Shpoonkle By Any Other Name (Update)

The name is absolutely awful.  The concept far worse.  And the question remains, which of you will rush to join Shpoonkle, the eBay of lawyering.

The concept is simple enough, people seeking legal help post their issues, and lawyers bid for the work.  The limbo concept applies, how low can you go. 

It’s founder(s), facially anonymous though, according to Susan Cartier Liebel, it was created by an “entrepreneurial law student” (but she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings by telling him his baby is butt ugly), who sees a chance to make money by claiming to offer affordable legal services to the masses by having lawyers bid against each other to see who can offer their services cheapest.

Any lawyer who signs up for this service should be immediately disbarred, then tarred and feathered, then publicly humiliated.  It doesn’t matter how awful a lawyer you are, how pathetic your business, how grossly incapable you may be in getting any client to retain you.  Those are all good reasons to apply for the assistant manager’s position at Dairy Queen.  This is worse.

Aside:  If you require further explanation why this is not a responsible means of acquiring business, then I urge to run, not walk, to the nearest street corner in short shorts.  This is not at issue.

The putative explanation for this effort is that legal services are too expensive for most people, and this ugly-named website will match up clients with lawyers who can provide the needed legal services for a price they can afford.  It is the elevation of price over quality, on the one hand, but for consumers who can’t find an affordable lawyer otherwise, that may not be the worst thing.  There is certainly an argument to be made that no lawyer is better than a bad lawyer, and that money paid to a bad lawyer is money flushed down the toilet.

Rather, the concept is a perfectly reasonable next step to the de-professionalization of legal services, where the purchase of legal services is no different than buying a widget at the big box store for the lowest available price.  From the perspective of the cost-sensitive consumer, it probably seems like a great idea.  The client isn’t concerned with the lawyer’s actual (as opposed to self-attributed) competence in a particular area of law or in general.  The client wants one thing only: a lawyer willing to do the work at a price he can afford.

When a friend of mine brought this idea to my attention yesterday, I snarkily responded:

I’m sure it will be a huge success and make lawyers financially available to all Americans for a relatively brief period of time.  Once all the users are imprisoned, we can go back to normal.

The fact remains that there will be lawyers who will use this service, no matter how low they have to go to put a few bucks in their pocket.  When the phone doesn’t ring, and the kids are hungry for dinner again, something has to give.  People do a lot of crazy things for money, and as crazy things go, this isn’t even in the top ten.

By no means does the need for money make this a justifiable mechanism.  It is anathema to what the legal profession is supposed to stand for, implicates a wide variety of unpleasant ethical considerations and reflects a further step, maybe giant step, away from excellence toward commodity.  Yet my fear is that the lawyers who would sign up for this mutt couldn’t care less.

That many people are incapable of affording quality legal services is a given.  Lawyers are expensive, and the need for legal assistance has, unfortunately, become pervasive in everyday life.  People take a huge risk not obtaining counsel.  They take a huge risk in obtaining counsel at bargain basement rates.  It seems like there’s a huge risk no matter where they turn.

The need to resolve the overarching problem, that quality legal counsel is financially out of reach to many, is a problem, and the legal profession has yet to make any serious effort to come to grips with it.  The solution of flooding the market with lawyers of dubious merit and even more dubious ethics isn’t the solution, but neither is bizarrely-named schemes that encourage lawyers to do anything necessary to score a case from some detached name on the internet.

I find it hard to blame some anonymous entrepreneurial law student from putting together this horrible idea.  He’s just trying to make a buck, and the creation of this new concept doesn’t compel lawyers to sign up, lawyers to outbid each other to see how low they can go, lawyers to try to glom up cases in areas where they lack competency or lawyers to provide less than stellar services.  It doesn’t require that things go horribly wrong.  But we all know they will.

On the other hand, this idea offers lawyers yet another opportunity to assess just how down and dirty we want the profession to go.  Are we really willing to don the hotpants and walk the boulevard?  Are we that far off from actually doing so?  Are we willing to close our eyes and let those among us do so, and thereby reduce our profession to the streetwalker level?

It’s now in our face.  What do we plan to do about it?



Update:  Proving yet again the value of institutional memory,  Bob Ambrogi notes that the idea behind  Shpoonkle is not only old news, but has failed numerous times before.



Way back in 2006, I wrote a post here about the launch of just such a site. Called Tip-Mart, it promised that its reverse-auction system “eliminates extraordinary market inefficiencies, drives down prices, increases sales, and provides new value to both buyers and sellers.” Coincidentally, it too was created by a college student who believed he had the next new thing. Today, the site no longer exists.


Another such site went by the name LawyerQuotesFast.com (and also by the name LawyersForLess.com). This one, too, is no longer to be found.


As a matter of fact, there was even once a law review article written about reverse-auction sites for legal services. At the time, the author noted that there were six such sites when she finished her first draft of the article, but that two had already shut down by the time the article was ready for publication and a third had abandoned its auction component.


And while none of the failed predecessors had great names, none were nearly as horrible as this mutt.  Bob asks where now is the time for nasty lawyers to strut down the boulevard.  If there is a God, history will repeat itself.

98 comments on “Shpoonkle By Any Other Name (Update)

  1. Sean

    I have to agree that the name is absolutely terrible. Its gibberish- how are people supposed to know how to even pronounce it, let alone remember what it stands for. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue either. If this site flounders I think the creator will have no one to blame but himself for the simple reason that he has distinguished himself with the most ill-conceived name in the history of business.

    However, that being said, I also agree that there will still be desperate lawyers who do use this service, especially in this economy. As rotten as it makes the profession look (I mean, can you imagine trying to obtain medical services this way?), it will still be used.

  2. SHG

    I had serious trouble getting past the name.  After throwing up in my mouth a little, I forced it down and wrote.  That experience, however, leads me to never attempt to speak the name again. I don’t care for vomit.

