by Tom Gordon
Consumers of legal services seeking a quick way to find lawyers while guarding against the prospect of runaway hourly billing will now have to look a little harder. Avvo has stopped offering its popular Avvo Legal Services. The service is no longer offered on its website, and the general counsel for Internet Brands, which recently acquired Avvo, has indicated that the service will be discontinued by the end of this month.
The decision shouldn’t come as a complete surprise to those who have followed Avvo’s recent battles with state bars attempting to prohibit their members from participating in services of this type. Responsive Law has warned these state bars that the anticompetitive nature of these bans could subject them to antitrust liability. In response to these concerns, the North Carolina State Bar had been considering a more nuanced set of regulations of attorney-client matching systems (ACMS) such as Avvo’s, rather than an outright ban. However, in the wake of the discontinuation of Avvo’s ACMS, that bar’s ethics committee decided to table its proposal.
The tide may be turning on ACMS regulation. Illinois recently joined North Carolina in seeking more nuanced regulation of ACMSs. That state’s Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission recently issued a study calling for solutions beyond an outright ban on lawyer participation in these services, as a way of addressing the access to justice gap.
Unfortunately, these developments have come too late for Avvo Legal Services. From a business perspective, it is understandable that Internet Brands didn’t want to continue this service given the regulatory obstacles it faced. However, consumers are now faced with a huge gap in the marketplace for easily accessible, fixed-price legal services. State bars will have to take a more accepting view of ACMSs, or they will not only face antitrust liability, but will also have abdicated their duty to protect access to justice.
Tom Gordon is Executive Director of Responsive Law
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