Search Google. Look in a legal directory. Find a “prequalified” lawyer near you who is waiting by the phone to answer your questions. Select a lawyer who provides free answers to your legal question on the internet. These are not the way to find a lawyer.
In discussing the methodologies used by legal marketers to fake out methodologies used by search engines to prevent people from gaming the system, one of the reactions came from a legal marketer who saw this as an opportunity to smear his competition (sure, the others are lying scum) while promoting himself (but not me, I’m the real thing and make people fabulously wealthy!!!) My tolerance for such shenanigans is very limited.
While I’ve written quite a bit in the past about unethical or deceptive marketing by lawyers, directed toward lawyers not putting on hotpants and strutting the boulevard to score a buck, and about what potential clients should do to find the right lawyer for their case, I haven’t written as much about what’s wrong with the dreck cottage industry of legal marketing that seeks to deceive potential clients through slimy lies.
Mind you, individual lawyers who use marketing services aren’t necessarily bad lawyers. In fact, some lawyers who engage in awful marketing schemes are quite good, D.C.’s David Benowitz coming immediately to mind. The point is that a lawyer who markets isn’t necessarily a bad lawyer, but the marketing effort is a red flag that tells the potential client to think twice. And probably, stay away.
There are dozens of “lawyer directories” on the internet, most proclaiming themselves to be the foremost. They’re lying. They use vague words like “Number One!!!” or “Premier,” which mean nothing and are mere puffery. But that’s just the start.
These are nothing more than “coop advertising” schemes, where lawyers pay a monthly fee to advertise their availability. The website owner puts in as much puffery as he can fit, with a disclaimer in tiny print somewhere off the screen that everything it says on the website is a lie and he guarantees absolutely nothing. Look around, It’s there somewhere, if you can find it.
The scheme is to deceive potential clients into believing that the lawyers are “prequalified,” suggesting that these are at minimum competent lawyers, at best fabulous lawyers. Prequalified means that they are in fact license to practice law somewhere, and paid their monthly fee. It doesn’t mean they actually practice what they claim to practice or are any good at it. It’s just a scam.
Marketers will not only deny this with their dying breath, but use every marketing trick in the book to conceal the truth. They have to, as they make their living off lying to you. If they can’t produce potential clients, lawyers won’t pay them money.
They anticipate that most potential clients are too naive, stupid or desperate to see through their meaningless marketing jargon, and they’re mostly right. People still have this bone in their head that makes them think that if someone says something in writing, it must be true. It’s not, but more important, it doesn’t really say what you think it says.
But it takes a fairly sophisticated understanding of language and law to appreciate the nuance that allows them to lie with relative impunity. You might think that if this just a big old scam, lawyers wouldn’t participate in it. Sadly, there are many lawyers who will do anything to make a buck. And in a lousy economic environment, lawyers tend to close their eyes and ears whenever it’s convenient, just like anyone else.
And then there’s the loss leader, the websites that offer free answers from real lawyers to your legal questions. This is a come on. The answers are almost invariably worthless, not because the lawyers who answer are necessarily incompetent or failing to try to be helpful, though that happens regularly, but because your questions suck. In order to provide a response to a legal question that’s even modestly worthwhile, a great deal of information, details, specifics, is required.
Your question tend to be awful, failing to provide anything remotely close to the level of specific, accurate, complete info necessary for an even remotely useful answer. It’s not that you don’t try, but you don’t know what’s needed for a valid response. And the responses you get are based on the information you’ve provided, making them utterly worthless, perhaps even dangerously wrong. Yet, everybody loves the idea of getting free legal advice. Free is better than good. Heck, for free, people are willing to accept awful. Think about it: do you really want dangerously wrong legal advice, even if the price is right? That’s what you’re getting.
So what are the things you should look for to not find a lawyer?
- Any website that says it can find you a lawyer in your area.
- Any website that says its lawyers are “prequalified.”
