‘Lawyers Are Starving Right Now’: Amid Downturn, Seller Offers Clients for Sale

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For lawyers looking to take their practice to the next level, a digital marketplace has emerged to attract more clients. However, attracting the bait could have serious consequences.

Some lawyers find their email accounts filled with messages from the Florida-based Consumer Awareness Group and offer to put them in touch with potential plaintiffs.

Professional responsibility experts say the practice is unethical and possibly illegal.

However, the company making the offer has been in business since 2014, suggesting that money can be made from its business – perhaps even more so given the economic downturn.

“Many attorneys are starving and dying right now as the courts are closed over COVID,” said Samuel Stretton, a West Chester, Pennsylvania attorney who represents clients in court and attorney disciplinary proceedings.

What is a customer worth?

Emails sent by the marketer provide insight into the perceived worth of different types of mass killing cases.

For example, Zantac applicants cost $ 700 each, while Roundup weedkiller users with cancer cost $ 1,500 each, and clergy sexual abuse applicants cost $ 2,500 per name. The emails list prices of $ 500 each for people who claim their hearing was damaged by faulty 3M earplugs, $ 1,000 each for people suffering from side effects of hernia mesh surgery, and $ 900 each. Dollars for those who claim their eyesight was damaged by the drug Elmiron.

However, ethics authorities say this is a delicate endeavor that could be a crime in states with laws against fall walkers. They say paying to a company like the Consumer Awareness Group for customer exposure is a violation of ethics rules in all 50 states.

“On this point, everyone agrees that you can’t pay people to bring you customers,” said Randolph Braccialarghe, who teaches professional responsibility at Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad College of Law in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “You can’t split your fees either. It’s sad that people would do that. “

If the party making the referral is a non-attorney who is paid for the service, an attorney who is part of such a business is requesting a violation of ethics for violating professional rules by the act of another, said Braccialarghe.

Gerald Clark, a lawyer in Belmar, New Jersey, has received 28 emails from the Consumer Awareness Group since 2017. Clark says he was never tempted to do business with the group. He says the emails suggest the senders are selling cases, although it is unclear what the inquiries mean when they say they are offering “held back” customers.

“But I know the New Jersey code of ethics prohibits attorneys from paying per case or for a referral,” said Clark. “If the former is indeed the case here, it seems problematic and fundamentally worrying that a clergy-sex victim could be” sold “to a lawyer for $ 2,500.”

Outsourcing?

But Clark added that the existence of such companies creates a kind of unfair competition between lawyers representing plaintiffs.

“There are certain rules that everyone has to follow. If some fail to follow these rules and thereby secure more business, it will put pressure on others to follow suit to stay competitive, leading to some kind of race to the bottom, ”he said.

One of the Consumer Awareness Group emails contained a list of companies the company claims to have used, including New York mass criminals firm Napoli Shkolnik.

However, namesake partner Hunter Shkolnik says his company has not outsourced lead generation and has not used the services of this group. Shkolnik said his company has its own marketing program with dedicated employees.

Shkolnik said his company would investigate this misrepresentation. He said his company might have responded to a marketing request from the group but never actually did business with it. Shkolnik also said that he thought that outsourcing customer acquisition might be fine under certain circumstances. For example, a law firm may give a blank copy of their retention form to a company that is working with a prospect to fill it out, essentially acting as the law firm’s law office.

“Potential Claimants, Not Customers”

However, the Consumer Awareness Group claims in emails to lawyers that they have “delivered 10,000 signed applicants with an 86% success rate” and that they can deliver signed applicants for Taxotere, Proton Pump Inhibitors, Xarelto, or any other type of case.

A sales representative of the group referred questions about the company to Marcus Obser, its co-founder and managing partner. Obser said he was not a lawyer and was unaware of any legal restrictions on attorneys who pay to bring cases.

The individuals the company refers to in law firms are “prospective applicants” rather than “clients,” Obser said.

“We’re not a company that says, ‘Hey, I’m going to sell you X customers.’ To my knowledge, there has been a significant drop in the number of leads generated by the company and the number of parties filing lawsuits, “Obser said.” I don’t sell clients. It’s people who respond to the advertisement. Lawyers have to do their own due Go through diligence. “

Obser then said he would not comment further until he consulted a lawyer.

In the meantime, law professor Braccialarghe said that “on a certain level” the consumer awareness group’s marketing of customer contacts has likely found some supporters.

“Unfortunately I am not surprised to be disappointed? Yes, ”he said. “Why would a lawyer do that? I think it’s a combination of desperation and greed. “

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