A Lead Generating Website Gone Too Far

Update, 3/12/13 (3 pm) Solosez member and contract lawyer Lisa Solomon posted about this on her
Facebook page and Richard Komaiko, Attorney Fee’s founder is feeling the heat. The emerging dialogue should serve as a warning to future law-preneurs you don’t go beta when people’s careers and livelihood (even lawyers) are on the line.

About a year ago, I blogged, somewhat critically  about a then-new website, AttorneyFee.com  with a mission to make lawyer pricing transparent.  Specifically, I did not criticize the concept of fee transparency (indeed, I’ve recently suggested ways that lawyers could use visuals like online menus  to disclose prices clearly to potential clients. Instead, I took issue with various inaccuracies, misstatements and ethics problems – many of which have since been corrected.

Unfortunately, having addressed one set of problems, AttorneyFee now presents another one, far worse.  Via the Solosez listserve, I learned that AttorneyFee had added a feature allowing site visitors to contact one of the listed lawyers. In response, however, users receive a message that “Attorney X will be in touch shortly” and inviting the user to contact another lawyer.  Since I registered for Attorneyfee.com when I wrote my original post, I decided to check this feature out – and as the screen shots below show, here’s what happens:

Step 1: Locate profile and click on “talk” button:
Screen shot 2013-03-12 at 10.07.49 AM
Step 2: Enter information
Screen shot 2013-03-12 at 9.52.22 AM
Step 3: Message of unavailability generated:
Screen shot 2013-03-12 at 9.52.31 AM
So what’s the problem?  First, AttorneyFee.com never disclosed to lawyers that it was going to advertise their availability for a phone call (I don’t see anything in the terms of service  about that possibility). Second, if AttorneyFee.com is going to offer this kind service, then it actually needs to work. In this instance, even though I entered my own phone number, I never received a phone call. Third, the service is deceptive to consumers and makes attorneys come across as unresponsive. After a consumer requests to talk, AttorneyFee.com generates a message implies that the lawyer is unavailable (which was certainly untrue in my case since I was sitting right by the phone and it never rang) and will reply shortly. And because participating lawyers never do receive a call from the client, they can’t ever respond – which makes them seem rude or unreceptive.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I cannot think of a website or business model in any other industry that (1) volunteers a business to take a phone call without prior authorization; (2) purports to place a call to the business but doesn’t; (3) falsely states that a business representative is unavailable; (4) directs callers to the competitor and (5) effectively conducts business under someone else’s name without authorization.  Of course, if businesses were to complaint about this kind of site, they’d surely garner sympathy. By contrast, when lawyers criticize a new-age way to market legal services, we’re derided for trying to protect our turf or make the law inaccessible.

At some point, market forces will shutter AttorneyFee.com if prospects who visit the site never receive return calls from an attorney (or if the attorney quotes a fee different from the one listed on the AttorneyFee site because the information on the site is inaccurate, which is another problem that AttorneyFee actually acknowledges, even if it doesn’t try to correct it). But at the end of the day, if AttorneyFee.com does go down, I guarantee that its failure will be attributed to the guild-mentality of greedy lawyers rather than its careless and deceptive business practices. Seems that in the new normal, one thing is increasingly becoming routine: blaming lawyers for everything.