AttorneyFee.com, When It’s Only About Money

In the ongoing saga of the cottage industry of vultures seeking to eke a point or two out of the middle of that huge stack of money that flows to the “legal sector,” a new but curious entrant has appeared:  AttorneyFee.com.

What makes this stand apart from the bunch is that there are no fees involved, either for lawyer or client.  Unlike the mass, they have no finger in the pie, and humorously state:

We believe in doing well by doing good. Our mission is to expand access to legal services by providing consumers with the highest quality information about the affordability and availability of attorneys in their communities. We are confident that if we pursue that mission faithfully, we will create tremendous value for consumers and attorneys alike, and eventually find a way to pay the bills.

My guess is that they have a better business model than they let on (such as build the eyeballs and sell advertising), but still, it’s refreshing not to have a business claim to exist for solely humanitarian purposes while reaching into someone’s back pocket. 

That said, what’s the point of this new enterprise?



Our Story


In the four years since I graduated from law school, I noticed that 70% of the people who called my office were inquiring about the same two things: (i) how much do I charge, and (ii) when am I available. The receptionist in my firm used to spend a good chunk of each day just answering the same questions over and over again. These calls prevented her from doing other work and created an unnecessary drain on office resources. I realized that if my firm could find a more streamlined way to communicate with potential clients about affordability and availability, then we could cut down on frivolous inquiries, save significant administrative resources, and actually get more clients in the process. This insight is what lead me to create AttorneyFee.

Beibei Que, Esq
Founder of AttorneyFee

As is often the case, one person’s experience in the law doesn’t necessarily scale well to others.  While this may be true for the practice of a young lawyer, or the practice of a particular niche, it doesn’t reflect either the profession as a whole or the concerns that my clients have.  But then, perhaps criminal defense isn’t part of the mix?




When you need a criminal defense attorney, you need a criminal defense attorney.  You can’t possibly put a price on your freedom, or the freedom of your loved ones.  Having said that, the fact that you value freedom doesn’t mean you should let yourself get ripped off.  You owe it to yourself to find an attorney who is both a competent provider of legal services as well as a fair and compassionate human being.  In order to do that, you must first develop an understanding of how defense attorneys generally charge for their services, and what is considered a “fair price”.


For the most part, defense attorneys charge on an hourly basis.  The reason for this is that there is no real way to tell, in advance, how much time or effort will be involved in any given case.  After all, criminal defense work is, by its very nature, contentious.  And whenever there is dispute, there is always unpredictability, because you never know what the other side will do (in this case, we’re referring to the prosecutor).


Uh, no.  Somebody misinformed Beibei Que, as criminal defense lawyers do not usually charge on an hourly basis. Almost never, in fact, because they would never get paid.  But then, if they didn’t, this concept wouldn’t apply at all.

AttorneyFee, as with others in this cottage industry, focuses exclusively on the “cost-conscious consumer,” which misapprehends the most significant part of the equation, competence.  If you’re buying widgets, price is all you need to know.  Lawyers are different, though becoming less different by the minute from what I see.  Listing lawyers by hourly fee alone is meaningless, if not misleading.



Not a pretty site, nor one that comes off as particularly sophisticated, but these aren’t attributes that bother me.  What does is that the information provided is worthless, whether this is what potential clients want or not.  Rather than pander to ignorance, inform and educate. 

Not here.  This is pandering, pure and simple.  If it’s all about money, then this is all they need to know.  And the cottage industry feeds this misguided demand, as if lawyers are fungible and we’re just widgets for sale.

And like all business hovering around the edge of the law, there’s the disclaimer:


Prices shown on AttorneyFee are in no way to be construed as an advertisement or offer to perform services. Please note that the prices shown on AttorneyFee are not necessarily endorsed by the individual attorneys with whom they are associated. Finally, please note that the prices shown are rough approximations. Actual prices may vary depending on the individual circumstances of your matter.


Not sure what this means, other than the typical nothing said here means anything, but if it’s not a solicitation, then what the heck is it?  On the other hand, at least the usual ethical implications of fee splitting aren’t implicated by hypertechnical explanations.

That this service produces what it purports to produce, and at no cost to consumer or lawyer, is clearly in its favor.  I can imagine, to some extent, that in certain practice niches, this service will work fairly well, notably where the services needed are more along the lines of commoditized legal services.

