the rating. Ratings can be sent to the subject anonymously, but the site requires the reviewer to provide a verification name and email address even for anonymous reviews.

The site itself is short on details about how review scores are compiled. But in a recent blog post about Dunwello, New York venture capitalist Steven Schlafman provided this information:

All feedback can be submitted publicly or anonymously. Negative reviews are sent to the professional. The reviewee can choose to hide negative reviews on their profile but every single review will still impact the overall score. The idea is to aggregate these scores to build a portable and accurate online professional reputation. Over time Dunwello profiles will help consumers and employers make informed decisions about which professionals to work with.

On Avvo, lawyer ratings are based on information collected about the lawyer from publicly accessible websites and from the lawyer’s profile. Dunwello is different, in that the ratings appear to be based solely on user reviews.

Dunwello is also marketing a version for businesses, which it describes as a “social recognition platform for your company.” The overall concept of the site may still be a work in progress, given that what it offers already exceeds what is described in its terms of service. (“The Services are designed to be a platform where employees working at the same company can exchange feedback and recognition between one another.”)

Some of the comments to the Globe piece call Dunwello “a lawsuit waiting to happen.” But blogger Schlafman sums up the site with a quote from Gandhi: “Truth never damages a cause that is just.”

Will Dunwello become a popular site for rating lawyers, alongside hairdressers and yoga instructors? Only time will tell, of course, but I think it is inevitable that at least some lawyer reviews will begin to appear there, provided the site survives.

Lawdingo

Just last week, I wrote about Avvo Advisor, the new service from Avvo that provides on-demand legal advice by phone for a fixed fee of $39 for 15 minutes. (See my posts here and here.) Turns out another company, Lawdingo, recently started a similar service, offering telephone consultations with a lawyer within minutes for a fixed-fee of $30.

Lawdingo’s service differs from Avvo’s in the way it works. With Avvo Advisor, the consumer uses the Avvo Advisor app or website to identify his or her location and type of legal matter. The consumer then pays the $39 fee and receives a call-back from a lawyer within 15 minutes (or a refund).

Lawdingo routes the consumer through a screener before making the connection to a lawyer. The consumer can select to connect with Lawdingo either by phone or chat. Either way, the consumer is connected to a Lawdingo representative. The representative helps the consumer determine whether he or she has a legal problem and, if so, what type of lawyer could help.

If legal advice is appropriate, the consumer then has two options. If the consumer wants only a telephone consultation, Lawdingo connects the consumer to a lawyer within 15-20 minutes. Once the connection is made, the consumer is billed $30.

Alternatively, if the consumer wants to skip the consultation and go right to retaining a lawyer, Lawdingo charges the consumer nothing and arranges for a lawyer to call the consumer within minutes. It is then up to the lawyer and consumer to decide whether to proceed and negotiate a fee. Any payment agreed on can be processed directly through the Lawdingo site.

Company Started in 2012

Lawdingo founder Nikhil Nirmel told me that his site started offering flat-fee legal advice five months ago, but that he had not yet aggressively marketed it while he tested it out. He opted to use human screeners instead of direct lawyer contact because he found that a lot of consumers did not know how to categorize their legal problem or even if they had a legal problem.

“We find that people need that initial conversation with someone,” he said. “And it saves the lawyers from hearing these screening conversations.”

Screeners are trained to make clear they are not lawyers and not to give legal advice, he said.

Lawdingo started in 2012 as a service that connected consumers to lawyers by video or voice chat, billed by the minute. The company has gone through several iterations since then, Nirmel said.

The common thread, however, has been connecting people with lawyers. The site also maintains a directory of lawyers by state and practice areas that consumers can browse and use to connect with a lawyer.

The Lawyer Side

When a consumer requests a flat-fee consultation, Lawdingo’s system selects an appropriate lawyer. The selection is done through an algorithm, Nirmel said, and Lawdingo screeners do not recommend or refer to specific lawyers. The lawyer receives a call or email from the system and then can choose whether to accept or reject the call.

Signing up for Lawdingo is currently free for lawyers in many states. Only lawyers in New York and California must pay a monthly membership fee to participate. For them, the standard monthly fee is $297, although that can go up or down depending on the number of practice areas a lawyer wants to list and the number of cases a lawyer wants to accept.

Nirmel said that he is currently charging only in New York and California because those are the states where the site has its greatest penetration.

Nirmel recognizes that his site currently has significantly less traffic than Avvo, but he hopes that will change. “We’re aiming to be eventually the largest site of our kind.”