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Need a Good Lawyer? Web Site Lets You be the Judge...

Kim Hart

There's no shortage of lawyers in this town, but finding a good one can be quite challenging.

So, Avvo.com, derived from the Italian word for lawyer--avvocato-- is trying to make the vetting process a bit easier. This morning I sat down with Mark Britton, former general counsel at Expedia.com, who founded the Seattle-based Web site a year ago, to find out how it works.

Avvo compiles information about a lawyer's professional and educational history from public records and other databases, invites clients to rate them and allows other lawyers to write recommendations. Any disciplinary sanctions or professional misconduct are also reported. Using a fairly complicated algorithm, the site rates a lawyer on a scale of 1 to 10.

You can search for any type of lawyer on the site, and even ask for legal advice or consult legal guides added by attorneys. (You won't have the attorney-client privilege, however.)

Avvo focuses primarily on lawyers that the average person my need: criminal, personal injury, divorce and bankruptcy law. The need for legal advice in the foreclosure area has spiked by 700 percent in the past year, Britton said.

"Legal situations are so emotional, so people are very passionate about their lawyers," he said this morning over coffee. (Actually, I was the only one drinking coffee. Despite living in Seattle, he doesn't touch the stuff.) "They either love 'em or they hate 'em."

But can this algorithm create an accurate representation of an attorney? No, some lawyers have already argued.

Nine days after the company launched last June, it was sued by a group of lawyers who didn't like what their profiles said about them. A Washington judge threw out the case in December.

Avvo has also been engaged in other legal battles with state bar associations to get access to public records. It won the right to have easy access to such data in New Jersey, but lost in the Illinois Supreme Court. To get information on lawyers, Avvo has to troll the state's site, looking up attorneys name by name.

A number of the profiles are too meager to be of much help. District lawyers typically focus on regulatory and corporate law, which doesn't always attract many client reviews, so the fullest profiles are found for lawyers in Maryland, Britton said. Avvo does not yet have listings for attorneys in Virginia.

But, as Britton points out, most lawyers are licensed to practice in Maryland, Virginia and the District, so you can still find information on many of the lawyers in the area.

By Kim Hart  |  September 17, 2008; 5:20 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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