To the extent it feeds the perception that law is no different than selling any commodity, it does the profession a disservice.  But then again, if a potential client wants to search for a lawyer on the basis of hourly fees alone, better that they go to AttorneyFee.com and find themselves a darn fine price than call me.  These are not my type of clients.




 

26 thoughts on “AttorneyFee.com, When It’s Only About Money

  1. BL1Y

    “as criminal defense lawyers do not usually charge on an hourly basis… because they would never get paid.”

    Well, they definitely can’t do a contingency fee arrangement. I’d think small matters (misdemeanor DUI and UPOCS) might be flat fee, but I can’t imagine larger criminal defense matters being anything but hourly billing.

    The simple solution to avoid not getting paid is to get a retainer up front, and bill against that.

  2. Lina Marie

    The site’s objectives are probably ad revenue via (i) client (the public, not attorney)reviews and (ii) inter-field competition. While most (sensible) people will not choose an attorney by price alone, this site’s founder may be viewing it from the pov of “all things being equal”. Albeit, for the layperson, such “equality” would be difficult to determine.

    First time on your blog. Good reads.

  3. SHG

    What would I do without young lawyers offering up teaching opportunities on a silver platter?  Consider: Criminal lawyers have uniformly charged flat fees in both small and large cases, with some notably exceptions that we need not consider at the moment.  Were they all blithering idiots, waiting for you, a non-criminal defense lawyer and, indeed, a lawyer who doesn’t practice law in any of its forms, to explain to them they’re doing it all wrong?

    Is the fact that you “can’t imagine larger criminal defense matter being anything but hourly billing” a relevant metric?  Should lawyers in criminal defense check with you to learn what you can and can’t imagine before charging their clients?

    If not, what compels you, who knows nothing whatsoever about how criminal defense lawyers in fact charge, to inform us of your thoughts and imaginations on the subject?

  4. Thomas Stephenson

    Epic fail, all around.

    What the site more than likely did was come up with a formula: x years of experience plus office in city of x population plus x number of lawyers in firm equals a ballpark hourly rate that may or may not be accurate.

    I find it incredibly ridiculous that the “lawyers” don’t even have last names. Who wants to hire “Kelvin” at $250 an hour?

    Never mind that I can see them getting sued by some lawyer who claims he’s losing business because this site says he charges twice as much as he actually does. Does five-year lawyer “Steven” really charge $450 an hour?

  5. SHG

    If I understand correctly, the lawyers who sign up to be part of this set their own hourly rates.  As for the first name only, when you click on more information, it provides the lawyers full name, address, schools (with year of graduation) and bar admissions, including date of admission.

    In some respects, it provides more hard info than we get from most baby lawyer websites which tend to be all rhetoric and no substance at all.

    Clarification:  checking some other lawyers details, I see that some include more and some less, so I assume it includes as much substantive information as the lawyer decides to provide.

  6. Thomas Stephenson

    Fail.

    Criminal defense is results-based. If I’m a criminal defendant, I’d pay more to have my lawyer make a 30-minute phone call to get my case dismissed than to work 20 hours and then convince me to plead to the state’s first offer.

    Your “hourly billing” model says that I should pay 40 times as much for the second option. If you practice criminal defense, your clients will strongly disagree with you.

  7. Thomas Stephenson

    Ah, okay.

    Aside from the hourly rate, I get no more information than I would from the Texas State Bar website.

    Also, both attorneys I get in a search in my town are located 30 miles away. Evidently there are zero CDLs in the county I live in (which has, by the way, close to 700,000 people.) So this site is pretty useless.

  8. Thomas Stephenson

    Doesn’t it have to exist before you declare it dead?

    If anything Scott gave it life. This post was the first I had ever heard of it.

  9. BL1Y

    Whether you actually do bill on an hourly basis or not, the risk of never getting paid for hourly work is still handled by getting a retainer.

  10. Thomas Stephenson

    So when I get a $5000 retainer up front and wind up billing $20000, the $5000 retainer ensures that I will get the remaining $15000? Excelsior!

  11. SHG

    Why do I bother?  Just because they’ve never actually done anything doesn’t mean they don’t know everything better than I do.

