Sparta Townson, “Internet Guru Girl”

I've known Sparta Townson for years, since she was Sparta Komissarova with Martindale-Hubbell / Lawyers.com (in unholy alliance at the time with LexisNexis). I may have done a little business with her for a little while, and then stopped. There were no hard feelings, but she was a salesperson, and she wasn't selling anything I needed.

Then Sparta left Martindale-Hubbell (some say she was fired; she says she left). Her next stop was at a company called "The Attorney Store" (because if you're going to commoditize lawyers, you might as well be upfront about it) where she was a Senior Sales Executive in 2008:

I went with this awesome up and coming company and they are offering hands down some of the best stuff. I'm no hard push, but would like to meet with you.

I'm going to be making a trip to Houston in a few weeks and would like to make an appt w/you. This company is launching major billboards all over Houston and suburbs, phone books ads, radio, etc in Houston like they did Dallas metroplex.

There were some back-and-forth emails about Sparta trying to sell me things I didn't need, or that she didn't realize (because she hadn't done her homework) I already had.

In August 2008 she sent me a link to a post about FindLaw gaming Google on Kevin O'Keefe's blog. Then she dropped out of sight for two years, reemerging last week with a company called "Internet Guru Girl" and a website proposal for the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association:
 

Summary of prices for HCCLA website

That's between $10,000 and $11,000 for the development of a website for a nonprofit professional organization with an annual budget around $100,000, and then $500 a month for maintenance. Oh, and $225 an hour if "major adjustments" are necessary.

This was tempting blogging material: a continuation of the lawyers.com/findlaw tradition of scalping internet-ignorant lawyers with obscene rates for basic services. But Sparta is a saleswoman, and if she asks with a straight face she can sell her product for whatever she can convince the suckers to give her for it. There's nothing inherently illegal or unethical about taking advantage of the ignorance of people with law degrees. So I let it be.

Then today Sparta's name popped up again. Austin criminal-defense lawyer Jamie Spencer caught her spamming his comments, and wrote about it.

Comment spam doesn't work. The people at Google are really smart, and are working really hard to make Google searches valuable, which means deprecating sites that appear to be trying to game Google.

Outsource marketing = outsource reputation. When Sparta posts (or, probably more accurately, has some contractor overseas post) a spam comment on Jamie's blog, that spam comment appears to come from the lawyer who is paying the bill. That makes the lawyer look bad (see, e.g.), and does not enhance her reputation. Sparta, though, is a saleswoman. She doesn't have the same ethical responsibilities as the lawyers she is rooking serving, and she doesn't seem to care much that she may be demolishing her clients' reputations. Because Jamie is right:

[S]ome blogging lawyers don’t start with a “Hey, did you know what your SEO person is doing?” phone call… they just lash out with the name of the offending lawyer in the title of the post.

(That probably seems terribly unfair to those lawyers who would like to be able to hand their marketing over to the "experts" without putting their reputations at risk, as well as to those marketers who would like to take lawyers' money. But it tends to make a definite impression with the people who are spending the money.)

But Jamie's a calm, levelheaded guy, not known for lashing out. So when he got the comment spam, he called the lawyers paying for it. Then, instead of doing what I might do—hammering out a post telling the world about Internet Guru Girl Sparta Townson, because nothing a spammy marketer has to say is worth my time—he called Sparta Townson herself, and found that nothing she had to say was worth his time:

Sparta had already heard from at least one unhappy client by the time I spoke with her, but was not at all sympathetic to my plight. She asked if my blog was open or closed, and told me that since it was open, my comment section was fair game. What I got from the conversation was that she would damn well put whatever idiotic comments she wanted on my blog, and happily associate her client’s names to them, as often as she pleased, and that there was nothing I could do about it. Open blog, therefore the fault was mine.

I asked her if there were any other techniques she uses on behalf of her clients that she would like me to include in an upcoming post. She told me I was threatening her, and mentioned defamation of character, but hung up before I completed my next thought.

