The best thing that happened to this Seattle startup after it launched? Getting sued

By Rachel Lerman, published on The Business Journals.

Not many startups are happy to be facing a major lawsuit in their first year of business. It's scary, it takes up massive resources and time, and, depending on the suit, could even put the company out of business.

But for Seattle-based Avvo, it turned out to be good for business.

Avvo publishes ratings of lawyers using publicly available information online. It rates lawyers based on past experience, schools attended, awards, sanctions and other factors.

The company was sued in 2007, its first year, by prominent lawyer John Henry Browne for its attorney ratings system and publication of state bar records.

"It was a frightening time," founder and CEO Mark Britton said. "These were media-savvy lawyers who called everyone who had done press on us and told them something not true."

Then something good happened. Avvo won the suit, and the Wall Street Journal published an editorial saying the service was good for consumers.

"For those shopping for legal counsel, an online rating service might at least provide some measure of transparency in an otherwise opaque profession," the editorial reads.

That high-level (good) publicity at such an early stage of the company was huge, Britton said.

The service saw a significant spike in traffic.

Avvo now employs 231 people, has raised more than $60 million and more than 190,000 lawyers participate in its service. Avvo says 97 percent of U.S. lawyers have rankings on the site.

If you're in a business where your primary customers are lawyers, you have to expect to get sued. A lot.

Avvo has been sued several times, and threatened even more, but those suits have basically disappeared in the last three years, Britton said.

The courts have decided at least three times, by dismissal or ruling, that Avvo has the right to post ratings of lawyers online.

Now, when someone threatens to sue, the company sends over the outcomes of the last three cases.

Avvo opens up the law profession to consumers, Britton said. It offers on-demand legal advice, lawyer ratings and reviews and a question-and-answer feature.

"We have a consumer focus that gives them more information and better guidance," Britton said. "It builds relationships with legal professionals in the way it should be."

The company's newest feature, Avvo Advisor, allows consumers to chat with a lawyer in their area within 15 minutes for a flat $39 fee, just by pushing a button on an app.

Source: The Business Journals

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