AVVOcalypse Now

Once upon a time, I found the little world of Avvo to be cute, and humorous. They devised their little grading system for lawyers that, essentially, rewarded attorneys for working really hard entering data on a profile. The scores were ripe for various double entendres. It was good fun.

Then, I noticed that they provided a Q&A portion of their site for lawyers to further improve their Avvo length and girth. It was amusing to see practitioners scrambling to provide free advice to unknown individuals in unknown jurisdictions. They seemed positively desperate to be the first, learned person to answer various insipid inquiries, but then I started thinking about the ethical problems with such advice. I don’t care how many disclaimers you splash across the page, people are going to rely upon the words of lawyers when they address specific legal questions.

Yet, I still found it to be more amusing than harmful.

After the release of bar results each year, you could count on a swarm of brand-new lawyers flooding the site and “earning” high scores, with great marks in the “experience” subcategory.

None of my friends has ever found a meaningful client through the site, so we find Avvo’s apparent importance to be mostly amusing. However, the longer it existed, the more influence Avvo gained. Now, solidly-established lawyers tout their 10.0 score on websites and fliers (Full disclosure: I’m but a puny 7.7. Too small to be a “big hitter” and yet too big to qualify for subsidized Enzyte) . It makes me sad (the experienced attorneys touting their score, not my inability to receive chemical assistance for growth).

Recently, Avvo sunk to a new low. They now advertise an upcoming webinar for downtrodden, scared, and new lawyers who want to make millions in legal practice, with minimal effort.

What is Avvo doing? A webinar. I could tell you, but, instead, I’ll show you.

Seems innocuous enough, right? Well, let’s dig a little deeper on the presenter. Ms. Neely, according to her own blog, has had some problems as of late. Let’s review her own words on October 22, 2012.

I stopped writing here for a while. Hid this personal blog away behind my media site so no one could find it.  Went into hiding. Blamed it on my bankruptcy.  Told myself I couldn’t write about what was really happening as it was happening because … well, there were a million reasons.  All lies.  To keep me safe.

But, I’m not here to live a life of safe.

That’s the spirit. You go girl! It sure is great…….hang on……did she say bankruptcy…..and lies? If those words are what she shares on the internet, what is she not sharing?

What could she possibly add to Avvo’s batch of webinars after using those horrible words in self-description. How could the folks at Avvo possibly believe that she adds something of value that other lawyers should learn? Let’s take it one step at a time.

Avvo describes the webinar as follows:

If you’re a practicing attorney that isn’t happy with the clients you serve, the hours you keep and don’t have a recurring revenue stream coming into your business (from clients who are happy to pay you for your service), you need to attend this webinar! Sadly, most lawyers finish law school, pass the bar and think that making money will be the easy part. It’s not. They simply don’t teach that in law school! In this webinar you will hear from Alexis Neely – a lawyer and entrepreneur who within three years of starting her own law practice from scratch, had built it into a million dollar a year revenue generating business by creating a new law business model her clients loved. Like most lawyers, Alexis knew nothing about business when she first got started, but learned from the top entrepreneurs in many different areas of professional service along the way. Today, she shares a new law business model with lawyers across the US and Canada as a Law Business Mentor™ and with families and small business owners as a Personal Family and Creative Business Lawyer™.

OK, Avvo, what’s up with this?

Did I miss your mention of bankruptcy, Avvo? [her “Meet Me” page puts the number at $500,000 in the hole, albeit without evidence]. Who were these clients who shoveled millions at her? Why were they abandoned after a mere 3 years? Did you publish an appendix to this description? Was it lost on the mezzanine level of your library? I’m confused. I see stuff about “million dollar a year in revenue” and “creating a new law business model” and references to some unabashed, buzz-word-filled, trademarked terms. Yet, it seems the proverbial warts on this speaker’s face are too bulbous to ignore.

Well, let’s forget about bankruptcy for a bit, Avvo. I’m sure she has everything together and is on a solid foundation from which to take the downtrodden, fearful, and new lawyers from Avvo under her wing, right?

From her blog:

So, I’ll tell you.  I’ve been depressed, scared, freaking the fuck out.

My financial situation is the worst it’s ever been. Maybe even worse than in law school because at least then I only had me to take care of.  Now there is so much more. Kids, payrolls, ex-husbands.

All of this was “easy” to handle when I was making millions in my businesses, but it simply wasn’t sustainable the way I was doing it.  And the truth is, it wasn’t so easy to handle even when I was making millions either.  I was scared then too.  Scared to death of losing it. So scared that I became trapped by it.

