Skip Avvo and call an attorney.
"I see Avvo as the worst player in what has become a never-ending and, ultimately demeaning, arms race of attorney rating manipulation, far worse than 'Superlawyer', and that's saying something."
I can't remember when I first stumbled onto Avvo. But I remember looking myself up and seeing my so-called Avvo rating. I compared other attorneys. I strongly disagreed with the ratings. I quickly emailed Avvo. The shorthand summary: "Take me off Avvo. You can't post my name and apply some BS rating to me." Reply: "Yes we can, and we will". Response: "Take me off your website or I'll sue" ( I am an attorney, after all). Reply: "Go ahead. We are Avvo. We are providing a great public service with our great website. You will be on Avvo, like every other attorney."
[update: I recently had much of my profile information removed from AVVO. This happened after I told one of their salespeople that I wanted to be removed from their call list (they frequently called bugging me about advertising with them). I added that I disagreed with their business plan. I'm not sure if that was the reason, but the timing is suspect. I am still listed on AVVO, and I am still assigned a BS rating, but my picture and other biographical info was deleted.]
The Avvo catch: Avvo forces attorneys to participate in its site. Avvo does not require attorneys to actively participate, but there is no way to opt out completely. Avvo then rewards those who do participate by making them look better, which makes those who do not participate look comparatively worse. Attorneys don't like looking comparatively worse. Hence, Avvo forces participation from many attorneys who seek to level the playing field, which in turn, can lead to some overall crappy results.
Like many other attorneys, I disliked the Avvo concept from the get go, and I refused to play Avvo's game. Unfortunately, I eventually saw that many other attorneys in this area were playing Avvo's game. They were claiming their profiles; filling in all their information; posting their picture; posting that all-important link to their website; answering questions posted by the public; and--worst of all-- getting their so-called "peer endorsements" (see part 1 of this series), all of which raised their Avvo rating above mine.
I can't remember exactly, but I think this was just after I moved from my former law firm to my own law office in 2008. I worried about losing potential business to attorneys who were driving up their Avvo ratings. In a moment of weakness, I claimed my profile, uploaded a picture, and filled in my biographical information. Thankfully, I never went so far as to solicit a single peer endorsement from other attorneys. However, I did sign up to start answering questions posted by people seeking information. It wasn't long before I became so frustrated (disgusted, is a better word) with this process and left Avvo (I stopped actively participating. Avvo won't let me leave, remember?).
What I did not know when I signed up was that Avvo created a race to answer questions by rewarding speed over content, awarding many more contribution credits to the first three, or first hour, responders. Also, Avvo doesn't penalize bad, perfunctory and/or useless responses. The result, as least as I see it, was many attorneys simply trying to answer the most questions as quickly as possible, in order to boost their "contribution level" and overall stature on Avvo. Imagine a classroom where the students are rewarded for shouting the answer first, even if they give the wrong or incomplete answer.
Here's the way it works. When you agree to answer questions on Avvo, you get an email alerting you that a question has been posted in your selected practice areas. You soon realize that, even when you respond very quickly, often, a number of attorneys have already posted responses. Frequently, it is attorneys who do not even practice in the state where the question originated, and often nowhere near it. So, a question about a Wisconsin or Minnesota OWI/DWI could have responses from attorneys in California, Arizona, New York, etc. If you are too late, you do not fetch the points needed to increase your "contribution level".
This is not exactly the type of system that promotes well-reasoned (let alone researched) responses to someone's important legal question. In fact, more than once, while attempting to write a meaningful response, some other attorney posted a lousy response and beat me out. Those attorney were awarded 10 "contribution points" by being one of the first three posts.
Because Avvo creates a race to answer questions--and for some attorneys this means, many, many, many questions as quickly as possible--many of the responses I read were (1) ill-informed or incorrect, often preceded by the caveat, "I don't practice in your state, so. . ."; (2) redundant, often to the effect of, "I agree with the above writer . . ." (Yes, you get points for agreeing); and/or (3) simply unhelpful, such as, "You should hire/speak with an attorney."
In fact, "You should hire an attorney" is easily the most repeated phrase in the Avvo attorney responses. Why? It is almost always the right and responsible response to someone seeking guidance on a legal issue.
The fact is, life--and the way life interacts with the law--is almost always way too complicated to be addressed in the single question, single answer format of Avvo, or any other similar online "ask an attorney" site. There usually are too many variable for this to be effective. However, that is probably not what the average person seeking answers on Avvo wants to hear. They are there because they want to avoid hiring an attorney. These limitations can lead to a lot of frustration with attorneys, which is not necessarily good for the overall image of the profession.
To Avvo's credit, it does give incentives to attorneys who write the most helpful answers to posted questions, as judged by the person asking the question. And I must admit, I have read some good answers to questions posted by the public. Overall, however, the get-as-many-points-as-you-can system Avvo has created has reduced many attorneys to groveling "Pac-Men" who run around hastily trying to gobble up as many points as they can to improve their stature on Avvo.
If you ask the most actively-participating lawyers why they do Avvo, they will probably serve up some canned response about helping people and serving justice. But would they truly be doing this if there were no "points" being awarded, no perceived edge being attained over the competition? I see Avvo as the worst player in what has become a never-ending and, ultimately demeaning, cold war of attorney rating manipulation, far worse than "Superlawyer", and that's saying something.
My advice: Call a lawyer in your area who has a practice in the area of law you are dealing with. At least then there is some opportunity for back and forth discussion. Depending on the area of law, many will speak to you for free. If it turns out that you decide to hire an attorney, then so be it. This is what most of the attorneys on Avvo are going to tell you to do anyhow.