Save the Connecticut 5?
Yet the Connecticut Disciplinary Counsel, in its Order of Probable Cause and Complaint (H/T to Ben Glass of Great Legal Marketing for publicizing the order) against five innocent lawyers who participated in the Total Bankruptcy.com cooperative advertising website (one lawyer for just a scant two months) thinks otherwise - that John and Jane Consumers are really John and Jane Morons. To the Connecticut Disciplinary Counsel, systems like TotalAttorneys subject consumers to "corrupt" and "abusive" practices (Order at 13), "capitalizes on the financially insecure consumer's fear of debt, poor credit rating and shame" and "intrude on the "sacred territory between lawyers and their clients." (Order at 14).Since I'm not a regular aficionado of marketing blogs, and most of them try to shut the door when they see me coming since I rarely have nice things to say about them, it's no surprise that I hadn't heard of the plight of these "five innocent lawyers." I had, however, been aware of the Connecticut Disciplinary Counsel's investigation of Total Attorneys.
Carolyn has offered a paradigm of John and Jane Consumers enjoying the benefits of access to lawyers through Total Attorneys, and challenged the Disciplinary Counsel's actions because no consumers were hurt in the making of this marketing strategy. That's one way to look at it. Here's another.
You’re a lawyer. You receive a telephone call from a for-profit company offering to feed you clients who visit the company’s web site seeking legal help. In exchange, you pay a fee for every consumer who contacts you. The company markets itself as a lawyer advertising site and claims the fee is used to cover operational costs and support services. But disciplinary officials, in Connecticut at least, think the agreement might be an example of paying for referrals, which is a felony offense in the state. The question of what constitutes ethical and legal Internet advertising of attorney services is back in the spotlight after local grievance panels recently found probable cause against two Connecticut attorneys who entered into business agreements with a Chicago-based company.
Of course, the focus is on Total Attorneys rather than the lawyers who put aside good judgment to become a party to this scheme. I agree with Carolyn that the Connecticut 5 are being made the scapegoats for a much, much larger problem. I don't care for scapegoating, and don't see how one can distinguish what these five lawyers have done from what is happening across the country with Total Attorneys and others, a whole industry that has arisen to feed cases to desperate lawyers under some variation of fee splitting.
But the real problem is captured best in a comment to Carolyn's post:
Tracy Thrower Conyers - November 3, 2009 4:49 PM
Forget about all those cannons of ethics,codes of professional responsibility. That was so yesterday, so client-centric. We're now in the age of Web 2.0, and it's all about how technology can be used for lawyers to hear the sound of cha-ching. Our new ethos is profit, and our only discipline is doing whatever we have to do to get it.
There is a war being fought right in front of us. On one side is a tidal wave of newly established lawyer marketing businesses, deluging us with the promise of clients, money and success. On the other is the stodgy old world of hard work, competence and dignity. The problem with the latter is that it offers no promise of making the practitioner's telephone ring. The marketers think they are very dignified, and take umbrage at the suggestion that their hair extensions are askew. Given the range of miniskirts available to marketers, some certainly are far more dignified than others. That's feint praise.
The other side of equation is exemplified by my good buddy, Dan Hull at What About Clients? Despite Dan's having suffered horrendous disfigurement in an unfortunate kiln explosion as an undergrad, he's never forgotten as a lawyer that his only justification for accepting a dime is to serve his clients. And that dime can never be shared with any marketer, any business, for routing consumers his way. They come to him because of his reputation for skilled lawyers and his dedication to client service.
This battle has nothing to do with the five lawyers in Connecticut who have been placed in the town square to be used as examples of what will happen to you by succumbing to the lure of the marketers. This is a huge battle, taking place everywhere and clouding the eyes of otherwise good, but hungry, lawyers who have been blinded to the meaning of professionalism by the nagging pain in their bellies.
I cannot agree with Carolyn's assessment that businesses like Total Attorneys are benign. They are a cancer in the legal profession, and one that happily infects far too many lawyers who are desperate for business. But I do agree that the five lawyers in Connecticut shouldn't be flogged as the scapegoats for this much bigger problem. We must deal with the disease, not the symptom. Free the Connecticut 5! Total Attorneys is another story.
11/5/2009 5:38 PM
uberVU - social comments wrote:
This post was mentioned on Twitter by montserratlj: Legal ethics in a Web 2.0 world. Save the Connecticut 5? (@ScottGreenfield): http://bit.ly/2uV12Z