    I try to help them. I really do. But they just don’t want to learn.

  12. Andrew

    This is the standard “boil the ocean” business model. Everyone would use my service if only everyone would use my service.

    Also, Kelvin’s rate is only -9.67 Fahrenheit. That should seem a whole lot more affordable.

  13. Richard

    As a cofounder of the site, I can assure you that AttorneyFee is very much alive. We launched to an audience of 12,000 people less than one week ago, and that number is growing by the day.

    Please allow me to clarify a few things. First, AttorneyFee is not about making money for the site’s founders. If it were, then we’re doing an awful job, because we’re giving away all of our data, eyeballs, and traffic for free. Bad business model. We really are as altruistic as we claim.

    Second, AttorneyFee does not promote the idea that people should choose a lawyer based only on price. We enable lawyers to list their educational backgrounds, professional backgrounds, and years of experience. Moreover, we are currently in discussions with major partners to incorporate thousands of reviews and testimonials. We expect to put out an announcement about this next week. If anyone feels that there are yet other pieces of information that should be included, please feel free to share your ideas by emailing us. We will take your input seriously, and do our best to build a resource that works to everyone’s advantage.

    Third, although AttorneyFee does not promote selection based on price alone, anyone who thinks that price is irrelevant is living in a fantasy world. As Lina Marie said, all else being equal, people prefer more affordable services. If you don’t believe us, ask your own clients. We don’t encourage lawyers to compete on price or race to the bottom. Everyone should charge whatever they want to charge, and let consumers vote with their feet.

  14. SHG

    You were doing better before this comment, which is rather infantile and simplistic.  If you have no ability to fund the site, then the sites dies. Is it your intention to come off like a blithering idiot? It’s good that you aren’t taking money from lawyer or client, but let’s not play the humanitarian card too hard.

    Your second point, that it’s not all about money, is absurd. There are a dozen sites doing the other parts already, and far better than the trivial crap you offer. Your only hook is the hourly, so let’s not be disingenuous.

    Your third point, that clients care about money, is true in some areas, less so in others. Your woeful ignorance about criminal law, for example, reveals that you’re not ready for prime time. But money without quality (which your efforts will never be able to quantify) is not merely worthless, but dangerous.

    In any event, people who want cheap, incompetent lawyers may find your website useful. People who seek commodity practice will find it useful. For everyone else, it’s a joke. To the extent it helps some, that’s fine. Will it amount to anything? Unlikely.  You will be one of cottage industry, and likely a significant laggard.  Don’t give up your day job.

  15. Richard

    Hi Seth,

    We’re learning as we go, precisely because we do not presume to be omniscient about every area of legal practice.

    [Ed. Note: Balance of comment deleted as self-aggrandizing spam. If you want to advertise, you have to pay for it. And who’s Seth?]

  16. SHG

    That’s kinda the problem Richard. If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t do it.  The problem isn’t whether you’re omnisceint, but absolutely dead wrong. What gives you the right to spread misinformation, then disclaim responsibility because you’re not “omniscient.”  Get your info correct first. You can’t claim to be a great humanitarian while making people stupider for having listened to you.

    And learn what ad hominem means. You used it wrong. Now go away. Your business isn’t that intersting and I won’t allow any more of your self-promotional comments. I let you have one full comment, but that’s all the free time you get.  If your business works, that’s great. Seth out.

  17. SHG

    Your  post on this new biz spells it out very well.

    As I said, I don’t begrudge consumers who shop for lawyers based on price because for some (but not all) services, I do the same thing.  But if a company is going to take up the gauntlet of empowering consumers to shop for lawyers based on price, it owes them far more than a hastily thrown together site long on inaccuracy and short on substance. Meanwhile, if you’re a lawyer, you may want to think twice (or at least consult with your jurisdiction’s ethics counsel) before signing up for AttorneyFee.com and risking your bar license  for a site where the founders themselves weren’t willing to risk the time or the resources to get it right.

    A very thorough analysis of the ethical implications and discussion of some aspects of this concept (such as forced free consultations by lawyers) that must be considered.  I didn’t go nearly as deep as you did, largely because I didn’t take this concept too seriously for the criminal defense lawyer, and any lawyer considering it should read your post.

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