Ummm, Avvo? Seriously? Given the two excerpts I just quoted, she appears to have multifaceted and multidisciplinary problems.  It also appears that the scheme of her business may not have been quite as hunky-dory as you described. But, isn’t it cute the way she gets all cussy and stuff? I’m sure that’s a feature.

Every business day, I interact with people whose lives are similar to what she describes. I call them clients. They are not bad people (mostly). They may eventually learn a great deal from their experiences. They may, someday, possess much wisdom once they show rehabilitation and some modicum of success. That takes years, and most understand this. However, right now, in the thick of their troubles, they have no business being a mentor to anyone, let alone professionals. None are able to transition from “freaking the fuck out” to  “Law Business Mentor” within a 45 day period. What they need, desperately, are mentors who have their stuff together, and solid.

One of my friends has a name for people whose lives are in incalculable disarray, but who also persist in being perceived as preeminently awesome–a Hot Mess.

Back to her blog:

I gave up my Mercedes, my 5300 square foot house in a cul-de-sac community where I spent most of my time in my 150 sq foot office, isolated and working, and my million dollar businesses so I could discover what I really want, beyond all conditioning. As Craig always says, “don’t die wondering.”  So, I’m not.

Today, I live in a 3 bedroom condo with two roommates, my kids, and my partner (when he’s in town).  While I would love for us to have a bigger house, no downstairs neighbors, and some land to grow food, this is a great way-station and definite confirmation that living, working and loving in community is what’s necessary for our future.  I love it here.

Yep, my bankruptcy is a government handout of sorts; my own personal bailout that I guess puts me in the 47%, and in my moments of awake, I’m okay with that because, from this place, I have the total freedom to choose what I do with my life.

Handout? Well, Avvo, what is bankruptcy? I’m no bankruptcy attorney, but I thought it was when you couldn’t pay back money you borrowed from someone (or an entity), even after making a promise that you would follow certain terms.  Is that why you were impressed enough to grant some air-time to this “mentor?”

Leaving the bankruptcy thing alone, let’s focus on the family thing? I presume many of these young/desperate lawyers who want to find value in your webinars also have families. Part of their fear may be in providing for those who depend on their ability to earn money. The majority I’ve met want their kids to live in a single-family environment and not some communal arrangement with 2 or 3 unrelated adults sharing the floorplan. (Not to mention health insurance.)  Wouldn’t this be an important fact to disclose to those thinking of spending their time listening to your webinar, Avvo?

You want to give her an opportunity to lead a webinar? Fine. But, your Avvolicious description makes her sound like the managing partner of a top-notch firm, with an equally impressive personal life. Solid lives make solid mentors. Unbalanced lives make unbalanced mentors. The target audience of this webinar is those looking for mentorship in business development. You’re selling your speaker as a voice of reason to those looking for a solid and prosperous legal future. Knowing that, your description of this webinar (and particularly its omissions) suggests you are either charlatans or pathetically ill-informed. I fear it may be a bit (or a lot) of both.

So, Avvo, I read more about your esteemed speaker, on her site and others. I found a lot of words, but not a lot of substance. Most of the buzz-words that make honest lawyers cringe are in there, somewhere. The central theme appears to be “be awesome.” It is decidedly self-centered. It is the legal prosperity gospel. A lot of people talk about how amazing and awesome and cool she is. She touts orgasmic meditation. I didn’t click on that hyperlink, and I have no plans to do so. What is the position of Avvo on orgasmic meditation?

She does mention her TV appearances and bestselling books and amazing career success. Everything seems wonderful and profitable and successful. I saw the word million several times. Too bad all that unbelievable and unbridled success resulted in bankruptcy. Oops. I also saw something about a farm and failed community. None of that was described in detail.

Is this what Avvo deems to be an acceptable and noteworthy mentor?

Did you see this paragraph, Avvo? Does it remind you of the same drivel spouted by dozens of former practitioners who now seek income from vulnerable lawyers?

In 2003, after giving birth to my 2nd child, I left Munger to start my own law firm.  I knew nothing about business, but within just 3 years I built my law practice into a firm generating more than a million dollars a year of revenue by creating a new law business model.  Clients loved it, I didn’t.  I knew I wasn’t here to serve people one on one so I made the hardest decision of my life and sold my law firm so I could focus 100% of my energy on training other lawyers on this new law business model.

I’ll be presumptuous for a moment and act as though I speak for the rest of the group. We want to hear from lawyers who succeed and focus on their clients, not those who think that they are too good to give each client the time they deserve.

What are you trying to sell to us, your Avvoness?