  3. Terry Owens

    [Edit. Note:  Apologies for what follows, but I want to share with those of you unfamiliar with the glamorous world of blawging the sort of love notes that come across out path. I've eliminated the coding and URLs, but left the content intact for your enjoyment.  Warning: Rough language ahead.]

    wow. i cant believe what a suck me fuck me gay fest this is. i cant beleive i just wasted my time reading this. “its gibberish”, then what the fuck is google? if bootylicious can make it into the fucking dictionary why are you hating on this idea? both of you gay buttfucking uncles need to go get a hold of eachother and fuck eachother until your tension or anxiety is gone. if its as bad as you say it is, then let it die. and by the way, ive never seen a self proclaimed legal advice giver have so many spelling errors in a post. have some professional courtesy to yourself you dumbass. and by the way you commie fag, “While it is often claimed that some jurisdictions within the U.S., such as California, expressly indicate that “Esq.” is for use by lawyers only, what those states actually provide is that using the title “Esquire” is one among many factors that, in certain circumstances, may be taken as evidence that someone is falsely claiming to be a licensed member of the bar.”
    get rid of your gay title. its dated and makes you look like a complete noncompoop to me. and in case you dont know what that means or you need to look it up since you cant seem to think an original thought, just know that it means that your words are useless and since they are, that makes you useless so do us all a favor and go kill yourself. and by the way, your site is broken and looks shitty. who uses a blue background anymore? get real you broke back bitch.

  4. Antonin I. Pribetic

    The website name reflects the value of the business model. That said, bottom-feeding among the legal profession remains for the ambulance chasers, traffic court strollers, and basement office dwellers. In my recent experience from the civil side, in-house counsel and corporate clients are tending to make RFPs or budget quotes for commercial litigation files. I don’t have any problem with bidding for new work: if someone else is willing to do it for less, more power to them. It does remind me of a recent file where our client’s former law firm tried to justify their higher fee rate and accounts by referring to our firm as “less expensive counsel.” That’s a great euphemism for calling someone cheaper.

  5. Drew

    Horrible name. However, the site is not for lawyers, in my undertsanding its for clients who do not know how to go about retaining a lawyer, nonetheless an affordable one in their price range. I think lawyers will have no choice to join. As there are an abundance of lawyers out their. Law Office of one or two person, with all do respect just got some more potential business.

  6. SHG

    It takes two to tango, both lawyer and client.  To the client, it’s sold as cheap lawyers.  To the lawyers, it’s sold as available cash.  And to the scum of the profession, it’s a way to fill those empty hours because no client who knows how bad a lawyer you are will hire you.

    Does that strike you as a way to help clients?

  7. SHG

    The only aspect of what you’re talking about and this debacle is that both use the word “bidding.”  Neither the concepts nor application bear any other resemblance.

  8. Robert G. Niznik

    I’m not surprised that some lawyers are reacting negatively to Shpoonkle.com and the idea of affordable legal representation. What professional wants someone else providing the same service at a better price? But that’s our free enterprise system at work and competition always brings out the best in people—even lawyers.

    The fact is that most Americans can’t afford the average $284 hourly rate attorneys charge. When we at Shpoonkle talk about “affordable legal services,” we don’t mean services of a lower quality. Our aim is to help bring about more realistic pricing that’ll extend the benefits of legal representation to a new market comprising thousands of Americans.

    Although Mr. Greenfields blog is entitled “Simple Justice,” I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you that justice is anything but simple. If lawyers charged less than $284 an hour and took 20 percent instead of the usual 33 percent contingency fee—and dare I say, even did pro-bono work—this would not, as he says, lead to the “de-professionalization of legal services.” Far from it. On the contrary, it would bring the legal profession to an even higher level, where everyone can have access to legal representation, even those that previously were not be able to afford it. (And aren’t those the very people who are usually most in need of a good lawyer?)
     
    Given the low regard lawyers are held, any move toward a more democratic legal process should be applauded and not condemned. Perhaps someday when hearing the famous quote from Henry VI—The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers—a young person will ask: “Why would anyone want to do that?”

    Robert Niznik, Founder and CEO of Shpoonkle.com

  9. SHG

    A nice simplistic argument, as one might expect from someone with little grasp of the legal profession (and Shakespeare), but one of little merit ot lawyers.  Robert, you aren’t going to persuade lawyers. Your writing is childlike marketing nonsense, obvious and silly.  You may, however, find that the bottom feeders, the losers, the incompetent and unethical will flock to any place where they can scam people into giving them money.

    You’ve miscalculated.  It’s understandable, given your lack of subject matter grasp, but cut the crap about democratizing law.  Save that for your marketing to the village idiots.  And start coming up with a viable excuse for all the poor clients out there who will suffer horribly for your effort to make some money for yourself.

    I’m not surprised that some kid is reacting negaitvely to criticism of his ugly baby.  That free enterprise too.

  10. Thomas R. Griffith

    Sir, if it grows do you see a future flood of Ineffective Assistance claims with a side of plea-bargain madness?

    To me it just looks like an opportunity for Divorce & Will lawyers/attorneys to gobble up aggravated robbery clients and take it all the way to lunch recess. Do you, the profession as a whole, or the courts have a problem with them dabbling? Thanks.

  11. SHG

    If this grows, it could produce nightmarish harm to many poor, unsuspecting people.  Whether that would result in IAC is another issue, since they got what they asked for, the cheapest lawyer possible.

  12. Bill Million

    After reading the comments here it seems that you, SHG, have the most problem with shpoonkle.com. It seems that anyone who jumps to total rabid criticism without a complete understanding of the subject- the pluses and minuses-has no right being heard. You wrote of the bottom feeder attorneys…who knows who’s a real,honest attorney with integrity? Just because you charge exorbitant fees that the average Joe with legal problems can’t afford doesn’t mean I can trust you. I think you’re most worried that shpoonkle.com will drive down the fees that you can charge and you’ll have to pursue an honest living. Shpoonkle.com doesn’t seem to me a site to find a CHEAP lawyer- it’s a site to find one that is AFFORDABLE to more than 10% of Americans.I read your blogs and reply’s and you managed to insult everyone involved- the attorneys who might use the site (to get business that they might never be able to find without huge advertising budgets so they can feed their families, etc), potential clients that are in need of legal services that are priced out of their range, and the creator of shpoonkle.com whom is only trying something new to help everyone concerned. I already signed up for shpoonkle.com. Maybe you should sign up- get yourself a case to work on, actually help someone in this life, and take time off from being an over-critical hack without one original thought.

