My colleague Bob Ambrogi reported yesterday that Avvo founder, Mark Britton is leaving the company he launched in 2007.

Following the January news of Avvo’s acquisition by Internet Brands, Britton’s announcement that he was leaving the company after its annual Lawyernomics conference in May is not too big of a surprise.

Britton will leave Avvo though having left a significant impact on the law — and the business of law. A very positive impact.

Britton was driven by his belief in serving consumers. From Ambrogi’s report:

Even though we knew some lawyers would take issue with what we were doing, our focus in this product — was in serving the consumer and on getting them the help that they need.

I remember meeting Mark for the first time in a Starbucks in Pioneer Square with a colleague of his, probably twelve or thirteen years ago.

They were working on the stealth launch of company that would help consumers and small business people faced with legal issues — or at least that’s what I recall. The discussion got into lawyer ratings and lawyer questions and answers, something I believed in from my days with Prairielaw.com and LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell when they acquired Prairielaw.

Happy to help share what I knew or thought, I was skeptical though of a venture capital backed company helping the little guys of the world.

We may have met another time or two prior to Avvo’s launch, but what I remember next was calling Mark the day of the launch and giving him grief that my name with an old Seattle business address was listed in the directory.

As if Mark didn’t have anything else to do that day, he got on the phone and listened to my rants about never practicing law in Washington and not even keeping a license anymore.

Talking to colleagues in the industry then, people were giving Avvo months before it would collapse. How could a company scrape lawyers’ profiles across the net, list the information Avvo could get in lawyer bio’s and apply ratings only Avvo thought were not arbitrary?

A lot of lawyers can be intolerable by nature, but touch them personally like this.? You’re asking for flack in spades.

A class action suit was immediately filed by a Seattle lawyer claiming that his information and the info of other lawyers could be not displayed like this. When the security guard in my building commented to me, without my mentioning Avvo, that this Seattle lawyer, with a history of representing consumers, would take Avvo down in no time, I really thought Avvo may not make it.

Not so when Seattle lawyer, Bruce Johnson, a nationally recognized First Amendment lawyer swiftly brought an end to the suit on the grounds of free speech. Ironically, the same position Super Lawyers took throughout their infancy.

When Avvo launched lawyer blogs I charged up the hill to his office, and ranted at Mark how could you (I can be nuts at times). “If you really want to help consumers and the lawyers who serve them, LexBlog can do blogs a lot better than you. Let us do them for you.” As if that level of tact would get me anywhere.

Hard to believe Mark was as nice and receptive to me then and all times thereafter. But he was and he has always been willing to share feedback and advice with me over lunch or at a conference over a beer.

Throughout our exchanges I went from being a cynic, to believing Mark when he said nothing was going to get between consumers and Avvo. Avvo would be placing the interests of consumers first, even if it meant challenging lawyers and legal organizations.

Eleven years can be an eternity for most startups. One you have to able to make it that long, and two, with heavy investment you need a liquidation event at at some point.

But in those eleven years, Britton and Avvo accomplished a heck of a lot.

  • Martindale-Hubbell, close to a $300 million company, crumbled. I always believed, and told Mark, if Avvo could outlast and out compete Martindale and their misguided strategy as to the net, Avvo would be over the hump and dominate the “legal directory” space. Avvo did, and ironically is now part of the same company, Internet Brands, that acquired the Martindale and lawyers.com brands and assets from LexisNexis.
  • Lawyer ratings, like it or not, are here to stay. Maybe not the ideal rating system from the perspective of many lawyers, but Avvo’s ratings are something consumers and small business people can understand and feel comfortable with in sharing their rating of a lawyer.
  • Lawyers across the country were given a search engine optimized professional looking directory presence that was chock full of information. Information lawyers could provide and information that consumers could relate to.
  • Lawyers across the country got good legal work from their Avvo listing at a cost that paled in comparison to the prices of yellow page ads and websites.
  • Consumers could ask questions of lawyers coast to coast and they did so in spades.
  • The ability for a consumer to talk to a lawyer for less than forty bucks — all via a website or smartphone, the likes of which consumers expect today.
  • Legal services for a flat fee via a network of rated lawyers in your state. Though bar associations may have challenged the program on the grounds that Avvo’s collecting a marketing charge from lawyers amounted to a lawyer’s splitting a fee with a non-lawyer, this type of service is not going away. It’s a service that is going to help bridge the access to legal services divide.
  • A team of passionate, smart and driven people was assembled in Seattle who believed that there had to be a better way to deliver legal services to average people. That caring lawyers, willing to do work at a fair price could help these folks — so long as there was a way to connect the two. And that technology and data could play a big role in bringing this about. Britton may be leaving, but his dream will live on in many of them, whether they remain at Avvo or not.

In an email announcing this would be his last Lawyernomics conference, Mark said he would remain close to the legal industry.  I hope he does in some capacity.

Mark’s ability to assemble and lead a team focused on a common goal is not a skill that comes naturally. This coming from someone who tries to get better at it by the day and has used Britton and his passion as a bit of a role model.

A job well done – by Mark and the Avvo team.

  • Jeff Bell, CEO LegalShield

    Kevin, I respectfully disagree and wanted to share three thoughts concerning Mark Britton.

    First,I believe that the rating system employed by Avvo is deceptive. It suggests to
    consumers that it is based upon client feedback, but is in fact earned in large
    part by paying money for services to Avvo. Moreover, we believe that of
    the few consumer ratings posted within the Avvo system, the negative ratings
    are inappropriately suppressed.

    Second, speaking to a lawyer for $39 for 15 minutes is just the hourly rate by another
    name. Real disruption (without destruction) is through legal service plans
    like those provided by LegalShield. For $24.95 per month, our members have
    unlimited consultations on unlimited topics. A Last Will and Testament can be
    prepared, speeding tickets reviewed and contested, documents reviewed and phone
    calls and letters made on behalf of the member. Indeed, the fixed fees
    introduced by Avvo, with the exception of $2,995 for a green card application,
    are all covered as part of our monthly fee of $24.95.

    Third,the creation of a directory without the permission of the individual lawyers in
    it, and then monetized without compensation to same, was a really interesting
    case wherein advertising as “freedom of speech” overruled property and privacy
    rights. Notwithstanding the outcome, I cede that Avvo pointed the way to a
    better service for lawyers and citizens – a directory by and for the lawyers
    with actual consumer ratings. That is what we have built and are
    expanding at LegalShield.

    Thank you for covering the industry. Please let me know if you’d like to learn
    about our 1.756 million memberships, up 30% since I joined in 2014. I have a
    home in Kirkland and would be glad to meet for coffee sometime.

    Jeff