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Avvo Watch is watching Avvo.com.  Sadly, Avvo.com and its former CEO, Mark Britton, have successfully transformed the American legal profession into a three ring circus ~ (1) lawyer bashing; (2) lawyer rating in a counterfeit system which lawyers can easily game with extravagant self-promotion; and (3) free legal advice with a counterfeit system which offers black letter law commentary in response to consumers' questions and then denies in a footnote under "Terms of Use" that free legal advice is legal advice.

For Mark Britton and for his Team Avvo, the Truth is a set of movable blocks that Mark Britton can shift around ~ forwards, backwards, and sideways ~ to create whatever counterfeit reality pleases them on the Avvo.com web site. For Mark Britton and his Team Avvo, the American Bar Association's Rules of Professional Conduct accomodate and track their every whim and caprice. Ethical standards vary according to what Mark Britton needs and wants.

The story of Avvo.com is the story of everything that is wrong with the legal profession. If you were told to create a polished web site with all of the digital bells and whistles available in today's internet marketplace about the legal profession ~ including a distillation of all the credential-kiting and double-dealing tactics that give lawyers a bad name ~ you would create Avvo.com. Mark Britton and his Team Avvo are polluting our culture with "junk law" when they advertise free legal advice, and the only people who are buying this junk law are consumers who live in an emotional slum. Above the fold, the Avvo.com web site is offering free legal advice, and below the fold Avvo.com denies that free legal advice is legal advice ~ a tart contradiction. Mr. Britton and his Team Avvo are experts in incongruity.

Practicing lawyers who review Avvo's "Terms of Use" will soon appreciate that Mark Britton has bundled together all of their cherished principles of the legal profession and dumped them into a bucket now called "Legal Information" ~ like a haphazard collection of weeds taken from a stony desert. Paragraph 3 under "Terms of Use" states: "Our Services display both Avvo-created content and content that is not created or developed by Avvo (the "Legal Information")." Then, in Paragraph 4 under "Terms of Use" the reader is cautioned: "The Legal Information [found on Avvo] is not the provision of legal services, and accessing such information, or corresponding with or asking questions to a lawyer via the Services, or otherwise using the Services, does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Avvo, or you and any lawyer." Can you imagine a Contract Law question or Constitutional Law question or a Tort Law question on the bar examination that asks for an analysis of "the Legal Information" hereinabove or hereinbelow? Truly, Mark Britton is asking the legal profession to dumb down its scholarship and to water down its ethics with his shallow display of learning. Mr. Britton is indeed entertaining ~ he does demonstrate the pugnacity of a peacock in courtship ~ but he insults the legal profession with the menacing vagueness of his terminology.

Thanks to Avvo.com and Mark Britton, the American legal profession is undergoing a moral crisis and a linguistic crisis ~ and the two crises are organically connected. When Mark Britton steals intellectual property from the D.C. Bar Association and passes it off as "data mining," he thereby generates his own language-field to legitimize his dishonest motives, values and ideals.

Mark Britton is a middle-aged business man who has never devoted his career to bar leadership. He has appointed himself a one man super bar association for purposes of ranking and rating every dentist, doctor and lawyer in America. Mark Britton quite frankly does not have the whiskers to do the job! Team Avvo also decided in one of its "stroking sessions" to confer an Avvo score of 9.2 on its CEO, Mark Britton. We mortals cannot help but wonder whether Mark Britton is a greek god or just another narcissistic personality.

Mark Britton's supporters might admit that he is guilty of "managing the facts" with his Avvo.com web site, but Mr. Britton's scheme of things is much more ambitious. Mark Britton apparently believes that his name is a password to a previously repressed truth ~ that the quest for money, the drive for power, and the celebration of vanity rule every lawyer's behaviour in the American legal profession. The truth is that Mark Britton is a human wrecking ball.

Avvo.com has unleashed a whole tribe of spiritual sons and daughters who now give "free legal advice" to anyone ~ sight unseen ~ who has a keyboard and who submits a question. These pseudo lawyers are willing to practice law without the empirical support of carefully probing the questioner's facts in a face-to-face meeting and apparently do not rely upon a thorough research of applicable caselaw and statutory law ~ i.e., research tailor made to the specific person who is submitting the question with a specific legal problem. These pseudo lawyers bear a striking resemblance to pseudo scientists who generate hypotheses to explain the universe with a smorgasboard of scientifically untestable supernatural causes. These pseudo lawyers do not research potential conflicts of interest. These pseudo lawyers may have graduated from law school with an Order of the Coif certificate, but now they dance for Mr. Britton and his Avvo.com enterprise where instant gratification and mediocrity are the prevailing standards.

Mark Britton has persuaded these pseudo lawyers that it is possible to make a rapid vertical descent into greatness ~ by becoming an advice-giver on his Avvo.com web site ~ rather than doing the hard work of meeting face-to-face with clients and achieving the moral awakening of connecting with clients and their problems. These pseudo lawyers are missing the opportunity to meet with prospective clients and to unravel a complex skein of facts. For these pseudo lawyers, the solution to a client's legal problem can be stated with the streamlined simplicity of remarking that a train has arrived on time. Avvo.com's approach and Mr. Britton's approach to problem solving are anti-intellectual and one dimensional. If he were honest, Mark Britton would admit that these pseudo lawyers are making a rapid vertical descent into mediocrity.

