In a post earlier this week, I wrote about the launch of Avvo Advisor, the new service from Avvo that provides on-demand legal advice by phone for a fixed fee of $39 for 15 minutes. Yesterday, I spoke with Avvo’s founder and CEO, Mark Britton, who provided additional details.

Cost of Service

Mark Britton
Mark Britton

One question I had for Britton was about the cost of the service. As I reported earlier, a participating attorney is notified via text when someone purchases a session in the attorney’s state and practice area. The attorney responds to the text to claim the session, then has 15 minutes to initiate the call.

Once the call is finished, the entire $39 fee is deposited to the attorney’s account, so that there are no ethical concerns about fee splitting. But I had also read that Avvo is charging lawyers a marketing fee from the $39.

According to Britton, Avvo is currently taking no fee out of this transaction from either party, the consumer or the lawyer. All of the money that the consumer pays goes to the lawyer.

At the same time, he made clear that Avvo plans at some point to monetize this. One option is to charge lawyers a marketing or subscription fee. Other options include charging the consumer some sort of direct  or subscription fee or through advertising.

Thus, there is currently no charge to lawyers to participate in this program. But Britton wants lawyers to be on notice that a charge could be implemented at some future point.

Qualifications of Lawyers

Another question I had was about the qualifications of the lawyers who participate. Avvo bills the service as providing “legal advice from a top-rated lawyer.” So how does it determine which lawyers are “top-rated”?

The cut off is based on Avvo’s lawyer ratings. In order to participate in the program, a lawyer must have an Avvo rating of 7.5 or higher and client ratings of four out of five stars. Lawyers must apply to participate in the program and are screened based on their ratings.

15-Minute Time Limit

Another question: What happens after 15 minutes? The answer: Nothing. The call does not automatically shut off. It is up to the lawyer to manage the call and the time.

“The smart lawyer will realize after 15 minutes whether they’ve helped the customer in that time and be able to assess if the customer needs your service,” Britton said. “If the customer needs your service, you’ll stay on the phone with them.”

Ethical Concerns

The ABA Journal picked up on my post and reporter Victor Li did a piece about the new service. The piece generated an interesting discussion thread that is worth reading through. Several comments raised questions about the ethical implications of the service.

Avvo has posted a document that addresses the various ethical questions that the service might raise, Avvo Advisor and The Rules of Professional Conduct.

Future Plans

Avvo’s plans for developing the service will focus on two components, Britton said. One is expanding the states in which it is available. As noted in my earlier post, it is so far available in 15 states.

“We want to build the largest real-time lawyer to client interaction service that we can build,” Britton said.

The other focus will be on expanding consumer awareness of the service. That will mean promoting the service throughout the Avvo site and integrating it more directly into the site’s Q&A forums.

“If we can build a true win for the consumer and on the other side build a win for the lawyer, then we’v built a marketplace and we’re going to succeed,” Britton said.

“We’re closing in on 8 million visits a month,” he continued. “If we can just help 1 percent of them get in front of a lawyer in real time, that is a huge amount of business for lawyers. And the customer actually gets to work with a lawyer rather than a paralegal in some far-flung place.”

AvvoAdvisor

Avvo, Inc. — never a company shy about about pushing the envelope — has just pushed it a bit further, with the launch of Avvo Advisor, a service that provides on-demand legal advice by phone for a fixed fee of $39 for 15 minutes.

The service is available to consumers online or through a free iOS app. To use the service, the consumer first enters his or her zip code and then selects the type of legal matter in which he or she needs help. The consumer is then asked to provide credit card and contact information. The service promises that the consumer will receive a call from an attorney within 15 minutes or else the consumer’s fee will be fully refunded.

The service covers nine legal categories: small business, divorce, family, immigration, real estate, landlord-tenant, criminal defense, employment and bankruptcy/debt.

It is so far available to consumers in 15 states, with more to be added in the coming months: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

“At Avvo, we want to make access to legal help as routine as getting a medical check-up, and Avvo Advisor is a game-changing step towards that goal,” said Mark Britton, Avvo’s founder and CEO, in a press release announcing the service. “Avvo Advisor provides professional legal help to consumers on their terms, with clear pricing and on-demand delivery, saving significant time, money and hassle – the very things that keep many people from hiring a lawyer.”

