I stopped by the office of an old friend the other day, a lawyer of a shared “certain age,” and spoke the official secret lawyer greeting. “Quiet,” he responded. “Dead, actually.”
We talked a bit about it, and then he asked me a question.
I got an email from some website that said they had checked me out and wanted me to be their exclusive litigation guy in New York, that they had all these clients and needed someone here and I was their guy. You know about this internet stuff. What do you think about it?
I asked him how much he had to pay for the “honor” and he gave me an ungodly number. I explained to him about co-op advertising, that they didn’t really “check him out,” and probably sent the same email to a thousand lawyers. Whoever agreed to pay the sum first would be “their guy.” He nodded, and said, “that’s what I thought.”
Then he told me, “but I feel like I’ve got to do something. It seems like everybody is putting some sort of bullshit award on their website, they’re Super Lawyers or Best Lawyers or Million Dollar Lawyers or whatever, but something. I feel like I’m the only lawyer left who doesn’t have some award on my website.”
I asked him who he thought was impressed by it. Did he think anyone got a client because they claimed to some nonsense superstar? Did he think anyone who would retain him otherwise decided not to because he didn’t have an award?
He shook his head “no.” Then he said,”I don’t know. No, I don’t think so, but I’ve got to do something.”
For those lawyers who have been engaged in the digital world for a while, all of this is old news. We’ve seen the scams, the lies, the schemes that promise wealth and success. The only people making any money off the scheme are the schemers. What we aren’t really attuned to is that the bulk of the profession remains on the other side of the digital divide.
Sure, they have email. Yes, they have a computer and know how to google. Maybe they got a static website, probably though an old, reliable company they’ve used for decades. Chances are good they’ve never looked at it since the day they paid the first bill. They have no blog, read no blogs, There is nothing a guy like me has to write that they are likely to read. I can explain and warn all day long. They won’t see it.
When business slows down for a while, they do what any normal person would do. They try to come up with a way to do better. They are ripe pickens for the schemers. When is the last time you took a look at the internet through the eyes of someone who has never really been here before?
“What about Avvo,” he asked. “You used to think Avvo was legit?”
I told him about Arkady Bukh, who had a banner on his website that says he is “Ranked #1 of 842 Criminal Defense Firms in New York City,” according to Avvo. But Avvo does no such ranking. When I asked Josh King, Avvo’s general counsel, why then do they do nothing to shut this down, I got a song and dance. “So it’s all nonsense?” Yes, it’s all nonsense.
He laughed and mused, “so instead of paying one of these jokers for an award, I could just make something up and nobody would know or care.” Pretty much. We laughed about it, but we both knew it wasn’t funny.
For a long time, it was only us early adopters who were integrally engaged in the internet. Others got websites because they heard that they were supposed to get websites, but that did nothing for them. It was just like the sign on the door, expected but otherwise unhelpful. Some put a lot of money into a nice website, even with a cool logo, which meant they were out that much more money with nothing to show for it. They read some marketer’s pap and followed the rules laid out in ID ten T format, waiting to hear the phone ring. Instead, they heard crickets.
It was just a small percentage of us who became engaged back then. Now, more are coming. Not so much engaging, but trying to the extent they have any grasp of what happens on the internet. And they are bewildered, confused and ripe for every scam we laugh at. They are told that puffery is the rule, everybody is doing it, and if they don’t, they might as well pack up the office and find a rocking chair.
If it was only the latest wave of scammers playing these games, perhaps we could wave it off. But it’s not. It’s our bar associations running CLEs for credit thrown by chief marketing officers, search engine optimizers, representatives of the cottage industry that feeds off the ignorance of the legal profession. The bar association mavens are just as clueless, but they have heard that this is cutting edge, and while they have no idea who they’ve let in the door, they feel some obligation to join in the schemes. I could blow another 1000 words on the inanity of these CLEs, but out of concern for you, I won’t.
For those of you who are reading this, you are the ones who know to delete the emails that introduce us to our long-lost Nigerian prince relatives, internet lottery wins and instantaneous 10,000 twitter followers. I had forgotten, or at least failed to appreciate, just how little most lawyers know about the internet. They are clueless, like babes in the virtual woods. And marketers are offering them delicious candy, if only they will get in their van and go for a ride.
Maybe they will throw away a few thousand dollars before realizing they’ve been had. Maybe they will be convinced to put on pink hotpants and strut the boulevard. Maybe they will hear the voices of the thousand leeches trying to suck the life out of them long before they hear my voice. Or yours.
But I will keep trying to save my friends, and through them, the profession, from the race to the bottom. I ask you, as a favor, to do the same. Let the lawyers who aren’t as internet-engaged know the truth. Explain the scams and schemes, and tell them not to get sucked in. The scammers may be loud and persistent, but there are more of us, and if we spread the word, maybe we can save our brethren before the harm is done.
There are millions of lawyers out there who have no clue about the internet. They will make a decision today about whether to hop on the magic internet marketing train or not. Today. Tell them the truth, even if you made the mistake and no one saved you.