Mark Britton has recently added a new feature to his web site to deflect attention from his "free legal advice" fiasco. Now Mr. Britton offers a program of paid legal advice ~ Avvo Advisor ~ with a "money-back guarantee." Apparently, Mr. Britton believes that he can sprinkle a little pixie dust on his nightmare and eliminate ethical problems inherent in offering free legal advice (coupled with his cleverly footnoted denial which says that free legal advice is not really legal advice).

However, Mr. Britton overlooks the fact that lawyers and law firms live in existential dread of any effort to make their legal fees refundable on demand. This so-called "money-back guarantee" which is now published on Avvo.com's web site promises the consumer subjective satisfaction ~ thus, the participating lawyers' legal fees evaporate in front of their eyes like a handful of seafoam. In rehetoric, in fact and in policy, Mark Britton's "money back guarantee" is nothing more than a unsuccessful "Charm Offensive" to cover up and provide contrast to his flawed program which boasts "free legal advice" above the fold and then hastily retreats with the suggestion below the fold that free legal advice is not really legal advice.

When he cobbles together "free legal advice" with "paid legal advice," Mark Britton's intellectual scaffolding comes tumbling down on the heads of Digital Natives who visit the Avvo.com web site. Upshot: ~ Avvo.com is a bundle of contradictions which gives the reader an attack of vertigo.

How, then, does Avvo make money for its investors and shareholders? Avvo makes its money selling advertising. In order to circumvent the problems ~ notably ethical problems ~ associated with its original scheme of free legal advice, Avvo has introduced a program called Avvo Advisor which is an on demand 15 minute telephone consultation session with an Avvo member lawyer that costs $39 and is available presently in 18 states. Make no mistake about it, however, Avvo makes nearly all of its money selling advertising space on its website, and the advertsing space is purchased by lawyers who are promoting their brands ~ credential kiting and self-aggrandizement. Avvo is not supported by legal fees. Avvo is well aware that it is creating the false impression ~ a pure fiction ~ that it is supported by consumers who are paying legal fees for legal advice. Avvo Advisor is a pale imitation of the robust revenues that are generated by selling advertising space to lawyers who love to hear the sound of their own names.

If Mark Britton truly believes that Avvo will ever earn significant money from legal fees paid by consumers, then Mark Britton is economically illiterate.

Instead of worrying about their ethical well-being which is codified in the American Bar Association's Rules of Professional Conduct, Mark Britton and his Team Avvo offer the Avvo.com lawyers a "new ethical abundance" which is more powerful than any drug and which gives the lawyers a "nice buzz" ~ Avvo.com offers to establish the American lawyers' ethical superiority by staging a sleazy parade of injured and damaged lawyers with discipline; Avvo.com offers to show the American lawyers how to grow their practice and make more money with their Avvo pages; and Avvo.com offers to express the American lawyers' power and potency with an Avvo score.

Avvo and Mark Britton live in a world in which the American legal profession is characterized by its three lowest common denominators ~ dishonesty, hypocrisy, and mediocrity. For Avvo and for Mark Britton, action authenticates meaning. For Avvo and for Mark Britton, the lawyer is only responsible to the bottom line. For Avvo and for Mark Britton, a lawyer's financial success and moral convenience have joined hands at last.

Mr. Britton frequently says that his web site enables him to shine his flashlight into dark places. Truth be told, however, Mark Britton needs to shine his flashlight in his own face and stand in front of a mirror.

Many young lawyers are graduating from American law schools today deep in debt and with no job. What awaits them in the practice of law is a profession that now worships at the shrine of Avvo.com ~ a motley crew of superficial circus clowns who are getting rich trafficking in human pain.

Most American lawyers who are deeply embedded in bar associations, government offices and law firms are blissfully unaware of this disaster and impending doom ~ they only hear the soprano voices of Team Avvo, and they are humming along as they crank their wheels of justice.

A few short years ago, young lawyers in America emulated the standards of hard work, honesty, loyalty to one's clients and plain speaking. However, Avvo.com has redefined the code of conduct for the American legal profession. If lawyers follow Team Avvo's example, the code of conduct has become assertiveness and zeal at the borderline. Mark Britton and his bullies can now boast that an American lawyer's business success is his highest achievement.

Avvo Watch asks the question: Do you believe that Avvo.com (and similar organizations) engender greater respect or disrespect for lawyers?

  Avvo Watch does rank its member-lawyers but that function is strictly incidental to our educational purpose. We are influenced by each member's own assessment of his or her dedication to the practice of law - What rank do you believe is appropriate in your case? Do you concur in our educational goals?

 Avvo Watch is sensitive to the rich traditions of our profession and our global community. Avvo Watch speaks Truth to Power.
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