A separate section of the site provides information for attorneys wishing to enroll in the program. All an attorney needs to participate, it says, is a bank account and a mobile phone. “You control your availability via text, whenever and wherever you want to receive Avvo Advisor sessions.”

Avvo notifies the attorney via text when someone purchases a session in the attorney’s state and practice area. The attorney responds to the text to claim the session, then has 15 minutes to initiate the call. Once the call is finished, the entire fee is deposited to the attorney’s account (so there is no fee splitting).

It’s a good time to be a legal startup, it seems. Just three weeks ago, we reported here that Clio, the cloud-based practice management platform, had raised $20 million in financing. Now comes news that the lawyer directory site Avvo has closed $37.5 million in financing.

This latest round of financing was led by Coatue Management, with additional investment from Benchmark Capital, Ignition Partners and DAG Ventures, according to Avvo’s announcement. Avvo will use the new funding to accelerate product development and marketing and fuel international expansion.

Four years ago, Avvo raised $10 million. Since its inception, it has raised a total of $60.5 million.

Avvo’s announcement includes this statement from Thomas Laffont, a senior managing director at Coatue:

We are excited to partner with Avvo because it is consistent with our strategy of backing innovative leaders. Avvo’s skilled team has built a large user base, supported by a powerful platform, which uniquely positions the company to continue its creative approach to transforming the legal landscape.

It also had this statement from Mark Britton, Avvo’s founder and CEO:

Put simply, this additional capital allows us to accelerate. No matter what we have accomplished to date, we need to help more consumers make better legal decisions and find the right lawyer. We need to build more products that make navigating the legal profession as simple as it should be. Through transparency and ease of use, Avvo has already changed how people find and choose attorneys. It is gratifying to have such high caliber investors share in our vision for transforming legal services.

Avvo was launched in June 2007.

The legal directory and Q&A site Avvo this week added a new feature, the Avvo Legal Marketplace, through which consumers can obtain proposals from lawyers interested in handling their case. Initially, this will be available for two practice areas, divorce and traffic tickets, with additional practice areas to be added.

The concept is essentially that of a reverse auction, in which the providers of a service compete to obtain the consumer’s business. I’ve written about other reverse-auction sites before, including EagleFee and Shpoonkle.

With the Avvo Legal Marketplace, the consumer fills out a short form describing the nature and location of the matter. The information is provided to lawyers who practice in that area. The lawyers have three days to respond, describing what they would charge, how they would approach the case, and any other information they care to provide. Using the information provided by the lawyer in addition to the information about the lawyer already available on Avvo, such as the lawyer’s profile and reviews, the consumer can then make a selection.

For lawyers to participate in the Legal Marketplace, they must have claimed their Avvo profile. Lawyers will be able to request additional information from a consumer before responding.

The process is not binding. Consumers are not obligated to select the lowest bidder. The idea, according to Avvo CEO Mark Britton, is to give consumers “a better understanding of how the attorney will approach the case and anticipated costs.”

Notice anything missing from Avvo today? That’s right, the doctors are gone. In a return to its roots, Avvo has sold off its directory of medical doctors and its health Q&A forums and will once again focus solely on the legal profession.

Avvo derives its name from the Italian word for lawyer, and lawyers were its sole focus when the legal directory and Q&A site launched in 2006. In 2010, Avvo took on the medical profession, adding profiles and ratings of medical doctors and creating a medical site that paralleled its legal site.

Yesterday, Avvo announced that it had sold its medical business to HealthTap, a company that develops mobile apps to connect doctors and medical consumers.  In a press release announcing the sale, Avvo’s founder and CEO Mark Britton explained:

Avvo’s legal business is booming, and with the recent launch of Avvo Ignite client conversion solution for attorneys, we’ve decided to focus 100% of our attention on expanding our consumer legal services and helping lawyers grow their business. Just as Avvo is the premier destination for people looking for legal advice, HealthTap is the leading source for trusted answers to health questions and peer-reviewed medical professionals, which makes HealthTap the right choice to carry on the conversation between consumers and medical professionals.

