Friday, July 20, 2007

More about phony lawyer websites

A comment on my most recent post on fake lawyer websites asked how the scam works.

The scam is that potential clients see a somewhat attractive website that gives the appearance that it is a law firm in New York State. For example: "Our professional staff of Lawyers and Paralegals specialize and concentrate solely on NY traffic tickets." (from the home page)

This is not a law firm, at least not in New York. NY law firms are required to state their firm name and their firm address in any marketing. You cannot find the name of the law firm, any lawyer, or the address on the site. Lawyers in NY are also generally prohibited from saying they "specialize" in anything. This is picky, since we can say "focus", but it's still a rule binding NY lawyers.

The truth is that the entity behind this website is a Canadian marketing operation, not a NY law firm. How do I know it's Canadian? For one thing, the whois mentioned above shows a Canadian (.ca) e-mail address. For another, the site menu has the word "Offences" in it, and the site refers to "Demerit Points". Here in America we spell it Offenses, not Offences. And demerit points is the Ontario term for points you get on your license. NY does not refer to them as "demerit" points.

So what they do in the end is charge a fee to the client. Then they find a lawyer in the US to handle the case for them, and pay that lawyer a share of the fee. In other words, they do not disclose to the client that the $X they are spending really buys them a lawyer who is only worth $X-Y. I don't know how much they charge, but if they charge $750, and pay a lawyer $250 to show up, then you just paid $750 for a $250 lawyer.

To be clear about this, there is nothing wrong with a lawyer having another lawyer appear for him or her at a court appearance. We handle most tickets ourselves, but in some cases we have attorneys outside our firm appear for us. They appear "of-counsel" to us, and we certainly do not pay them the entire fee we received from our client. But we do a substantial amount of work on the case before and after the court appearance, and we instruct that attorney on how to handle the case. And we are legally responsible for their work, since it is our client. These marketing operations do not have NY law licenses and cannot be held responsible in the same way.

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