Victor Medina sent me an email from his Apple iToy questioning whether anyone would have the nerve to solicit a sex worker at the wage being offered for a lawyer “position” on Craig’s list:
So I pulled out my handy-dandy calculator and ran the numbers. That would be $120 per hour, which would bring a smile to many an indigent defenders face. Is this a problem? Well, perhaps the problem is that, aside from the 5 minute minimum (again, with the calculator, that would be $10), there is no assurance that anyone gets any more.
The business offering this windfall is called LawModo, which explains its purpose in this video:
Edit 4/16: After seeing this post, they decided to take the video private, and offered me another to post. I pass.
A little too LIchtenstein for your taste? So what? Everyone’s an art critic. That fact is that lawyers get people who call all the time and say, “I just have a simple question.” These calls always last at least 15 minutes, and often can take an hour. Simple questions usually aren’t. And the need that LawModo sees, that there is no place for a regular person to ask a question at limited cost, is kinda real, as they otherwise just call me and ask anyway.
If you tell them that answering simple questions is what people pay you to do, they get angry. Sometimes very angry. After all, it’s just a simple question, you money-grubbing blood-sucking lawyer-scum.
On the client’s side, they can spend as much time on the phone as they want. If they are unwilling to put more than, say, $20 into the call, then they can hang up midword. Nobody forces them to stay on the phone a minute longer than they want to, though it likely proves highly ineffective to spend $20 and not get an answer.
While there are tons of other places for people to ask questions for free, like the dreaded Avvo Answers, they suck and are almost invariably wrong. What’s missing is the lawyer’s ability to ask questions, obtain the salient details necessary to provide a meaningful answer. With a phone call, this can be accomplished.
Will the lawyers who sign up for this gig be competent to provide worthwhile answers? That’s up to the lawyers. They may be, or not. If they’re not, do they give the money back? Hell no, since nobody forced the client to call them in the first place, and the time was still used even if they called the wrong lawyer. LawModo has no responsibility to turn people on to lawyers who are competent. This is a problem.
In its FAQ’s, however, LawModo (which says it’s “a technology company comprised mostly of attorneys) offers this:
Will the attorney I talk to be my attorney moving forward?
No. No attorney/client relationship is formed from any call. However, if after speaking with an attorney, you desire to hire one to represent you in your legal matter you may. This can be done by contacting an attorney directly.
Herein lies a bit of a problem. While it may be true that the attorney who answers questions has not assumed the responsibility for the future, though that’s not necessarily clear, the “answer” that “no attorney/client relationship is formed from any call” is dead wrong. That is exactly the relationship formed, and no ridiculous FAQ changes that fact.
This makes me wonder whether LawModo is really “comprised mostly of attorneys,” or whether the ones who have chosen to start-up a tech company are doing so because they suck as attorneys.
LawModo appears to be trying to market itself to lawyers not just on its $2 a minute windfall, but on the idea that the lawyer could score some business from the caller. By doing so, it seems to compromise the value of the Q&A concept, and turn itself from a legitimate place where a person can get a relatively inexpensive answer to a question into a scam for desperate lawyers to upsell people into retaining counsel. That’s not good.
The lawyer has no obligation to make himself available to answer calls. They can turn on their “I’m available now” button at will, or never turn it on and just create the appearance that there are more lawyers available on Law Modo than there really are as a means of lawyer advertising. The service runs 24/7, because lots of lawyers want to be woken up in the middle of the night to explain the meaning of “fee simple.” My guess is that overnight availability will be limited.
But could LawModo work to the benefit of clients and lawyers? Well, yeah. It could. There is a need to be filled, and its a lot better to get paid, even if it’s only $2 a minute, to answer “simple questions” than do it for free. Yet, all the other aspects of this concept seem to militate against its legitimacy, and provide incentives to turn it from what might be a viable concept into just another scam.
Would you answer questions for $2 a minute, with a minimum of $10, accurately, honestly and without trying to “persuade” the person that what he really needs to is retain you at full price? It would be nice to think that lawyers are better than this. But who are we kidding?