  13. SHG

    And here comes the astroturfers.  If there was any doubt that this was garbage, you just sealed the deal.  Nobody but a scammer needs to astroturf.

    Enjoy, Robert Niznik, Founder andCEO.  The rest go in the trash, but I let this one post so that readers here will have conclusive proof what sort of a business you’re running.

  14. Shawn McManus

    It seems that law is facing the challenges that just about every other *cough* well paid profession faces.

    Though it might appeal to the bottom feeders, it does address the problem of legal counsel being out of reach of many people.

    My money is on legalzoom buying it or some incantation of it in a few years. I’m thinking this will become “ok” for things like wills of small estates and – as in the video – uncontested divorces.

    “You got lawyaw, new yawk? Me represent you long time.”

  15. SHG

    I suspect you’re right.  Although for the will and uncontested divorces, the bottom feeders are already there at $99 and a prayer that they don’t completely screw it up with fill in the blank forms.

    What’s pathetic is that this is the sort of crap that will fill the void because lawyers won’t address the core issue of affordable legal service.  We ignore it, and the scum fills the gap.

  16. Eric L. Mayer

    Let’s not complain. Instead, let’s engage in aggressive one-upmanship.

    Here’s what we’ll do, Scott. We can form a site dedicated to free lawyer advice. Lawyers sign-up to give free advice. It will all be for free, and, therefore, we take care of the little guy out there with legal maladies.

    How will you pay the mortgage and keep the Healey running?

    Easy. It’s all about volume.

    Plus, I heard the blood bank is paying $10 per pint.

  17. SHG

    You know, the funny part is that I have no direct horse in this race either way.  I don’t get my clients from Walmart, so it’s no skin off my nose to watch the bottom feeders scramble.  But I do care about what we’re doing to the profession. 

    I’ve had the same problems with the free advice sites like Avvo Answers (yes, I know they don’t actually give any free advice and it’s useless, worthless, and mostly wrong, but people still think they’re getting free advice instead of lawyer advertising), which also purport to send rainbows and flowers to clients while leaving them worse off than when they started.

    But this mutt is something else. It’s a disaster waiting to happen, and it most assuredly will.

    The blood bank pays $10 a pint?  That’s pretty good…

  18. Antonin I. Pribetic

    I’m sure you’re familiar with the following joke (credited to Sir Winston Churchill and also George Bernard Shaw):

    “Churchill: Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?
    Socialite: My goodness, Mr. Churchill… Well, I suppose… we would have to discuss terms, of course…
    Churchill: Would you sleep with me for five pounds?
    Socialite: Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!
    Churchill: Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.”

    Let’s not pretend that the profession of law and the craft of cooperage do not both require someone to scrape the bottom of the barrel.

    BTW, did you notice that the website does not identify or publicize which attorneys have signed up to enter the auction? I suspect it’s because not even the most desperate, degenerate, or sub-moronic of lawyers would even bother. It’s much easier to buy Adrian Dayton’s books, signing up for a free legal directory listing and, of course, getting 1000s of followers on Twitter.

  19. John David Galt

    I’m sure that the site you refer to violates various state-specific rules about how lawyers ought to advertise — rules that mostly amount to a minimum-price cartel that protects established members of the profession at the expense of newcomers and of consumers. This is the main purpose and use of licensing laws in any profession, and I’m not surprised that the second-oldest profession has taken full advantage.

    But aside from those self-serving rules, can you explain to us laymen just why it is “unethical” for potential customers of attorneys to put their business up for bid? Or is that a stupid question?

    After all, it DOES seem like we’ve established what we are and are just arguing over the price now. :^)

  20. SHG

    It isn’t unethical for potential clients. They aren’t lawyers and aren’t subject to the ethical rules.  However, the lawyers are bidding (committing to properly and zealously represent) people in matters where they have inadequate and unreliable information, without having interviewed or ascertained the client’s needs. 

    As for the clients, it’s foolish to put their information/lives/problems on a website for any attorney to see (including opposing attorneys or attorneys who aren’t practicing but using it to gain access to people who might be targets for fraud, scams or even “legit” sales of undesired or inappropriate products) blind.  They don’t know who’s looking at their posts.

  21. mirriam

    I was just going to ask this – how do you bid when you don’t have all of the information? Most clients will say “it’s really simple” or “it was a mistake and I can fix it really quick” the next thing you know there are 4 additional charges plus immigration issues. Can you increase your fee when you find all of that out?

    And the issue again with posting the legal issues online for everyone to see, how can that be a good thing? Can you call the client before you bid? Can you establish that the client will trust you and that you can actually work together?

    I am so sad that this is what our profession has come to. It’s one thing to say hey, we need more affordable representation. It’s another to completely dismiss the human aspect of what we do. I don’t know, I can’t imagine not meeting my clients and giving each of us the opportunity to determine if they want to put their life in my hands. It’s kind of a big deal. Not that the cost isn’t, but lord, I’d tell them to go with the public defender before I’d have them go on a site like this to find a lawyer.

    We thought the marketing crap was bad before. We’ve really sunk to a whole new level. Although, they already do this on elance. The problem with E-lance is they take a fee.

  22. Drew

    Wait,

    When you get arrested or a traffic ticket, the individual gets 100-200 flyers in the mail soliciting work from attorneys. The ads say will take care of your problem for x amount of money.

    What is the difference here. Attorneys can save on stamps. This site may not be useful for the transaction of the NY Yankees or for those who get a traffic ticket or lose their security deposit or get an assualt charge, whose fathers or families have millions to take care of it. This is for those who have some money don’t want to use a public defender or go pro se, and can help attorneys find work!!??