I’ve torn you down a bit here, but let me spot you a few points: I’m not a graduate of Georgetown or any top-tier institution. I’m also not a millionaire.  I have no bestselling books. I’ve never been on TV. My practice is small, growing in tiny (but steady) increments. I’m far from the smartest lawyer. In fact, I’m not sure my intellect puts me in the top half. But, I’ve never shirked my obligations. I’ve never gotten-in over my head. This is not because I’m better than anyone else. Far from it. I do it because my name is attached to my obligations. I made promises, and those should always be kept. This should be a fundamental behavior for any professional.

I have more to consider than my own, hedonistic needs. Others rely upon me–family and clients. They deserve stability, honesty and safety. They deserve for me to think of them first, not myself. Focus on myself is limited to maintaining stability and integrity. Past that, others deserve my attention and efforts.

This doesn’t make me special. These are basic behaviors, especially for professionals.

Knowing all of this, I’m hardly qualified to teach another lawyer (let alone a group of them) about tried-and-true practice-building tips. After all, my practice is still not complete. It may not be for many, many years. Ask me again in 2020, when the practice hits the decade mark. I might be ready. In the profession, I’m still baking.

Clearly, Avvo is promoting false hopes and fundamentally flawed perceptions on what it takes to achieve success from individuals who lack the necessary stability and wisdom to be mentors. We see this tactic repeatedly from the legal prosperity gospel, just one degree of separation from the charlatans at a pulpit on TV who say that some supreme being will bring riches and success and happiness. They are the extension of those who preached from tents in poor communities, preying on those who were scared, desperate, and alone. The legal prosperity gospel does the same in our community. The people who push these ideas and target the weak are disgusting, no matter how wide their smile, how nice their hair, or how fancy their words.

I’ve seen lawyers fall for these tactics. I’ve seen them suffer. It makes me sad and pissed off. That’s why you’re getting some of my time today. Though, you don’t deserve it.

Avvo, you had a shot at making a difference. You blew it. Now, you’ve transitioned to trying to build a herd that is willing to hear your impassioned speeches and pull the largest denomination from their wallets and place them in your collection plate. It is disgusting. Have you never taken the time to watch “Marjoe.” You could learn something. People can’t feed families on BS. They can’t build relationships with clients on BS. They can’t cultivate a respectable professional practice on BS.

So why are you shoveling it by the ton? And allowing others to do it in your name?

No answer is necessary. Don’t waste your time on a little fish like me. I get it. The legal prosperity gospel drives business, and lots of it. They’re all waiting there, wallets open. Just take whatever bill you want.


6 thoughts on “AVVOcalypse Now

  1. I think this is a TERRIFIC blog! AVVO should be reported to the bar association as false advertising. I tried having an account with the a few years ago. Never paid much attention to upping my rating, and got zero referrals from the site for a year. What they don’t tell those seeking information on their site (or the lawyers they market to) is that the highest rated attorneys, the ones who pop up in search engines, are the ones who are paying for it. Also, once you “accept” your entry, you can’t get off. So, if you decide the referral service isn’t worth the money or the time, you end up being shown with a lower rating than those who are paying them, regardless of skill or experience, or scrambling to keep up with it — spending hours and and a lot of social capital with friends’ endorsements trying to get the rating up! I hate asking people for endorsements, and that’s what you have to do. AVVO’s business model is similar to “Pay me or I’ll damage your reputation!”
    Sad about Alexis. She is seeking commercial leverage through marketing, and there’s nothing wrong with teaching and supporting a business model, I guess; but marketing to lawyers is not the practice of law, and AVVO doesn’t include full disclosure as part of its business model. They never told me you couln’t get off once you accept your account.
    Sitting at the breakfast table this morning a friend suggested a Facebook page called “The Truth About AVVO”. Maybe a #AVVO Twitter hashtag….
    Thanks for this clear indictment of AVVO!

  2. Excellent blog post; excellent comment. We now have one more reason why no lawyer should EVER claim his/her profile with Avvo. It just isn’t worth it. If Frank starts his suggested Facebook page, I will “like” it and share it.

  3. The bulbous warts have been photoshopped out. Avvoricious is just a bonus.

    I’m off to buy a flower and a push-up bra. Go, LAW!

  4. P.S. Please don’t ever stop writing this blog. It’s made me feel completely at peace about my own son’s choice to avoid a legal career.

  5. You have done an excellent post. I was despondent for hours. Mighty glad to be near the end of my career.
    Carry on!

  6. How did I miss this when it was first published? Great post. Having integrity – what a concept. It’s been too long since I’ve seen this as a theme anywhere online, or covered it myself. Thanks for a long, long overdue reminder.

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