- Any website that offers free answers to your legal questions.
- Any lawyer who claims to have won a non-existent award (unless it’s obviously a joke), belong to a nonexistent group or be on a sham list of 100 best lawyers, blawgers, whatever.
- Any lawyer who promotes that he’s a SuperLawyer, Best Lawyer, Super-de-duper Lawyer, or any variation on this theme.
- Any lawyer who provides a partial resume, including the details that he thinks will impress you while concealing the ones that won’t.
- Any lawyer who posts client testimonials on his website.
- Any lawyer who uses bogus “guest posts” on his blog.
- Any lawyer who uses a ghostwriter to produce content.
- Any lawyer who uses stock photos of others on his website.
- Any lawyer who uses stock content/language on his website.
- Any lawyer who claims to specialize in every practice area there is.
- Any lawyer who claims to be an “expert.”
- Any lawyer whose physical location is not in the jurisdiction where he’s admitted to practice.
- Any lawyer who doesn’t tell you where he’s physically located.
- Any lawyer who writes about his fabulous wins, unless he also writes about horrible defeats.
- Any lawyer who uses language to suggest he’s the “best,” “number 1,” “foremost,” “premier,” “leading,” in his field.
And fair warning to anyone who wants to argue in favor of their marketing scheme. Anticipate that I will be happy to explain why each is wrong, deceptive, unethical or a scam, and you may well end up very unhappy with my response. But if you still want to try, use your real name. Anonymous attempts to spin your marketing won’t fly on this post. If you want to argue that your marketing scheme is legit, then have the guts to put your name to it.
And while I’ve often used the adage, “on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” I add to the pantheon of truisms this new comic, via Jamison Koehler, to give you pause.
And that’s who could be sitting on the other end of the computer. Nice bunny slippers, right?
Here’s the bottom line: the internet allows anyone and everyone to manufacture a persona designed to entice you to give them your money and trust them with your life, fortune and rights. It’s a great source of information, particularly for verification of claims, but so filled with lies and deception that there is no way for you to distinguish truth from fiction. Granted, we’ve allowed it to become a cesspool. but that doesn’t mean you have to wallow in it.
Know the red flags of deception. Look for the red flags. Cross those lawyers who engage in deceptive marketing off your list. Once deceptive marketing efforts fail to produce “leads,” “pigeons” and “prospects,” even the most unethical or ignorant lawyer will figure out he’s throwing good money after bad and clean up his act. If lawyers can’t manage to conduct themselves honorably on their own, then let the market do so for them. Do not patronize lawyers who engage in deceptive marketing practices. For your own sake, not theirs.
Update: Shortly after posting this, Brian Tannebaum emailed me about the fact that I include on my website my Martindale-Hubbel and Avvo ratings. He questioned whether this was hypocritical of me, and it’s a fair question.
To the extent there is any legitimate external rating of lawyers, these two ratings are the extant industry standard. In other words, these are the best we have, to the extent they mean anything at all, to provide a verifiable claim of what others think of us.
Are they valid indicators of anything? Probably not. Are they legitimate? They claim to be, and the profession has long accepted M-H ratings, and is adapting to Avvo ratings to some extent. And so, I put them on my website because they are as legitimate as rating get, for better or worse, and they reflect what someone else says about me, not what I claim about myself.
That said, I noticed something else on my website that made me cringe. When I created my website five years ago, I included a line that said, “nationally recognized for excellence.” I know what I intended at the time, and what the basis for the statement was. However, in looking at it now, my intentions are irrelevant and it’s unacceptable hype. I have deleted it. I am ashamed that I included it. The only saving grace is that no one has evern retained me because of it.
All of which leads to two important points: I appreciate that Tannebaum called me out. He was right to do so, and that’s what friends do for each other, tell them when their fly is down. Second, I was wrong to include what appeared to be puffery on my website, and when I realized my mistake, I took it down. You can too.