  23. SHG

    You really don’t grasp the bottom feeder concept.  I’m not aware of people getting 100 flyers, or even 10 flyers, but there are a few who send flyers or letters.  Guess who they are?

    The ones doing it for a fixed fee are what we call the plead ‘em and weep guys, the ones who go into a case planning on one or two appearances and a quick plea to whatever is offered.  That’s not lawyering. That’s theft.  So are you really looking to take what little money people have and let unscrupulous lawyers take it from them and burn them in return? 

    It’s apparent that you don’t have the sligtest clue how lawyers work, and the spectrum of lawyers out there.  Ignorance, however, is a really bad reason (really, really bad) to rationalize a stupid idea.  Paying money to crap lawyers is no better than flushing it down the toilet.  If you want to flush your money down the toilet, feel free.

  24. John David Galt

    Thank you much for explaining, and I’m sorry if I sounded insulting. I’ll certainly think three times before going to sites like that.

  25. Ryan

    Not sure why this is such a big deal now – NOT a new concept: Elance.com, bidsfromlawyers.com, expertbids.com, bid4fees.co.uk, lawbidding.com, and more.

  26. SHG

    Not sure that it is either, except that this time it seems to be making more of a splash than before.  Or maybe, as Ambrogi points out, it will die a quick and brutally painful death, and no one will be forced to utter that hideous name again.

  27. Chuck

    What is the core issue of legal services and how do we address it? How could we take this idea and fix the problems you have listed so that some type of connection like this can help both lawyers and clients?

  28. SHG

    So many flawed assumptions in such a small space.  There is no “core issue,” but various issues, some related, some not.  How do we address them has proven to be an intractible problem for decades.  How could this idea fix the problems? It can’t.  Of the many “ideas,” this is one of the worst.  Just because some dopey clueless kid came up with an idea (and not even a novel one at that) doesn’t make it a good idea.  Just because there is a real problem with making legal services affordable doesn’t mean every boneheaded idea to do so if either good or worthy.

  29. Gregory Luce

    I’m surprised by the vehemence reserved for this. Bad idea? Maybe. The end of the profession as we know it? Doubtful. Should lawyers who use it be tarred, feathered, and immediately disbarred? You’re serious?

    You say one thing that really captures a fear, I suspect, at the heart of your post, and that is this: Shpoonkle “reflects a further step, maybe giant step, away from excellence toward commodity.” I’m afraid that train left a long time ago and people should stop weeping about its departure. But it’s not really “excellence” that is the victim of commoditization, though that’s certainly a side effect. It’s opacity. The previous opacity of the profession– the nature of the law, how it works and grinds on, and how much it will cost the client or consumer—is quickly giving way to commoditization and transparency. That’s not a bad thing, but it certainly is a scary thing for thousands of attorneys who depend on the inscrutable nature of the profession to set and maintain their prices.

    Shpoonkle has an absurd name and a pretty badly designed site. At its heart, it’s a fairly old concept looking for new investors. Who knows if it will attract those investors and succeed. I have my doubts, but not so much because of the model, primarily because of how it is being executed. If one of your points is that Schpoonkle reflects the coming apocalypse of the profession, it gives such a site too much credit and attorneys far too little resilience. For the coming apocalypse– if fearful lawyers want to call it that– you need to wait until Avvo expands its business model further or LegalZoom continues to link attorneys to inexpensively drafted automated documents. Or whatever else might be next. Ultimately, Shpoonkle is a little more precise than Craigs List, which is not new in the scheme of things. But it sure continues to scare the shit out of a lot of attorneys.

  30. SHG

    And I’m deeply saddened by your comment.  Not the pomposity or narcissim of your first paragraph, but the pathetic and shockingly wrong assertion about excellence in your sercond paragraph:

      I’m afraid that train left a long time ago and people should stop weeping about its departure.

    If you believe the excellence train has left, and we “should stop weeling about its departure,” then leave the law immediately and do anything else.  Just do not practice law.  I pity any client who has someone who thinks like your represent him.  As for the rest of us, don’t be so arrogant as to project your embrace of failure.  Excellence isn’t dead for me.  Just you.  Maybe that will give you a clue why it scares so many lawyers yet doesn’t seem to bother you too much.  The lawyers it scares believe in providing their clients with excellent service.  For you, it’s meaningless.

    This is the hope of Shpoonkle, that there are enough scummy lawyer like you who have neither pride nor desire for excellence.  And it’s the disgraces of my profession, like you, who give them hope.

  31. Gregory Luce

    Interesting. I was careful to say that “it’s not really ‘excellence’ that is the victim of commoditization, though that’s certainly a side effect. It’s opacity.”

    You lost the point and, for whatever odd reason you felt was necessary, referred to me as “scummy,” “arrogant,” a narcissist, and a disgrace to your profession, among a few other choice terms. Pretty funny if you ask me, but I’m sure you aren’t.

  32. SHG

    Interesting comes in different flavors.  What interests me is your inability to see what your comment said about you.  It doesn’t surprise me, as it’s common that people who rationalize away their professional obligations are incapable of seeing themselves realistically.  Your attitude is every bit as much of the problem with what’s become of lawyers as Shpoonkle.  If no one ever told you so before, then at least I did.

    Is it funny to you to be part of the devolution of a profession?  I don’t find it funny at all.

  33. Steve

    Let me take a stab at your opacity argument. What the fuck are you talking about? The nature of the law? Are you saying the solution is the law should be dumbed down so everyone can get it? Guess we all wasted our time and money going to law school, since any asshole should be able to get it.

    Transparency? Should we show clients our rent bills, computer costs, payroll, and how much our grocery bill is every week, to justify what we charge? If they don’t like the fee, they don’t have to pay it. But our costs don’t go down because they don’t want to pay what we charge. If a client doesn’t think it’s worth it, he’s free not to retain that lawyer, and the lawyer will not get the case. If a lawyer can’t get cases for the fees he charges, then the message is that he’s not worth as much as he thinks and he goes hungry. Where’s the opacity problem?

