Saturday, October 14, 2006

Attorney websites and ethics

Back in July I did a post about the proposed rules for Attorney Advertising and how they affect the web. I did another post about it these ethical issues in attorney advertising in June.

So I was reading an e-mail today and noticed a sponsored link for New Jersey Traffic Tickets - the website is www -dot- NewJerseyTrafficTickets -dot- us. I use the -dot- instead of . to prevent them from getting an inbound link from this blog which might help their site's ranking. While perusing their site I ended up on another one of their sites, newyorktraffictickets -dot- us. I still haven't figured out how I got to the second site.

Anyway, these sites present ethical issues that should be dealt with regardless of the new rules. For example, the sites do not identify the names of the lawyers or law firms behind them. The sites give an address in Woodbridge NJ, but in a search I was unable to find any law firm in the listed suite (there are 2 or 3 firms in the building, but apparently not in that suite. They claim to have a team of 7 lawyers. Are all 7 lawyers admitted in both New York and New Jersey?

The page on New York DWI cases is troubling. First, they claim that: "Most criminal lawyers charge between $5000 to $10000 to defend you in court for an DUI/DWI case." I don't know how they know that. I charge $1000 up front for a first DWI offense if we're making a deal for you. I think I'm a little more expensive than most lawyers around here. The best lawyers tend to charge a little more and also tend to deliver better service. I'm told that one lawyer in the area charges $7500 up front even if it's just to make the deal. Of course they claim to have "renowned experts" though they don't name them. I would think if you were trying to sell yourself and you had renowned experts on your team, you'd name them since their renowned expert status should be demonstrable and persuasive to prospective clients.

Next they assert: "In addition to these charges, attorneys add on hundreds, or even thousands of dollars in miscellaneous (hidden) charges including postage, long distance, administrative, fax, consultation, secretarial and many more ridiculous charges. We believe this is unfair and even unethical to clients, which is why we are fully up front with all our clients."

I don't add on charges like this. I doubt many other attorneys do. Where do they get this from? Here they are disparaging other lawyers with baseless accusations, accusing them of unfair and unethical practices. I'm pretty sure that's unethical under the existing rules.

They then claim that they are able to keep their fees so low because they have such a large volume of cases. Earlier on the same page they claim that they're better than other lawyers because they have a low caseload, and that other lawyers won't do as good of a job because the other lawyers have too many cases. Hmm.

They also claim that they only accept DUI/DWI cases. The site titles include the term "traffic tickets" and the menu includes traffic tickets, speeding tickets, reckless driving, no insurance, and suspended license. I understand these fields are related, but they are not DUI/DWI cases.

They also describe how the law works, and what they do for their clients. This may be the most troubling section of all. First they refer to DWIs and DUIs as "major criminal offenses" in New York. The term DUI isn't really even a New York term. DWAI, the lowest level DWI offense, isn't even a crime. It's a violation. A first-time DWI charge is a misdemeanor, not even a felony and cannot be considered a "major" criminal offense even though it is a crime. In most of my cases I have been able to get this reduced to the DWAI violation. There are significant consequences, but jail time is quite rare.

They then say that there are no plea bargains in New York on DWI cases. This is mostly false. Even in situations where the prosecutor is not willing to reduce the charge to a lower offense, plea bargains still exist and typically reduce the consequences, such as avoiding jail time or probation, or at least lower fines.

According to a "whois" check, the site is owned by Peter Kim, 130 Church Street, Suite 280, New York, NY 10007. The address is a Copy Center, so the Suite is actually just a mailbox. I can't tell if Mr. Kim is a lawyer or not. There are two lawyers named Peter Kim in New York, but neither is listed at this address. A search on the e-mail address from the whois suggests that the relevant Mr. Kim actually lives in Toronto and works for or owns a company called Internet Solutions Network: "Internet Solutions Network is an Internet Marketing Company that specializes in meeting the online needs of corporations and businesses by implementing profitable Internet marketing strategies."

Mr. Kim also apparently owns a toronto traffic ticket website and may have another address at 10 Yonge Street in Toronto, but that's probably just another box.

I strongly suspect these sites violate the existing ethical rules in New York, New Jersey and maybe even Ontario. But they're still up on the web. It doesn't matter what rules New York chooses if the rules are not going to be enforced. And this points to another problem. If Mr. Kim is not a lawyer in New York, then he cannot be regulated by the New York courts. If New York State actually cracks down on lawyer websites with the new rules, then consumers searching the web will be stuck with people like Mr. Kim as their leading sources of information about law.
Post a Comment