A few weeks back, someone on one of my listserves inquired about a new site for solos, Go Solo Esq.com, which bills itself as a "virtual law office center for solos." Apparently tossed up in an effort to capitalize on the number of attorneys now considering solo practice in a weak job market, the site thus far offers only the $29/month membership which includes law office resources and law office tools (link broken). Now, the description of law office resources looked awfully familiar to me, but I figured that I must be paranoid. After all, why would a company targeting itself to solos try to rip off content from my site and resell it? In any event, the content was password protected, so I couldn’t investigate further.
Well, tonight, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to spring for a one month membership, and lo and behold, look at what I found: wholesale theft (yes, that is what it is) of my resource lists, which I carefully organized, selected and designed, such that they qualify for copyright protection. And further, I didn’t just let my lists sit out of date since 2002, when the OnLine Guide was first launch. Over the years, I’ve paid or bartered services with law students and paralegals to update the materials. After you do the comparison, read through to the end of the post and ask yourself WHY you’d ever want to register for this service and trust your personal information to a company that shamelessly pilfers from the only completely FREE online database of resources for solos. (NOTE – you may have to zoom in to read the screen shots. I’m happy to send them full sized if anyone is interested.
and from Soloformania at MyShingle,
I must confess that here, GoSoloEsq. changed the heading and added 2 new additional articles! Still compare it to my OnLine Guide, a flagship feature of MyShingle since our 2002 launch (see older screenshot below)
So am I making too much out of this incident or perhaps taking it too personally by warning lawyers to stay far, far away from GoSoloEsq.com? I don’t think so, for the following reasons:
1. GoSoloEsq.com is charging lawyers, to the tune of $29/month for resources that I have been providing free for nearly seven years, and will continue to provide free even when I upgrade my site. If a company is willing to copy (not even recycle) and charge for materials that don’t cost anything, then it is likely to try to bilk you for other services.
2. GoSoloEsq.com may cause you to lose your bar license with incorrect advice: Another "member benefit" offered by GoSoloEsq.com is a case referral service where lawyers can refer a case to another member. GoSoloEsq assures that:
Most State Bar rules authorize fee sharing between lawyers on a case so long as the client approves of that fee sharing arrangement in writing.
Under ABA Model Rule 1.5, lawyers in different firms may share fees only if (1) the division is proportionate to services performed or the lawyers assume joint responsibility; (2) the client approves the agreement and (3) the fee is reasonable. However, according to ABA/BNA Guide 41:701, only 20 states have rejected the proportionality requirement of Model Rule 1.5. That’s hardly "most state bars" as GoSoloEsq’s site suggests. Sure, GoSoloEsq advises lawyers to check the ethics rules of their respective jurisdictions. But how hard would it have been for GoSoloEsq to accurately summarize the rules on referral fees from the outset? Personally, I wouldn’t trust a website for lawyers that doesn’t take ethics seriously enough to make a reasonable inquiry.
3. GoSoloEsq.com wants to expand its business on the backs of solos. GoSoloEsq.com promises all kinds of discounts with its second release, from webhosting, virtual assistant services and insurance packages. But those are "coming soon." So why would GoSoloEsq.com launch without its "flagship programs" in place. My guess is that GoSoloEsq.com needs to build membership before it can go out and solicit those other services at bulk rates. So it’s using the $29/month teaser membership (which at this time basically consists of MyShingle materials and nothing more) to lure people to join. Look, if a company is going to launch a service, it ought to put up some of the capital or sweat-equity instead of trying to have future members finance the site.
4. GoSoloEsq. violated the law — both copyright law and general decency law. Do you want to affiliate with a company that doesn’t follow the law? As I explained earlier, I believe that I have a colorable claim for copyright violation against GoSoloEsq.com, because the unique organization of the resources and the careful hand selection of items makes my list more than a mere compilation of data and elevates it to a copyrightable work. Moreover, even if GoSoloEsq.com didn’t violate copyright law, it certainly violated the laws of decency, by stealing material from my site and charging people for it.
I’ve done a little more poking around online and as of yet, haven’t found any bar associations that support or endorse GoSoloEsq.com. Wouldn’t that have been an embarrassment? As for me, I don’t plan to change anything at this site (except to prominently display copyright marks) — I won’t password protect my resources or charge you for them. The best things in life aren’t always free, but I can say definitely that in this particular situation, they are.