    We charge a flat fee. The client knows exactly what representation will cost, after we know what representation entails. How much more transparent does it get?

    Maybe you suffer from opacity problems, but that’s not our issue, and while stunts like Shpoonkle may suit your way of practicing, scraping the bottom of the barrel for whatever you can get, there’s nothing in it that suits mine.

  34. SHG

    Perhaps Gregory is referring to all the criminal defense lawyers getting filthy rich by taking advantage of the many criminal defendants with huge wads of cash to spend on their defense who are mislead into believing that the fees aren’t being used to pay to fuel up our yachts?

  35. Gregory Luce

    Guys, hate to pop your party balloon, but there are other areas of the law besides criminal defense. Just letting you know.

    I think I’ll go elsewhere for reasoned debate, without all the inexplicable anger. Yeesh. Thanks.

  36. Gregory Luce

    By the way, it’s the commodification train that left a long time ago, not the excellence train. But finer points have been lost on greater men.

  37. SHG

    Are you still of the belief that you get to come to a blawg, spew and blame the blawg for not bending to your overwhelming will?  And you still don’t grasp why I called you narcissistic?  It’s been a pleasure having you around.  Hope you find a nice happy place where everyone appreciates your brilliance.

  38. SHG

    A bit late on the spin attempt, but good try. Imagine how much more effective it would have been had it come three comments earlier.

    Addendum:  I see I’ve deeply hurt your feelings, prompting you to write  two  posts about how mean I am.  I’m sorry if I made you cry.  Good catch on my typos. 

  39. SHG

    Of course.  Why wouldn’t I?  You feel maligned and want to lash out at me, and that’s the nature of public discourse.  I have no problem with you going after me at all, though it would behoove you to do two things.  First, disclose that you aren’t a practicing lawyer, but a “practice development coordinator” (and tech enthusiast).  Second, that when you attack me, show the stones of using your own name rather than hiding behind a pseudonym regularly used by someone else.  It makes you seem petty and disingenuous.

    (I corrected for typos, since I now know that they matter a great deal to you and I wouldn’t want to further disappoint you.)

  40. Bruce Godfrey

    The reality is that attorneys already participate in auctions, just less efficient ones. Everytime I fee-quote to a client for a service, I am bidding. Clients are price conscious and there is no fundamental reason why individual clients should not be able to bid out work when price is a factor. Neither G-d nor the market owe us a living.

    Some of what we do IS nearly commodified. Sorry, it’s true. If you get paid $100.00 to print out a standard promissory note from your hard drive, change two names, two dates, one percentage rate and one principal note balance, you are providing a commodity. In our roles as advisers, we are not a commodity but there’s a reason why legalzoom.com is making money: they and we both sell a commodity. Not everything in a 5-star restaurant is filet mignon cooked to order; they also sell baked potatoes.

    For the sector of our work that IS already commodified, and the parts that legitimately should be by common sense, I have no problem with this site. As for disbarring attorneys and tarring and feathering them, I respectfully question the professionalism of these comments themselves, and suggest that they are beyond hyperbole.

  41. Franklin D

    How arrogant can you be? Wow, you are an objectionable character. You should be “tarred and feathered” for pandering to fear and threats as you throw sand into the wind. It is a good underlying idea that is already successful in other areas, ie rentacoder or guru. The internet changes all business, including insurance, stocks, and law. As some low level contract work goes away to distant shores, and computers reduce review projects, mortgages still exist and hungry lawyers compete on price. You have yourself to blame. Where has your leadership been in demanding the freeze in new law school construction. Where has your leadership been in calling for free or discount legal help for those with only modest financial means. Unless the $500/hr lawyers decrease fees or increase pro-bono, there are a lot of folks having to do pro se that might otherwise hire a lawyer. Is your resistance fear of the new, self-protection, fear of technology, or trying to shelter the golden goose? You should be dressed in a searsucker suit, chained to a table in central park, and forced to write landlord/tennant letters for the next hundred years.

  42. SHG

    As to your first point, when a client comes to you and you quote a fee, it’s not blind on either side.  The client has chosen you, and you have heard what the client wants and determined what the client needs. You quote on that basis, and either get the case or not if the client’s sole concern is price.

    I don’t disagree that some work is commoditized, though not in my area of practice.  But this isn’t limited to commoditized work.  What I disagree with, and vehemently, is that excellence is no longer applicable to the work lawyers do, and we should give up pining for it.  Do you think excellence is dead?

    As for my hyperbole, that like beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I can’t please the sensibilities of every reader.  Others have felt I didn’t go far enough.  Oh well.

  43. SHG

    Law isn’t other areas.  I don’t disagree that there are structural problems in the law that make lawyers too expensive for many, but that this isn’t a good solution.  It’s completely understandable that people who feel priced out of the legal market are angry, but beware the unintended consequence that can be worse than the problem.  Turning a blind eye to the problems with this idea because you like the pricing concept won’t bring you any comfort if it ends up destroying your life.

    And if you did some looking around before deciding to challenge me on new law school building, you would find out that I’ve been a long and strong critic against opening new law schools, and have advocated significantly reducing the production of lawyers.  I’ve also been a strong advocate of finding ways to deliver legal services less expensively.  I’ve also been a strong advocate of pro bonoa.  Lot of stuff that you have no clue about.  But to know that, you would have had to do some work first instead of just assuming.  And instead of looking before you shot your mouth off, you just assumed.  Bummer.

  44. A Free Defender

    I’m appointed to represent indigent clients, who sometimes manage to scrape enough together for a “lead ‘em and plead ‘em” type – often wasting weeks of my own motion practice because they don’t understand/care about the issues in a case. It’s unfortunate that something like this is heralded as innovation in our field. But there are plenty of clients that prefer to hire a ‘real lawyer’ no matter how cheap, then get stuck with me at state expense – when I have a better trial record then their newly hired lawyer.

