It wasn’t on my docket to write about this, but an unanticipated flurry of emails yesterday pushed to the top of the list. There seems to be a new company every day spamming lawyers with emails offering them “leads.” By “leads,” I refer to prospective clients, as the word is used by marketing folks who see no human beings but only walking wallets from which to pluck a few bucks.
There used to be a handful of businesses engaged in this awful, disgusting scam. The trick was to first suck potential clients in by offering free legal advice, which of course is worthless (if not completely wrong), and then push them along to lawyers who either paid for their referral turf or gave the business a kickback for the case. They never used those words, because they would be wrong, but everyone knows the deal, and the rest of it is just circumventing the ethical violations.
Suddenly, it seems like we’re deluged with businesses that are so flush with clients that they desperately need lawyers “in your area” to take on these cases. I’ve become inured to these pitches, getting a bunch every day and deleting them without flinching. But an email came in yesterday in reaction to a bulk solicitation (we know it was bulk because it said so. No seriously, it said “bulk mail”) from a company called LeadRival.
That’s right, the spam was sent to none other than the new Harris County, Texas public defender, Alex Bunin. No, he’s not in need of “leads” at the moment, but thanks anyway.
I am glad to know that as a public defender I will not run short on “leads.”
Or there’s the one from LegalBrandMarketing, which notified its recipient:
The person listed below was recently arrested for a DUI and needs to retain a lawyer. If this referral is in your area and you’re available to assist, please reply to this email and I will forward the contact information. This referral is free and will be sent to the first lawyer to respond via email.Notice the call to action, that the referral will go to the first lawyer to respond. Can you stand the pressure? Will you be first? Except the recipient never responded to this crap but continues to get the come-ons.
On a list-serv recently, a lawyer asked if anybody had ever heard of/use LegalMatch, another scheme to suck lawyers into believing that there is the vast group of defendants desperately seeking to throw money at lawyers but unable to find one any other way. The responses were tepid, but strange, as lawyers who had no clue responded (as seems always to be the way on listservs) that they didn’t think this was a good idea, though they never tried it themselves and in fact knew nothing whatsoever about it.
What this is all about is the shameless abuse of marketing by those seeking to capitalize on lawyers’ inability to reach as broad an audience as they can through their free legal advice scam, dedicated effort to play Google and blogs and any other means that could possibly suck a buck out of someone. There are plenty of lawyers trying to help but playing into the free legal advice scam, but they rationalize it by thinking that as long as it gets them a buck, what do they care what harm it does others.
As a public service, here’s the lowdown. For lawyers: There is no huge group of potential clients desperate to throw money at you but can’t find you except via some scam website. While they may occasionally get a real case by a paying defendant, you will never get back the time or money you put in.
For potential clients: you know how they claim the lawyers are “pre-screened?” That means they paid the bill to get on the list of desperate lawyers in need of clients. It means they are breathing. They are, in fact, lawyers. And that’s all it means.
The scheme is well conceived, with marketers offering some loss-leader, whether free advice or legal forms, in order to get putative clients to bite on their offer to hook them up with bestest lawyers ever in their very own neighborhood. The lawyers, meanwhile, are sold that they have oodles of clients whose pockets are stuffed with cash just dying to find a lawyer willing to take it.
And they, in the middle, can say and do pretty much anything if they put a disclaimer so far below the fold that no one can see it proclaiming that everything else on the page is a complete lie. Then they take a piece off the middle, using whatever mechanism can be claimed not to involve fee-splitting with lawyers and pass the sniff test to disciplinary committee members who can’t quite wrap their heads around the scheme.
Somebody has to be biting on the scheme, or all these smart fly-by-night money makers wouldn’t be throwing their lot behind this scam. And that somebody has to be lawyers, because they can’t pull the scheme off without lawyers desperate enough to do anything for a buck.
And the way to get lawyers, as proven by a thousand Nigerian lottery winners who are owed debts by a variety of non-existent corporations and ex-spouses, is to send emails. And keep sending emails. Then send more emails, all telling these lawyers that there are clients out there just dying to give them money.
The emails won’t go away until lawyers stop responding to them, “Yes, I want that case; really I do, please.” So what are you going to when Total Attorneys knocks on your door today offering to make you fabulously wealthy? Today could be your lucky day.