Less than two years after Avvo rolled out a new service that allows consumers to pay a flat fee to talk with an attorney for 15 minutes, the lawyer directory website and legal forum is expanding the program’s reach to offer a number of fixed-fee legal services.
Avvo Legal Services builds on Avvo Advisor, which charges potential clients $39 to be connected with an attorney for 15 minutes of advice, said Mark Britton, Avvo’s founder and CEO. That offer is still available for consumers but they also now have the option to buy certain services for a set fee, such as a review of an employment contract or a completed application for United States citizenship.
“People don’t understand what lawyers do,” Britton said. “We’re saying, let us make it really easy by telling you what the lawyer’s going to do and what it’s going to cost. We are taking away the two biggest friction points for the consumer.”
After a beta run, the Legal Services program launched this week in Maryland and is now available in 18 states, Britton said. The cost of the legal services vary — Avvo is charging $149 to have a family lawyer review a parenting plan, for example, but having an immigration attorney to complete a family green card application costs $2,995.
To participate, attorneys choose which services they want to offer — right now, there are business law, immigration law and family law options — and Avvo markets those services to potential clients in the attorneys’ geographic area. Clients decide which attorney they wish to work with and pay the full price of the service they need up-front to Avvo. After the attorney completes the service, Avvo issues a payment, taking a per-service marketing fee as a separate transaction to avoid fee-splitting issues.
The marketing fee might range from $40 for a $149 service to $400 for a $2,995 service, according to Avvo.
Building on Avvo Advisor
Towson family law attorney Richard D. Lebovitz has been taking 15-minute advice calls through Avvo Advisor, which launched in 2014, for more than a year. Now that he’s signed up for Avvo Legal Services, Lebowitz lists reviewing a prenuptial agreement, creating a parenting plan and filing for an uncontested divorce on his Avvo profile as some of the fixed-fee legal packages he offers.
Avvo Advisor calls haven’t formed a major part of his practice, Lebovitz said, but they are an easy way to supplement it, since Avvo handles the fee-gathering aspect of the program.
“I probably only get three or four of these calls each month,” he said. “It’s not a high volume.”
There are challenges to the 15-minute phone call model, he said, such as when a potential client calls with a complicated issue that is not easy to delve into in such a small amount of time.
“That happens a lot. All I can do is try and answer the question as best I can,” he said. “For 15 minutes, at least, they’re able to talk to me and sometimes it helps me help them frame the issues. It helps me walk them through the process. If they say, ‘I have a hearing tomorrow,’ I can explain to them what to expect.”
That’s where Avvo Legal Services builds on Avvo Advisor, Britton said.
“It definitely will help people who are looking for the unbundled or limited scope representation,” Lebovitz said. “These services they’re offering are right up that alley of very specific kinds of issues people might need help with.”
The goal is to reach consumers who are wary of seeking legal help by showing them the value of using an attorney as opposed to something like LegalZoom that provides online legal forms and documents, Britton said.
“It is so simple, and yet it takes a bit of time for people to get their arms around exactly what this is, because of all the preconceived notions of who lawyers are and how they act,” he said.
The No. 1 user of Avvo Advisor has been the small business owner who can’t afford to hire a general counsel but who needs ready access to legal help as individual issues crop up, Britton said.
“They just want an attorney who is near them, that they can choose, that comes and goes as they need them to,” he said. “Avvo Legal Services is designed to do just that — it’s a general counsel standing by, if you will.”
Britton said he’s not worried about whether enough of the thousands of lawyers with Avvo profiles will want to participate in Avvo Legal Services.
“When you have that many attorneys who believe in your system, finding 1 percent of them or 10 percent of them that are going to come in and power one side of a marketplace, that is something that is very easy for us,” Britton said. “The lawyers trust us to consistently deliver the right type of customer to them.”
However, getting those customers on board could take a little more time, he said, since the service is aimed primarily at those who are more inclined to attempt to handle basic legal issues without the help of an attorney.
But because Avvo Legal Services is designed to adhere to consumer trends that have powered the rise of Uber and similar startups, Britton said he’s confident it will draw consumers quickly.
“If you look at the modern consumer, they want it to be mobile, they want it to be on demand,” Britton said. “They think, ‘I need to be able to drive it through my phone, which is the remote control of my life, and I want to be able to pay through that phone and sign documents through that phone and interact through it.’ We definitely built it with the mobile consumer in mind, and I think that will help adoption.”