Ethics Matters

Mark Dubois: I Don't Recommend It

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Mark Dubois
Mark Dubois

The devil in Internet marketing is found in the terms of service. The terms of service for many of these sites disclaim any pretense that they are making any recommendations as to the quality, qualifications or suitability of the lawyers for any particular purpose, despite what the headline text of the site may otherwise suggest (or say). Some do aver that they checked, and that the lawyer, on the day she or he enrolled in the service, was licensed to practice law somewhere, but warn that this information is subject to change and should not be relied upon. Of course, this raises the interesting question of whether the sole credential to determine suitability is that the subject lawyer have a law license, but maybe I am reading this stuff too literally.

Reasonable persons disagree as to whether any regulation of lawyer advertising makes sense. Some argue that other than proscribing false or misleading statements, which are already prohibited by consumer protection regimes, lawyer advertising regulation is redundant, superfluous, and probably unconstitutional. I read that a law firm in Florida recently filed suit against bar regulators there on pretty much this basis.

Others have never recovered from Bates v. Arizona, wherein the Supreme Court first allowed any lawyer advertising. They worry that unfettered commercialism erodes public confidence in the profession and must be restrained. Or maybe they simply worry that if they don't sink to the lowest common denominator with regard to advertising they will lose market share to those who do, and seek to restrain competition by imposing regulatory hurdles. I don't know.

I have always wondered if any of the public are fooled by any of these advertising tropes, so I went to Ripoff Report, a website which allows consumers to post complaints. There were over 1,200 complaints about lawyers, and even some about lawyer matching services. Some complain that the lawyers' advertising was misleading.

Then I noticed a button on the site titled "Legal Resources." I found the following:

"Every day consumers ask Ripoff Report staff for lawyers and law firms in their area, seeking referrals on every topic from accidents and injuries to bankruptcy, Class Actions, trademarks and divorce attorneys. Why? Because Ripoff Report has millions of loyal users, and they trust the Ripoff Report to help them out."

For a price, I could be listed as a referral attorney for unhappy consumers in my zip code. But would I be recommended?

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