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Legal Ease: Can you really trust the attorney you found on the internet?

When you need an attorney, where do you find one? How do you find one? And, once you find one, how do you know he/she is trustworthy?

Answers to these questions are no longer as daunting as they used to be because the answers are more and more accessible through the Internet. I suspect within three to five years, most people’s legal issues will be resolved either for free or at a fraction of the cost, all because of the Internet. Fortunately for consumers, it seems lawyers are becoming the next commodity.

Take Google, for example, and its new Google Scholar, a new search engine dedicated to providing its consumers with free, relevant educational and scholarly material. Through Google Scholar, legal cases, decisions and legal guides can be found online within seconds. The potentiality for this site is enormous, and it might become the legal-services version of Wikipedia.

If legal information is becoming this accessible, then so too must the ability for one to find the “right” attorney over the internet, right?

Two weeks ago, I traveled to Seattle for a first-of-its-kind conference. While San Diego was getting drenched with rain, I was in unusually sunny Seattle learning about marketing and social-media marketing for lawyers over the internet.

Big executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter were all present. Lawyers, anxious to get a leg-up on the marketing front, came from all over the country to share in this experience. The conference was hosted by Avvo , an internet start-up company dedicated to helping people get their legal questions answered and finding them the right attorney. This was Avvo’s first conference, and its success after only two years in business became evident after the conference was over.

The reason is found in these two facts:

_ First, most people use the internet to start their search to find an attorney.

_ Second, most people do not trust the information they find on the Internet regarding the quality and reliability of that attorney. This dilemma means an area exists for a company to capitalize, especially considering lawyers spend over $5.4 billion in the United States on advertising, trying to capture “your” business.

Mark Britton, who helped start Expedia.com, realized this void, creating Avvo.com with this intent in mind. To date, Avvo has the world’s largest attorney directory.

After the conference, I asked Britton why people actually trust Avvo’s system of finding quality lawyers.

“We are giving consumers the tools to answer their own questions,” he said. “The reality is that, when it comes to choosing a lawyer, consumers are lost. Avvo helps consumers handle their legal matters with confidence by providing more information and better guidance than they’ve ever had access to before. Avvo offers ratings and profiles for every lawyer, as well as client reviews, peer reviews and attorney disciplinary records. Avvo also offers a question and answer forum, where people can ask real attorneys – anonymously if desired – any legal question and receive personalized answers.”

With such tools at hand, Britton found that people actually trust the information on Avvo, the reason for its success.

“By giving consumers all of this information/guidance and being very transparent, consumers have come to trust Avvo. Because of this trust factor, they will spend a lot of time researching lawyers on the site,” Britton said.

Thus, Avvo has captured the essence of an interactive website, dedicated to helping people solve legal issues and finding the right attorney – all for free. I found myself using Avvo to look for better lawyers for referral purposes. I like this site, and I think legal consumers can benefit from its content.

Considering the amount of money available in this new marketing area, tons of these little niche market websites could pop up everywhere. And, probably by no coincidence, the GLBT community has a similar website already, although far from developed – www.legalout.com, created by The Point Foundation. To date, however, Avvo is leading the pack in this new consumer trend; it will be interesting to see what’s next.

Thomas Hughes is a criminal defense attorney with a practice in downtown San Diego. He is an active member of the GSDBA and the LGBT Bar Association. He can be reached at this website: www.thomashugheslaw.com