Avvo: Web 2.0 For Legal Search

New legal search destination Avvo launched yesterday. Like other legal search destinations in this space such as FindLaw and LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell, it offers users search tools to find lawyers in different categories and in different locales.

Avvo CEO (and former attorney at Preston, Gates, & Ellis) Mark Britton claims there hasn’t yet been an online brand galvanized in the eyes of consumers to find a lawyer, because of a lack of sufficient ratings, reviews, search tools and processes to “hold consumers’ hands” through the process of researching and choosing the right lawyer.

With this assertion, the company has developed a 3 step process to guide users through this process. The biggest value-add here could be Avvo’s proprietary ranking system for individual lawyers (although LexisNexis also has a rating system). To formulate this 1-10 ranking it has created an equation that brings in ratings from users, other lawyers and publicly available databases such as state bar associations.

“This is a free tool that assess any lawyers ability to handle your case,” he says. “We’ve gone out and collected this data [from] public records, court room records and bar association records to take the legwork out of it for the consumer.”

The system ranks thousands of lawyers in 10 states currently, and in about 110 practice areas based on experience, education, or any slaps on the wrist they may have received while practicing.

“This includes the disciplinary history for every lawyer for ever state we cover and eventually for every lawyer in the country,” he says. This has however raised some eyebrows and speculation from lawyers who feel there isn’t enough public data available to get an accurate snapshot of a lawyer’s credibility and quality.

The Zillow-ing of Legal Search

The aggregation of all this data to form a valuation, gives Avvo some some similarities to the publicly derived automatic value estimates pulled together by real estate search company Zillow. Zillow Chief Executive Rich Barton in fact sits on Avvo’s board and the two companies share sources of funding from Benchmark Capital and Ignition Partners which together invested $10 million in Avvo in April.

The company also allows lawyers to go in and add information about themselves to bolster their listing and also feed into the rating they get. Again, this is similar to Zillow’s offering to homeowners to provide information that assists in home valuations (zestimates) such as recent renovations or value enhancements that might not be reflected in public records.

This user generated content will also boost the SEO value of these individual lawyer profiles by deepening the content. Done on a large scale, this can have traffic generating abilities and natural marketing benefits for Avvo. This is similar to the strategy recently set in motion by Google in its Local Business Center to enhance its local search results by allowing businesses to populate and update the profiles for their own Google Local listings.

Lawyers will be able to do this on Avvo by registering with a credit card, vouching for their own identity (as is done with homeowners on Zillow) and then populating their profiles with anything they think will lend credence, trustworthiness, or marketing benefit to their profiles. The level of competition and margins in the legal profession could increase the chances of this participation and content generation, Britton hopes.

“With lawyers, you have a highly competitive marketplace,” he says, “There are 827,000 private practices with half of them being solo practitioners that are just trying to keep the doors open and get clients in the door.”

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