Just last week, we wrote about Avvo’s new iPhone and iPad app and, earlier this month, we covered the launch of Avvo Ignite, its suite of legal marketing tools.

The legal directory and Q&A forum Avvo today introduced Avvo Lawyers, an app  that allows lawyers to follow and answer consumer legal questions directly from their iPhones or iPads. Using the app, you can:

  • View and filter questions posted in the areas of law you follow.
  • Add or remove subscriptions to legal questions posted in specific areas of expertise.
  • Draft and post answers to questions.

Also, if you subscribe to Avvo Pro, you can use the app to respond by phone or email to prospective clients.

Consumers have posted more than a million legal questions to Avvo in the last five years, the company says.

You can download the app for free from the iTunes store.

Avvo, the legal and medical directory and Q&A site, today launched two new services designed to help lawyers more effectively market their practices. The two services are both offered under the umbrella name Avvo Ignite. One, Avvo Ignite Starter, offers “hassle-free search and mobile optimized” websites for attorneys. The other, Avvo Ignite Suite, is a cloud-based marketing dashboard that lets firms manage and track their online marketing.

Yesterday, Sachin Bhatia, Avvo’s vice president of product and the man in charge of Avvo Ignite, gave me a preview of the new tools.

Avvo Ignite Starter, the website service, is intended for lawyers who do not have a site or who want to upgrade to a more professional site. The service is launching with five website templates but will eventually include around two dozen. The different templates will be designed to cover a range of practice types.

All of the websites are built on a WordPress platform and are designed to be optimized for search optimization and for optimal viewing on mobile devices. Although the websites are built from templates, Avvo will customize their graphics and other elements for each customer.

A website template from Avvo Ignite Starter.

Avvo Ignite Suite is a tool for tracking a law firm’s online marketing activity and effectiveness. Although large firms regularly use tools such as these, I cannot think of anything similar designed for solo and smaller firm lawyers. (Actually, this is designed for firms of any size, but particularly for smaller and medium firms.)

The primary function is to track contacts with a firm by potential clients and provide intelligence on marketing effectiveness. The dashboard follows how a contact comes to the firm (e.g., by website form, Facebook, Google ad, etc.) and what happens with the contact thereafter. It also helps manage the firm’s relationship with the contact, letting the firm, for example, create automated thank you emails to be sent after an initial phone call or set reminders for following-up with a contact.

The services creates a database of all contacts, showing how they came to the firm, the nature of their case, their status as a prospect or client, and the attorney responsible for the contact, if any.

The service has numerous tools for tracking contacts. It will track all the firm’s email communications with the contact. (This is done securely — no content is visible to anyone at Avvo.) It will also track all the contact’s activity on the firm’s website. If a contact returns to the firm’s site six months after the last contact, the firm will be notified.

Avvo Ignite Suite provides a graphical client-conversion report.

All of this intelligence is compiled into simple reports that show the firm its rates of client conversion, how it is spending its marketing dollars, and what sort of ROI it is getting for those dollars. An overall report will show how many contacts were made in total to the firm, how many of those became prospects, and how many became clients. You can then break down these numbers by various factors. Break it down by source to see, for example, the number of contacts that come from LinkedIn and how many of those become clients.

The source ROI report lets you evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing expenditures. It uses graphs to chart how much you are spending and what return you are getting for that expense in new clients.

Avvo Ignite Suite is designed to work on mobile devices, so a lawyer can track contacts whenever necessary and receive real-time alerts of client contacts and reminders.

All of the information in Ignite Suite can be exported to be used in Outlook or a customer relationship management system.

Pricing

To purchase the website service, Avvo Ignite Starter, the cost is $199 a month, plus a $499 one-time set-up fee. The set-up fee is waived for anyone who pays for a full year in advance. The price includes the site set-up and customization (including licensing of stock photos), hosting and updates. Also, Avvo submits the site to local and national directories.

