Just a week after I read that the Florida Bar Association wants to place greater restrictions on the use of Avvo, I’m sitting in a class at Indiana University Law School where the use of Avvo is being taught to first year law students.

Maybe the law student who said she’d eliminate “old white guys” in looking for a lawyer on Avvo said it all. It’s a new world, damn those clinging to the past.

Professor Bill Henderson’s Avvo exercise was more about teaching students how consumers select lawyers than teaching law students how they should be prepared to use Avvo as a lawyer. As Henderson told his class, you, personally, may not use Avvo to find a lawyer, but Avvo can guide you in the way you present yourself as a lawyer – online, offline, on Avvo or not.

The Avvo assignment?

[O]ne of your team members has a serious legal problem. For the purposes of this assignment, they are a close friend who you care about, not your fellow LP team member. Also for the purposes of this assignment, you never went to a four-year college, much less law school. But you did graduate from high school. Not surprisingly, you are living paycheck to paycheck. You are not well read and your personal networks (unlike now) are not filled with well-educated, sophisticated people who can guide you to safety.

Your job is to assist your hapless team member find the best lawyer to solve his or her legal problem. Because you are an ordinary working class person (as opposed to the type of person who enrolls in a fancy law school), you head to the website Avvo (www.avvo.com) to help your friend find a high-quality lawyer. To make this exercise more interesting, limit your search to your hometown or somewhere nearby (alternately, you can use your hapless team member’s hometown). We will assume that all of your collective hometowns are adjacent to your team member’s hometown and that your friend is willing to travel the additional 30-minute drive for the right attorney.

Based on the information available to you on Avvo, locate and recommend a lawyer that your hapless friend should call. Areas of practice are likely to be useful, and Avvo can help you with that. Exclude attorneys you personally know unless they are under 35 and you have known them since childhood.

The legal problems students faced ranged from deportation, being arrested as a meth dealer, having their house foreclosed on, needing to file bankruptcy as a cancer survivor and more. Henderson’s good.

Students each presented in front of the class the lawyer they selected and why — based on a review of relevant Avvo lawyers.

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Totally ignored in the students’ selections of lawyers on Avvo were law school attendance, grades and law review. All the stuff law students focus on as important when in school. Henderson told them that’s not a surprise, many fine lawyers and legal tech entrepreneurs were very average students.

What did the students look at on Avvo? Here’s Henderson’s chalkboard with the checks indicating the most cited.

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  • Reviews of the lawyers by previous clients topped the list. People trust people similarly situated, even if they have never met them.
  • Looks like a good and caring person. Pictures were important and needed to be professional, lacking any semblance of scales of justice and court houses.
  • Experience in the area.
  • Ratings were considered as important and dismissed by an equal number of students. Stars were no way to select a lawyer, per a number of students.
  • Endorsements by lawyers.
  • Good “about section,” personalizing the lawyer as caring and knowledgeable.
  • Pricing, including free consultations were important for some students, while others wouldn’t select a lawyer because of low prices – they needed someone who’d been around the corner.

Two or three of students went “off track” and volunteered that they would not select any of the lawyers on Avvo. They would turn to someone they trust for the name of a lawyer.

A former real estate professional, now law student, indicated relationships and word of mouth within the industry would guide him in selecting a lawyer for a commercial real estate project.

Henderson’s class was not a scientific sample of how people select lawyers and use Avvo. I am sure Avvo has done some good work of their own on that front.

But Henderson’s Avvo exercise is a wake up call for students as to how lawyers are  perceived by consumers of legal services.

Law students also came to appreciate that innovate legal startups such as Avvo are doing more to make legal information and legal services available than traditional channels are.

As I sat back in Henderson’s class, I couldn’t help but think it was less than a decade ago that Avvo CEO and Founder, Mark Britton (@Mark_Britton) said nothing would come between Avvo and consumers. Now I am sitting in a law school studying the use of Avvo. And in the Midwest, where all the down to earth thinking and good stuff comes from.

I don’t know how you feel about Avvo being taught in law schools. I feel great about it. While law professors and career services professionals down the hall may be appalled. Henderson’s students were being prepared for their future — and as a 1 L’s. They’ll graduate more enlightened than those clinging to the past.

  • Derrick Bonsell

    Sorry, but “I hate white people” is not progressive or enlightened.

    It’s just racism.