November 30, 2018 Feature

Attorney-Client Matchmaking and For-Profit Referral Services: 21st Century Innovation Clashes with 20th Century Rules and the End of Avvo Legal Services

By Alberto Bernabe

Introduction

There is ample evidence that the vast majority of low and moderate-income earners in the United States lack easy access to affordable legal services,1 which, in turn, has resulted in calls for more “innovation” in the way legal services are provided.2 As a result, companies like LegalZoom,3 Rocket Lawyer,4 Office Depot5 and Avvo began to offer access to legal services through networks of lawyers who agree to be available to clients. Potential clients in many states now have many more options for choosing lawyers to represent them. Yet, an increasing number of ethical opinions have concluded that lawyers risk violating rules of professional conduct when participating in some of these “matchmaking” or for-profit referral services. This essay will focus on Avvo Legal Services because it attracted the most attention. Although the Avvo Legal Services program has ended, it is not the only service affected by these opinions and, more importantly, it will surely not be the last.6

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