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Tuesday, June 5, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hiring a lawyer? Avvo can help you

Seattle Times technology reporter

Avvo, a Seattle-based startup that has raised $13 million in venture capital, is unveiling its plans after working quietly for the past 16 months.

Founder Mark Britton, former Expedia general counsel, said the company is launching a Web site today designed to be a resource for consumers looking for a lawyer.

"There's no established brand in the legal industry," Britton said.

"When you are looking for a book, there's Amazon; when travel, you have Expedia; for jobs, there's Monster; and when it comes to search, there's Google. But when it comes to legal, there's nothing."

The company claims to list every licensed attorney in Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington.

For each listing, the site will provide the practitioner's specialty, such as bankruptcy, patents, tax or divorce, and whether the lawyer has ever received any disciplinary sanctions.

Clients will be able to post comments about their experience with the lawyer, and Avvo will provide its own rating on a scale from 1 to 10.

A rating of 1 means "extreme caution, and 10 stands for "superb."

Lawyers will be able to fill in only a portion of their profile.

Britton would not specify what exactly makes up the Avvo rating but said it takes into account experience, professional achievements and disciplinary sanctions. He himself is rated 8 for "Excellent."

Use of the site will be free. The company expects future revenue to come from advertising on the site.

Avvo is derived from the word avvocato, which is Italian for attorney.

Britton hatched the idea for the company while biking the coast of Italy with his friend, former Expedia Chief Executive Rich Barton.

Barton is now the founder and CEO of his own Seattle startup, Zillow.com, which estimates the price of homes.

A peek at Avvo's beta site reveals a company that's a cross between Expedia and Zillow.

For instance, when conducting a lawyer search, the user can type in a practice area and location. The results look similar to a list of flights and prices on Expedia.

Like Zillow, Avvo gets most of its information from publicly available sources. But in both cases, those sources are difficult for the average consumer to find and can be inconsistent across states.

"We polled over 2,000 consumers, and we were amazed at how lost they were in the process of selecting a lawyer," Britton said. "Only 17 percent of the people said it was easy to find detailed information."

Barton, a member of Avvo's board and a venture partner of Benchmark Capital, one of Avvo's investors, said Avvo could be controversial among lawyers, similar to how real-estate agents criticized Zillow's price estimates.

"We are taking what was dark and making it light. It will be controversial," Barton said.

"Zillow is provocative, and this will be provocative," he said. "I see that as a great thing. Something that makes the industry a little uncomfortable probably means you are on to something interesting."

Avvo, which has about 15 employees, has raised $13 million in capital from Benchmark and Ignition Partners.

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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