An email arrived last Monday from Lawyer.com with the title “Potential Client – Action Requested by Tuesday 9.00 AM.” Adrian forwarded the one he got to me shortly afterwards with a message saying “blog fodder?” I really didn’t want to write about it, but I now feel compelled.
Apparently, the “Lawyer.com Listing” I didn’t know I had “generated a Potential Criminal Client.” Clicking through took me to a page where information about the “client” was posted. It was someone with questions about something old on his criminal record, and he wanted a consultation.
I would’ve ignored it had I not gotten another one. The second one was from a family member of another potential “client” and provided the guy’s full name and jail location as well as information about the charges.
Each time, I clicked through to find some sort of timer about how long I had to respond as well as information about the half dozen lawyers who had already accessed the “referral.” I was too late and it said “Access Limit Reached” by the time I went back to each in order to make sure I had my facts straight for this post. Luckily, each “referral” page gave me the option “Upgrade to Premium Now.” Clicking through again, I found the premium option was just shy of a hundred bucks a month.
A domain name like Lawyer.com can’t be cheap. I don’t doubt that desperate lawyers inundated the service strutting to the front of the line to fight for the opportunity to snatch up an online “client” before anyone else. I don’t doubt the site will work their Avvo-copycat model in a way that scores a few dollars from desperate lawyers too. What I doubt is the direction our profession and society in general are going.
Someone seeking a consultation about an old conviction is more likely than not a waste of a five minutes on the phone. I know that because I’ve been doing this for a few years. Someone who posts sensitive information to an online form is probably the sort of person who doesn’t adequately value the advice of a competent professional. Again, that’s something I figured out pretty quickly in my short time as a lawyer.
The fact that lawyers rush to engage these people after receiving unsolicited marketing emails about their crappy cases tells me we’re in a dark place as a profession. The real question is whether the seedy world of online lawyer marketing is a reflection of the massive onslaught of desperate young lawyers seeking business primarily through their computers or of a decline of the profession as a whole. I can’t answer it, but the fact I’m even asking is a problem.
I’d like to think that my self-respect makes me want to feel like I’m a part of an honorable group of people committed to the service of those in need. It may just be my ego or an inflated sense of self-worth, but either way I take issue with the idea that I might be nothing more than a delusional member of a giant pack of jackals scavenging for prey online.
It probably is my ego giving me concerns, as the idea of getting a client simply by virtue of being listed someplace without my consent is insulting. Clients don’t have to be difficult to make me happy, but getting them should be tough. You shouldn’t just stick up a website, wait for Avvo and Lawyer.com to notice you, and wait for the cash to roll in.
Lawyer.com is just another nail in the coffin for the dignity of the profession, and I know for sure that a significant number of lawyers clicked through and helped to contribute to its moral demise.