    SHG – for me at least – I don’t mind losing those clients – they’d rather have the fake promises than a real (if unpleasant) assessment of their trial chances. That is the ‘service’ they value – the empty but hopeful promises.

    So perhaps it will serve to weed out the problem clients early – keeping us from wasting valuable time on someone who will never be satisfied with our performance, no matter how successful we are with their train-wreck of a case.

  45. Mark Bennett

    There’s a little truth here. Law schools have been great at selling law degrees as commodities and churning out people to do commodifiable and outsourceable work. And, as a wise man once said, “if the job can be sent to India, it will be.” Or maybe it was a wise guy.

    But, of course, many lawyers do work that is neither outsourceable nor commodifiable. In fact, it can be argued that anything commodifiable is not lawyering.

    Efforts to commodify such work (real lawyering, for which law schools don’t prepare people anyway) are harmful to those who wind up hiring the low-bid lawyer.

  46. SHG

    I understand.  I’ve told many people that their PD is doing a great job for them, but they want to find somebody to do their felony for $1500.  And they will. And they’ll plead ‘em out by the second adjournment.  But as you can see from the other comments, there are a lot of lawyers who either don’t get it or don’t care. 

  47. SHG

    I struggled with whether to raise the problems with commoditzation, substantive and ethical, and there are many.  I decided against it, there being too much difficulty grasping the absence of excellence (or even competence) to begin such a complex discussion. 

  48. Thomas R. Griffith

    Thanks for looking out for the customer and profession. As far as I can tell, you and Mr. B. are the only ones doing so on a daily basis. The S.J. Archives prove it folks.

    As a former customer/client, I am very interested in learning the answer to a nagging question. Is it appropriate or legal for a Divorce & Will attorney/lawyer with no felony case or trial experience to allow himself to be interviewed and retained to represent an aggravated robbery client (voir dire, motions in a jury trial)?

    A Texas court allowed one to do so in 1984 and failed to Agree or Deny 5 Discovery Motions he filed 30 days before trial. The court and attorney allowed the ADA to substitute a .38 for a .22. By lunch recess, it was, “Tommy (whomever that is?)take the ten or risk 99!”

    I for one, hope the bidding process weeds out the unqualified and that those seeking legal assistance for their loved ones via: the net, phone book, or word of mouth perform background checks ‘prior’ to retaining. My new motto is Wake ‘em up when they doze off and fire ‘em the minute they stop defending or can’t remember your name. Thanks again.

  49. SHG

    The answer is that it’s legal and, though of questionable propriety, not a basis on its own for legal ineffective assistance.  So, yes, a person with no experience or particular competency can handle a serious felony representation, do an absolutely minimal job, and as far as the law is concerned, walk away.

  50. Litigation and Trial

    Good Lawyers (And Doctors) Aren’t Cheap Because They Can’t Do Piecemeal Work

    Fred Wilson, the always inspiring venture capitalist, posted yesterday A Challenge To Startup Lawyers: We closed an investment recently. It was a seed round. Our firm priced the round and we were joined by a number of small VCs and…

  51. JimBeam

    The question here is how much is mediocre legal representation worth?

    Most people can’t afford $284/hour for a lawyer. For those who can’t, the alternative is frequently going pro se, or, in the criminal context, taking whatever “minimally competent attorney” the state gives them.

    On the other hand, realistically, the idea that the client will get top notch legal representation for bottom dollar rates is absurd. There will be some lawyers who do a good job and others who are outright thieves. The representation, on average, though, will be mediocre.

    But is the client better off paying for the mediocre lawyer that he can afford or going on his own? Probably. Even a mediocre lawyer has more of an understanding of the law than most laymen.

    But still, with legal services, just like everything else, you get what you pay for.

  52. SHG

    Two points that require discussion:

    1.  Public defenders are not “minimally competent attorneys that the state gives them.”  People undervalue them because they don’t have to pay for them, but they are some of the best lawyers in the courthouse.  Don’t assume their value away. 

    2,  Do you arrive at the speculation that the level is mediocre because there will be both great and horrible lawyers bidding, thus making the median mediocre?  If so, consider that the only lawyers bidding will be bad and worse. Then what would the level of quality be?

    And now a new point:  Is a mediocre lawyer at an affordable fee better than a public defender at no cost?

  53. Alex

    The fact that you compare lawyers to doctors is very amusing. Thats one of the many reasons I see this site working: lawyers inability to acknowledge change. Sure these sites didn’t work in 2001, there also wasn’t 50% of law school classes graduating unemployed. Why shouldn’t an unemployed law school grad who has passed the bar use this as a valuable tool to gain experience? Times are changing, these kids don’t have the same avenues to get legal work as we did just 10 years ago. Maybe we should take a step back and chill out before posting videos of lawyers following the model of prostitutes.

  54. SHG

    No, Alex, times are not changing in the way you suggest. That there are thousands of unemployed new lawyers who believe they are entitled to make a living no matter how incompetent or sleazy they may be does not reflect a change in their obligations.  Maybe we should take our obligations seriously and stop thinking that people were put on the earth so lawyers could make some money.

    These kids have exactly the same avenues to get legal work as you did ten years ago, but they can’t wait and want it now, and at the expense of anyone they can scam for a case.

  55. Alfred Hawkins

    It’s actually worse than that:
    The smart lawyers who send letters will write both about how great and how affordable they are. They will also write that they are “agressive former prosecutors”.

    The letters generate a phone call. The purpose of the phone call is to generate an office meeting while evading the question “how much do you charge?”, to which the answer is “It depends on ….”; “I’ll try to give you a good price”.
    At the office meeting, the lawyer will spend an hour talking to the client and gaining his confidence. He gathers information on the clients expectations as well as economic status. Usually, the clients overestimate their realistic exposure. The lawyer then quotes the client as much as he realistically expects that he can get. The same lawyer can meet two clients on the same day for the same matter and charge the one ten times more than the other, based only on the fear and economic status of the client. If the client doesn’t pay a lot of money, the lawyer will resolve it quicly for the standard deal. If the client pays a fortune, the lawyer will still resolve it quickly for the standard deal.

