Back to the Future
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I wrote earlier about the ways people find attorneys. Historically, for doctors and lawyers and other professionals, personal referrals and word of mouth was the best way for people to find lawyers, and lawyers to find clients. There may have been just one or two lawyers in town and everybody knew who they were and felt they could always ask them a quick question. When a local bar meeting I attended the other day filled and exceeded the largest courtroom in town, one older attorney shook his head and recalled the day when the local bar could just meet around a family-sized table at the local seafood restaurant. Gradually, as the 20th Century wound down, legal care and health care became thought of more as a commodity, like toothpaste and lawn mowers, more than the personal character and expertise of a professional. With that thought, assisted with some rulings by the Supreme Court, lawyers began to advertise with large yellow page ads, television and radio, and other splashy marketing. While many, and probably the majority, of lawyers look askance at even the most tasteful television advertisement, they can’t deny that they work and may provide access to people who don’t know and who wouldn’t know how to go about getting a lawyer.
One thing I like about the 21st Century information explosion is it still allows the wide access to a range of attorneys, but also gets back to an earlier model where you can pop in to the attorney next door and ask a quick question, or your neighbor can tell you about their attorney and experience. Only now, anybody with an Internet connection can be your neighbor and every licensed attorney in the State has the ability to answer a quick question. Email, firm websites, lawyer referral websites, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, and blogs are all social networking tools that people can use to reach, refer, and recommend lawyers and other professionals.
One new Internet endeavor is the website Avvo. Avvo’s primary service is to provide information on lawyers. Avvo publishes information on every attorney in North Carolina that is available on the State Bar website and other places. It then allows the attorney to “claim” their profile and add photos, videos, lists of accomplishments and other biographical information. Even more interesting, is that it allows former clients and colleagues of the attorney to give them a rating. Now, certainly you have to consider the source and recognize the danger of disgruntled former employees, unrealistic clients, or unscrupulous competitors gaming the system, but all in all, it is a valuable tool. Avvo not only provides access to lawyers, it provides access to legal advice. Post a question, and every attorney in every state Avvo provides service in can respond. Attorneys that answer a lot of questions get recognized as a valued contributor. Avvo takes all this information and comes up with a numerical rating that is assigns to every lawyer. Some lawyers have been critical of Avvo since the numerical rating can be misleadingly low for attorneys who haven’t claimed their profile and provided all the information that Avvo allows. It is a real-life equivalent of the old urban legend that said you would get 200 points on an SAT test just for signing your name. Nevertheless, Avvo seems to recognize that their system isn’t perfect and continues to tweak it. Other critics point to the free legal advice being answered by unqualified attorneys. I would say again to consider the source, and especially be leery of any out of state attorney, or one who admits to little experience in the type of law you need advice for.
Maybe we will never get back to the time where you could just knock on the door of Atticus Finch's office and get a quick five minutes of legal advice from somebody that you knew or had heard was good, but with the web 2.0, maybe we don't need to.
–Bradley A. Coxe is a practicing attorney in Wilmington, NC who specializes in Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice, Contract and Real Estate disputes and all forms of Civil Litigation. Please contact him at (910) 772-1678.