Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the communication sent by Internet Brands, which recently acquired AVVO, sent a letter to the Deputy Counsel for the North Carolina Bar Authorized Practice Committee, advising that it is discontinuing AVVO Legal Services “to align more comprehensively with our business and focus” and the discontinuation would be complete by July 2018. The letter from B. Lynn Walsh, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Internet Brands to the North Carolina Bar is here: https://www.responsivelaw.org/uploads/1/0/8/6/108638213/avvo_legal_services_discontinuation_letter.pdf
The North Carolina Bar had previously drafted a proposed opinion approving lawyer participation in Avvo Legal Services; however, the draft was sent back for further study. According to the Internet Brands letter, the North Carolina Bar Authorized Practice Committee sent correspondence to AVVO dated March 16, 2018 posing questions to about AVVO Legal Services as it relates to the unauthorized practice of law.
According to the June 6, 2018 response letter, Internet Brands, which acquired Avvo in January 2018, the company has decided that AVVO Legal Services does not “align” with its “business and focus”. The letter states:
“At Internet Brands, we are focused on our users, and making sure we provide them with accurate, and consumer-friendly information to help them navigate the difficult tasks of identifying and hiring lawyers. As part of our acquisition of Avvo, we have evaluated Avvo product offerings, and adjusted the Avvo product roadmap to align more comprehensively with our business and focus. Accordingly, we have decided to discontinue Avvo Legal Services. The discontinuation began this month, with completion expected by the end of July.”
As I previously blogged, AVVO Legal Services has generated much controversy with the Avvo Legal Services model, and multiple states have found that the service is unethical. Recent Indiana Ethics Opinion 1-18 (April 2018) found that AVVO’s client referral services may violate Indiana Bar rules related to fee sharing with a non-lawyer, improper referral fees to a non-lawyer entity, potentially misleading communications, and the lawyer’s obligations related to professional independence and disclosure of limited representation. That opinion is here: https://www.in.gov/judiciary/discipline/files/dc-opn-1-18.pdf.
Bottom line: This letter and the decision by Internet Brands to shut down AVVO Legal Services is a bit surprising considering that AVVO has been vigorously defending the service in multiple states. Apparently, Internet Brands concluded that AVVO Legal Services did not align with their “corporate vision”, or they saw that the various state Bars were not backing down, or possibly both.
Be careful out there.
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Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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