Sunday, November 25, 2012

Avvo: Crowdsourcing Legal Advice is an online directory of lawyers (and doctors, but this post will focus on the lawyers) that adds some social media features. For instance, lawyers can claim their profiles and add biographical information; clients can comment on their lawyers; and lawyers can comment on their colleagues. Lawyers may also buy advertising on the site.

Avvo has a forum where people can post legal questions to be answered by lawyers. Users can also search or browse past questions and answers.

Why do lawyers answer these questions? It's probably a mix of marketing and public service. (When I see a trademark lawyer from one state answering an animal law question from another state, I assume that the lawyer is just trying to help out, not build her practice.)

Why do people ask questions on Avvo? Avvo tells them that it's free, it's easy, and it's anonymous—an attractive combination. The fact that so many people ask so many questions* is an indication of ordinary people's great need for help figuring out their legal problems. This online forum is addressing that need, even though it doesn't pretend to be the whole answer (indeed, the lawyers who use Avvo hope that the forum leads at least some of the people to hire someone to help more).

Now Avvo has an iPad and iPhone app to help lawyers keep up with questions posted in their subject areas and jurisdictions. I tried it out because I was curious about the app (not because I have a law practice I want to promote). I signed up for animal law in any jurisdiction, and family law in Washington. (You can choose particular counties within a state, too—for instance, if you just wanted to watch for questions from King County and Snohomish County.) Within a short time, I had list of questions people had posted about dog bites, child custody, and parental rights. Later, I modified my list, changing some topics and jurisdictions. Lawyers who want to increase their visibility on Avvo would find this app useful.

Law students and law professors might find the forum interesting too. If you want to step down from the heights of appellate decisions and see unedited legal issues faced by real people, spend a little time browsing the site. Here is a samping of questions:
  • [immigration] On form N-400 do I put "single, never married" if I'm in a civil union partnership?
  • [torts, civil procedure] Can a personal injury claim be filed quite a bit later than an incident happened?
  • [employment discrimination] How to build a discrimination case? I would appreciate tips from labor attorneys as I am trying to asses if I have a case. [The writer goes on to supply details.]
  • [bankruptcy, landlord-tenant] Landlord going into foreclosure? I've heard talk from other tenants in our small apartment complex that the landlord hasn't been paying and is going to be foreclosed on. What can we do?
  • [criminal law] Criminal Defense INTENT TO SELL
Reading questions in a subject you're studying can help you with issue spotting. Read the attorneys' responses—would you have answered that way? If several lawyers answered one question, which response do you think is most helpful?

If you're dreaming of having your own law office one day, think about how you would respond to these questions if you were doing client intake: what would you say to prospective clients who called with these questions? If you were trying to market your practice, would you budget some time every week to respond to questions that had been posted? _____________ * More than a million questions have been posted in the last year, Avvo says. Avvo Unveils iPhone and iPad App for Lawyers, Robert Ambrogi's Law Sites, Nov. 19, 2012.

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