    Occassionally a case has triable facts or the lawyer gets lucky, and he wins. He then brags about those victories in all of his future advertising. Advertising destroys feedback loops whereby a lawyer seeks a good reputation to attract future business. He seeks to get money and then get rid of it as quickly and with as little hassle as possible.

  56. Alfred Hawkins

    I’m explaining how it works to you. The letter sending lawyers are not necessarily cheap; sometimes they are expensive as hell. And they do sometimes do trials.

    I’m surprised by your comments about “fixed fee” lawyers. Don’t you charge fixed rates? Is there any other way to charge on criminal cases?

    This isn’t a sarcastic question. I genuinely don’t know. Criminal contingency fees are illegal and I’ve never heard of a criminal lawyer on an hourly rate (except for white collar federal lawyers).

  57. SHG

    I was talking about explaining “letter lawyers” to other lawyers. While most crim lawyers use fixed fees, they aren’t blind fees based on $x for a misdemeanor, but a fixed fee based upon the specifics of the case.  We meet with the client, learn about the case, and then set a fee.  It’s a very different process.

  58. Engineer

    It’s called commoditization, creative destruction, etc. It’s happened to a lot of other disciplines – now it’s coming to you guys. Accept it. Embrace it. Get used to it.

  59. Amy Schley

    In the apocryphal quote, Marie Antoinette said, “Have they no bread? Let them eat cake.” Our esteemed blog host’s version would appear to be “Have they no clients? Let them starve!”

    I didn’t go to law school to get rich — I went in expecting that with reasonable effort, I would have reasonable job security making high five to low six figures over the course of my career (which is a comfortable salary in flyover country.) Instead, I’m the assistant manager at a shoe store to avoid getting a first hand introduction to bankruptcy and foreclosure law. I’m making a whooping $20K/yr, a number equivalent to my annual student loan debt service payment for the next ten years.

    Let’s assume for the sake of argument that if I were practicing I would be one of the bottom feeding incompetent lawyer-whores you describe. What would you have me do?

    You and your ilk do not hire lawyers who haven’t worked in the field of law for months or years after graduation. How am I supposed to provide competent representation if I cannot be trained and mentored by those who do give proper representation? How am I supposed to get experience dealing with legal matters if I never have access to a client? How am I supposed to hang out my shingle and provide legal services the old-fashioned way if I can barely afford to pay for my own house, much less an office?

    Judging from your tone, my mistake of going to law school during a recession and fundamental reshaping of the legal profession mean I’m just a fuck-up whose use of my state’s lawyer’s assistance program to avoid killing myself was a waste of resources.

  60. John J Olson

    Mr. Greenfield, one of the odious features of the legal profession today is the padded bill. It comes in many forms, from the $1/page copying fee to charging an associate’s time at a partner’s rate, to billing two clients for time spent working on one case, to sending two lawyers for a task one could do. This is consumer fraud but the organized bar tolerates it. The clients’ only defense against bill padding is to force lawyers to compete on price, which Shpoonkle is doing.

  61. SHG

    Sorry that your circumstances are so poor, but clients don’t exist because some baby lawyer needs money. It’s awful that you’ve come out of law school and yet have no concept whatsoever of your ethical obligations toward clients. It’s all about you and your needs. 

  62. spool32

    It’s not so much that excellence is dead – it’s just that excellence, and therefore justice and fairness, is unavailable for enough people that it might as well be dead.

  63. SHG

    Padding bills is odious, but there’s no logic to say the “only defense…is to force lawyer to compete on price.”  The two have no rational connection, and completely ignores the massive problems the pervade schemes like this.  There’s no disagreement that affordability of legal services is a significant problem that needs to be addressed. That doesn’t mean every scheme that appeals to simple minds is a solution. 

  64. SDN

    “Is a mediocre lawyer at an affordable fee better than a public defender at no cost?”

    Strawman. Public defenders are not available if your income and assets are above a certain level. At the same time the rates for lawyers like you are guaranteed to bankrupt the middle class. And, of course, public defenders are for criminal, not civil law. This is just another example of a hog snarling over his trough. Welcome to competition.

  65. SHG

    A response to a comment addresses the issues raised by the comment. Other comments address other issues. Sorry, but you don’t deserve to get paid for this comment. You’re going to have to do better to near your fee.

  66. Amy Schley

    Actually, I am aware of my ethical obligations — this is why I’m sticking with selling shoes until I can find someone to hire and mentor me through this, instead of simply butchering my friends’ attempts to amend their custody agreements or negotiate down their traffic tickets. I am not part of any referral service because I do take seriously my obligations to provide competent representation.

    But I ask you again, what would you have lawyers like us do? Thirty six percent of my graduating class is unemployed. We average six figures of loan debt, and the general economy is not doing well enough for us to pay back those non-dischargeable debts working in other fields.

    Our resumes are birdcage liner for big firms; the medium and small firms can’t afford to actually train someone to do the job; and we can’t afford our own bills, much less the risks of hanging out our own shingle. And yet, despite the complete breakdown of the traditional legal employment model, you condemn any attempt to build anything to replace it that might allow us to fulfill our obligations to our creditors. (And here in flyover country, bar applications do require us to do that.)

    Apparently, you would rather see poorer people have no representation at all than for them to take a chance on a lawyer auctioning her services. Yes, maybe that lawyer is incompetent (though there are ways for the legal profession to deal with that without destroying new employment possibilities), but she may just be someone who is quite willing to study and provide competent representation for the client, even if a big firm wouldn’t give her the time of day. Or can competent representation only come from a white shoe firm that charges $400/hr?

  67. Art

    How can there be outright thieves i the legal profession? The state bar has total control over the practice of law in most states and if lawyers as a group refuse to pull the licenses of the sleaze and mediocre, why would we assume any of the lawyers running the ambulance chaser adds are competent? Clean up the ripoff artists and other scum in the legal profession and then just maybe, I will care about your whining.