To purchase the dashboard service, Avvo Ignite Suite, the cost varies depending on the number of marketing “channels” to be monitored. (A channel would be Facebook, a blog, YouTube, LinkedIn, or the like.) For up to five channels, the cost is $199 a month. For up to 10 channels, it is $299 a month. For up to 14 channels, it is $399 a month. There is also a $499 set-up fee, which includes set-up of the system, training on the system, installation of tracking codes, and other components.

Subscribers to either service also receive access to Avvo University, a collection of webinars, guides and training videos about online marketing and business development.

The Bottom Line

For any law firm that is serious about online marketing, it should be using some sort of analytics tool to track the success of its efforts. Otherwise, the firm may well be throwing good money after bad. Many lawyers use Google Analytics, a free but highly sophisticated tool for tracking online marketing. The problem with Google Analytics — if you want to call it a problem — is that it provides too much information. Mastering it takes time — and few attorneys have that kind of time.

By contrast, Avvo Ignite Suite makes its analytics more easily digestible. In my interview with Sachin Bhatia, he could not repeat often enough that the emphasis with these services is on “hassle free.” Plus, Avvo says it will provide training and coaching in use and set-up of the system.

As with so many products and services, the final answer as to whether this is right for your firm will depend on a cost-benefit analysis. If your firm is presently spending a fair amount of money on online marketing, then this service could well be a smart investment. For that matter, even if you are just spending a lot of time on online marketing, it could be a good investment, since time is money. Either way, the question you need to answer is whether this service could help you become more focused or effective in your marketing efforts.

The lawyer-rating site Avvo.com is taking on a whole new profession with its launch today of doctor ratings. As of today, Avvo is adding an entirely new section of its site that contains profiles and ratings of medical doctors from all 50 states.

(Click image to enlarge)

As it does with lawyers, Avvo is rating doctors on a scale of 1-to-10 and providing a variety of information about each doctor’s practice and disciplinary history. Avvo says it has profiles for virtually every doctor in the United States — some 800,000 — and has compiled ratings on 90 percent of those profiled. So far, it has disciplinary histories for about half the doctors and will continue to add more disciplinary information in the coming months.

The format of Avvo’s doctor section is virtually identical to that of its lawyer section. Just as they can ask lawyers legal questions, users can ask doctors medical questions. In place of a legal guide, it includes a health guide. Users are able to add their own reviews of doctors, just as they can for lawyers.

Avvo’s marketing director Conrad Saam tells me that he views the addition of doctors as a benefit to the lawyers who use the site. Not only should the doctor listings boost the site’s traffic overall, but also the site will use cross-promotion to drive users from one part to the other.

Remember that $10 million financing Avvo received earlier this year? At the time, CEO Mark Britton told me Avvo had various “game changing” initiatives in the works, but he declined to provide any details. Well, now we know at least one of them.

For other posts I’ve written about Avvo, follow this link.

Lawyer rating and directory site Avvo has received $10 million in a new round of financing, led by Silicon Valley venture capital firm DAG Ventures. Current Avvo investors, Benchmark Capital and Ignition Partners, also invested in this round. The funds will enable Avvo to further expand and enhance its products and services for consumers and lawyers.

Launched three years ago, Avvo has grown to become one of the largest lawyer directories on the Web and one of the most highly trafficked — with some 2 million unique visitors a month. Its goal is to provide profiles and reviews of every lawyer in the United States. So far, it covers 41 states and the District of Columbia.

This latest investment brings the company’s total financing to $23 million. Founder and CEO Mark Britton said the investment will be used to further expand and enhance Avvo’s products and services for consumers and lawyers. “We remain supremely focused on building that win-win for consumers and lawyers.”

The company’s growth so far has been “planned and rational,” Britton said, and its future development will continue along that course. “We have a number of initiatives that I feel are game changing. But to fund those initiatives is expensive.” He declined to provide further information about the initiatives.

“We will continue to build out these win-win situations for consumers on the one hand and lawyers on the other,” Britton said.

Britton credited the company’s growth to its employees. “I am proud of the team. We’ve built something that works, and that works well, and we built it from scratch.” Avvo currently has 35 employees and plans to add more.