More than a year in development, legal search and ratings site Avvo officially launched yesterday. The site allows users to search by geography and practice area or by lawyer name. It combines data from public records and (eventually) clients, community members and legal peers to offer a composite score for every attorney practicing in the U.S.. Like real estate site Zillow, which shares Benchmark Capital as a funder, Avvo builds lots of functionality (and eventually community) around a core set of data.
The founders recognize a hole in the market and want to provide a user-friendly way to find attorneys or do research on attorneys recommended by others. They also want to turn Avvo in to an effective marketing vehicle for attorneys themselves.
As word of Avvo gets out in the legal community, I would imagine almost every attorney in America will probably conduct a vanity search and check their score. Many will be surprised to find that their scores are seemingly mediocre. For example, I conducted four searches on lawyers I worked with or know and none of them rose above a “7″ (out of 10 possible). These are all competent and successful lawyers in the San Francisco Bay Area — lawyers I would recommend. It’s not exactly clear why their scores were less than 7, except for missing potentially positive information.
Like LinkedIn, there will be rewards and, theoretically, an improvement in ratings if lawyers participate by claiming their profiles and soliciting recommendations from peers. The key to success here in the near term is building consumer trust in the ratings system. Avvo benefits in their regard from the general absence of any other direct competitors offering a similar, user-friendly ratings scheme (lawyers.com doesn’t have anything comparable for example).
Right now, however, the ratings scheme is probably not transparent enough (what’s the difference between a 6 and a 7, for example?). Accordingly, the site is currently most valuable as a way of checking (and potentially eliminating) attorneys recommended by others. As more content is collected and there’s more participation from lawyers and clients it will become a potentially valuable way to find lawyers on its own.