  68. Anthony

    Rant all you like, but in my experience, the correlation between quality and price of legal service is 0.000. The average person has just a good a chance of finding a decent lawyer on shpoonkle as by calling up a random lawyer from the Yellow Pages, or from selecting from some list of supposedly elite law firms in their city. And those odds are fairly low – in my experience, most lawyers are barely competent at the basic mechanical tasks of their profession, even when they come from expensive downtown firms.

    If lawyers were to become like prostitutes, it would be a great improvement in both the ethics and the customer service of the profession. With a prostitute, you know exactly how you’re going to be fucked, and how much it will cost, and only rarely will you be robbed. Lawyers should aspire to such standards.

  69. TMLutas

    Pretending that certain portions of the law are not a commodity doesn’t make it so either. The law is a very large topic. Some parts of it can reasonably done at a low price, others not so much.

  70. Dotar Sojat

    Scum of the profession? Hardly. The scum of the profession are busy bringing junk science med mal class actions.

  71. SHG

    If you spent some time reading here and elsewhere about things more important than this silly mutt, you might see that many of us are trying to help get new lawyers enough experience so that they gain sufficient competence. But you won’t find your answers on a post like this. 

    And at the same time, some of us are trying to stop both the law schools from lying to kids and the ABA from accrediting more schools and creating an even larger group of debt-ridden, unemployed lawyers. It’s all here and elsewhere, but then, you have to make the effort to look and you’ll find answers.

  72. SHG

    Some niches are largely commoditized, like wills and real estate. Even so, you still need to be competent. If you buy a Sony TV, it doesn’t matter what store it comes from. If you buy a will, but the lawyer has never drafted one before, or doesn’t know the right questions to ask to ascertain whether it’s a simple will or something more complex, then you’re in trouble.

    So, while it’s commoditized within the range of competence, you still need competence.

  73. SHG

    Wrong soap box. And if you want to knock junk science (which is fine with me), why not shoot for the cops and prosecutors rather than med mal lawyers.  They do far more harm.

  74. SHG

    Since you rely on your experience, and no one knows (or cares) what your experience is, your comments are worthless. That said, your assessment is partially right, partially wrong. Only a fool picks a lawyer out of the phone book, just as only a fool would pick a lawyer solely on price. Aside from that, your “experience” needs some tuning.

  75. Gregory Koster

    Dear Mr. Greenfield: That your first reaction was savage ridiculing of the name is revealing. I’d like to see your posts on how Google or Xerox had such awful names, and how they will never get anywhere.

    I note at the top of your website is : “I invite thoughtful comments, but please keep it civil and respectful. I reserve the right to delete or edit any/all comments.”

    The notion that your comments toward Robert Niznik are civil and respectful is good for a belly laugh. Isn’t your real objection to Niznik that he isn’t “paying his dues” i.e. going through three years of being spit on in law school via the Socratic method, being spit on at the first law firm by partners who take half if not more of what associates earn, being spit on by judges who picked the right law school classmate who went on the be a Senator, all for the future prospect of spitting on some other slob who has come up through law school some day. Mr. Niznik doesn’t propose to go through these years of saliva baths, groveling, and bullying that make up the Greenfield model of lawyering. That he is trying something that a) you never would have had the wit to think of and b) never had to guts to try for yourself is the cause of your eruptions, eruptions that are best understood by referring to the Marquis de Sade’s works…No, let Robert have a go at it. With luck, his venture will flourish, providing badly need competition to the arrogance of a trade that you well exemplify. Your frenzied shrieks that all who disagree with you are dummies could be right, but isn’t persuaive to free citizens who don’t have the bullying prosecutor/judge on their necks. You could try to address the problems the laity face when they are compelled to go to law, e.g. the monopoly pricing. Nope, such a defense would cost you real dough, not to mention bring the wrath of thousands os Scott Greenfields on you.

    The best contempt I can show you is to point out the frenzies that Niznuk has stirred up in you. Meanwhile, many lawyers were involved in the “Fast and Furious” gun selling fiasco and you snore away blissfully, with the occasional nightmare when you are back in Torts, trying to recite while the professor mocks and your classmates snicker, and your self-respect drains away, replaced by the hope that someday you can treat someone else as badly as you were treated. Some character you have.

    Sincerely yours,
    Gregory Koster

  76. Erika

    I am convinced that if the lawyers who sign up for whatever it is are the streetwalkers of the legal profession, biglawyers are definitely the high priced call girls of the legal profession.

    And incidentially when I was in law school, I would have thought the entire notion of comparing lawyers to prostitutes would have been sexist and demeaning to lawyers. Now, thanks to being a biglaw escapee, I kind of think that making the comparison is actually demeaning to prostitutes. Still rather sexist though!

  77. Kowboy

    I can afford my $250.00 an hour attorney, but I’m damn slow to call him with rates that high. I’ve kicked the crap out of a prosecutor without his help a time or two. I love that lawyers are feeling the effects of oversupply. When I’ve really got to win, he’ll get his retainer.

  78. John C. Randolph

    Scott, it seems to me that you’re just in a snit because you don’t want to be subject to the same law of supply and demand that applies to everyone else. Grow up.

  79. Eric L. Mayer

    If you get out there, work your tail-off for a few clients, and show that you are ethical, hardworking, willing to learn, and steadily improving, then everything else will fall into place.

    Also, you must be willing to start at the entry level. The jobs aren’t pretty, well-paying, or sexy, but they give you the ability to show your mettle. That’s really what counts in those formative years. Before you know it, you’re doing fine and getting steadily better, provided you’re patient and give a damn.

    You don’t need Shpoonkle or any other gimmick out there. Really, you don’t. The auction business model caters to the volume practitioners who take the easiest and earliest out–clients be damned. You’ll never compete with these volume clearinghouses, as you have neither the capital or manpower. Think eBay–now overrun by companies selling Mullet wigs.

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