We’ve updated our Terms of Use: Take a look under the hood

Posted in Avvo

Businesses evolve, and so should their Terms of Use. At Avvo, we provide the largest online legal marketplace to consumers and attorneys. Our Terms have the onus of reflecting the breadth of services we offer and the users we offer them to. We recently put our heads to the task of upgrading the dispute resolution segment of our Terms. What follows is the highlights and rationale behind the changes.

To litigate or not to litigate?

Our assessment of this question landed us somewhere along the “it depends” continuum. What works at the start of a dispute may not work further down the path. What works for an attorney might not be the right solution for a consumer. With this in mind, we set the following landmarks:

Informal dispute resolution

We decided that the resolution of any dispute a consumer or attorney might have with Avvo should start informally. Everyone benefits if things get sorted out in a straightforward and timely way. If we have a disagreement, let’s first try to work it out. We’ve drafted our Terms to require that everyone first try to resolve things informally. We expect that most disputes can be resolved at this stage, with minimal friction.

When to arbitrate

For those disputes that can’t be resolved informally, we looked at the options and decided that arbitration offers an attractive alternative to litigation. As with informal dispute resolution, we value efficiency and practicality in resolving disputes. In many instances, arbitration leap-frogs the cumbersome procedural roadblocks present in litigation. Let’s get down to brass tacks and save everyone’s time and money! We assessed the various flavors of arbitration and settled on JAMS for the experience, breadth, and depth they bring to the table. They have a proven track record and high resolution rate. Everyone benefits from a smooth and easy process to resolution

When to litigate

While the vast majority of disputes are best dealt with informally or through arbitration, we recognized the need to offer divergent paths for certain scenarios. We have included a bucket of exceptions to cover these. A brief tour:

  • Either party has the option to bring a qualifying small claims action to small claims court.
  • Avvo reserves the right to sue for injunctive relief if someone abuses our Services, or infringes on our IP.
  • When arbitration is inapplicable or unenforceable.
  • When a party has opted-out of arbitration in advance per the provision in our Terms allowing this.

Did you say opt out?

Why yes, we did. We see things a certain way, and like any online business, require our users to follow our Terms to use our platform. However, we know some of you might strongly oppose mandatory arbitration. Fear not, you may exercise your right to opt out of the arbitration provision in our Terms by writing us within 30 days. Onward.

Class actions

Class actions generally work out a lot better for class counsel than they do for class members. For example, in the recent iOS address book deal, class members are receiving 53 cents each, while the coffers of class counsel are getting $1.5 million larded on. We love lawyers and generally like to see them get paid. But when it comes to claims against Avvo, we’d rather just resolve disputes fairly and efficiently with individuals. Thus, our updated terms prohibit class actions.

The road ahead

Building a dispute process into our Terms was an informative journey. Avvo has never been sued by a consumer, and the few disputes we’ve had with lawyers have largely related to our First Amendment-protected publishing activities. So the process we have built is not informed by any history of disputes with our customers and users. But having our dispute process laid out will make clearer – particularly to consumers – how Avvo can be approached if there is a dispute. It will also allow us to focus on providing the best possible consumer legal marketplace.

If you have thoughts, questions, or other feedback we’d love to hear it. Write to us at legal@avvo.com.