Recently I have been barraged with numerous requests to join "new" legal communities of various kinds, all of which have gotten very favorable treatment in the press. For example, this NYT article about a new site where you can upload and download briefs etc., jdsupra.com, almost reads like a press release:
Maybe this will work, I don't know. But color me skeptical, based on my review of the documents uploaded to the site, many of them by right-wing think tank The Cato Institute and, oddly, Morrison Foerster. There are some interesting things on there, to be sure. And if it takes off then it will be much more useful than it is at present. For right now, however, it may be more trouble than it's worth.
But free legal information for consumers who want to do some research before they visit a lawyer is far less broadly available on the Web. Now services are appearing that may make it easier for consumers to do their own preliminary homework on legal issues in advance of seeking help from a professional.
JDSupra.com, a new site, is stocking a free, virtual law library by persuading lawyers to do something highly unusual: to post examples of their legal work online for use by one and all, no strings attached. Many of the documents are articles and newsletters that can be understood by ordinary mortals who want more background on a legal issue, or who would like to find lawyers with expertise in a particular area.
It works like this: Lawyers who contribute to JD Supra dip into their hard drives for articles, court papers, legal briefs and other tidbits of their craft. They upload the documents, as well as a profile of themselves that is linked to each document. Site visitors who have a legal problem and are thinking about finding a lawyer can use an easily searchable database to look up, say, “trademark infringement,” find related documents and, if they like the author’s experience and approach, perhaps click on his or her profile.
Contributing lawyers get publicity and credit for the socially useful act of adding to a public database, and visitors get free information, said Aviva Cuyler, a former litigator in Marshall, Calif., who founded the business. “People will still need attorneys,” Ms. Cuyler said. “We are not encouraging people to do it themselves, but to find the right people to help them.”
Then there's avvo.com, which Rumpy had previously discussed and which was lovingly profiled in the Herald a few days ago:
This one has possibilities, I guess, but right now it's a bit hard for me to evaluate its utility, given the crowded field in which it operates. Maybe the right course it to wait this out some, and see who is left standing and who establishes credibility over the long run.
Launched last summer in nine states and Washington, D.C., the website debuted in Florida this month. Its ambitious plan: to publish numerical ratings on every Sunshine State lawyer, whether the lawyers like it or not. That's more than 70,000.
Users can sort through hundreds of local lawyers' profiles using a variety of criteria -- legal specialty, disciplinary record, customer reviews, rating -- or simply verify the credentials of one attorney, all for free. Lawyers can pad their bare-bones, automated profiles at no cost.
''We may not be the first kid on the block, but we're the first that really has the consumer in mind,'' CEO Mark Britton, 41, said.
Indeed, it's a crowded marketplace. Competitors include Best Lawyers in America, Leading American Attorneys, Florida Trend's Legal Elite, Florida Super Lawyers, Law and Leading Attorneys, and the grandparent of them all, Martindale-Hubbell's rating service. Passing judgment on people who litigate for a living is risky, too. Avvo (short for avvocato, the Italian word for lawyer) was only 10 days old last year when two Seattle attorneys sued, claiming their ratings were inaccurate.
This January, the Florida Bar's advertising committee voted unanimously to prohibit attorneys here from advertising their Avvo ratings, ethics counsel Elizabeth Clark Tarbert said. It reversed that decision this month.
But Britton and his brood -- 22 staffers in Seattle, plus contractors in China and India -- say their product is different. Avvo evaluates all lawyers, not just the top tier. Attorneys can ignore it, but they can't opt out. It rates lawyers anywhere from 1.0 (extreme caution) to 10 (superb) using an ''unbiased,'' secret mathematical model that weighs many factors, including law school attended, years of practice, disciplinary history, peer endorsements, published articles, awards, leadership roles and recognition from competing services, such as Best Lawyers. Clients can post comments, too, though the rating system ignores them.