Bad answer, Sparta.

[Update: Sparta responded to Jamie on her (wordpress.com) blog. After Popehat wrote about it, she deleted the post, but it's cached here. Does anyone but me think it's funny that someone selling five-figure websites doesn't have one of her own?]

(One of the lawyers for whom Sparta was spamming "open" blogs, by the way—a struggling young Houston criminal-defense lawyer—paid her a huge amount of money for a little website with very little content, but loaded with stock photos like this one:

Doesn't that remind you a little of this?)

 

30 Comments

  1. THIS.
    IS.
    SPARTA!

    And THIS is Sparta’s sub-literate, incoherent, drunk-sounding response to this issue. Jesus. This person is a professional communicator?

  2. When I edited this post (to include a link to the response that Ken found) the post reposted.

    Ernie Menard commented on that post, but his comment was deleted when I removed the duplicate post. Here it is:

    I don’t have much to say about Sparta other than she’s just another example of someone attempting to get their piece of the pie grittily [as opposed to with grit.] Frankly, she’s no more interesting than a single red ant on a person’s ankle.

    However, the advertisements that you’ve posted and linked to are very interesting. A first natural reaction is that these advertisements are merely and quite ludicrous. However, with a little reflection it seems these advertisements presuppose the guilt of the target accused. That shows something of the mindset of the person designing these ads.

    If I were shopping for a CDL and perusing advertisements I think I’d rather a photo of Abe Lincoln splitting a rail, or Washington rowing a boat. Maybe Max Baer or Jimmy Braddock. Anything other than what the prosecution might present.

  3. WOW. Being in the same business that she is supposedly in, I find it hard to believe that they are selling their “services” at such prices. Frankly, at nearly ten to one-hundred times the amout that such things should properly cost.

    Secondly, I really must applaud you Mark for correctly identifying Google’s policy on spammed back-links. Spammed back-links and link-farms will not only get you nowhere with Google, but you run a very serious risk of getting someone’s domain name blacklisted by Google.

    I also want to thank you for drawing attention to the commercialization of the profession. No matter what may be said about it, it has always been true that corporate interests ALWAYS come before the interests of the client, consumer or customer.

  4. So she deleted her strange ranting post, then put it back up with a new title. And she’s added two other defensive posts. Putative clients are commenting in her defense on one of them. I can’t help but notice that those clients have similar odd diction.

    1. That’s funny—she thinks it might be unethical for me to post a piece of information that was not sent to me, because the email it was sent to someone else with contained a mumbo-jumbo confidentiality paragraph.

      I’ll bet she finds lots of lawyers to support her—people dropping $10 large on a website want to believe they’re getting the best. But those who have commented so far don’t have appreciable web presences.

  5. “by the way—a struggling young Houston criminal defense lawyer—paid her a huge amount of money for a little website with very little content, but loaded with stock photos like this one:”

    If you know this guy, have him contact a few of the local college Computer Science departments and explain his problem. Most of those kids do websites, for their dogs, in their sleep and they look better than a Microsoft homepage.

    1. I have a question and two comments:

      1. If a struggling attorney is paying too much money for these services, why not shop around for other services for another price? Nobody is forcing him to spend the money.

      2. An attorney should be educated enough to not need the advice to contact a college computer science department, and be able to think of that idea on their own, especially if they are so strapped for cash

      3. Attorneys should be educated enough to read the terms of the contract and inquire about the services in detail

      ***************************************
      I am a 1st year law student, I have looked up this subject in other posts and agree that spamming is bad. However, this subject seems to deal with a supposedly unreasonable price for services. I am surprised at the fact that trained, supposedly intelligent attorneys that have survived through law school are not competent enough to shop around for a service, and read the contracts they get into.

      1. You mean Sparta is a saleswoman, and if she asks with a straight face she can sell her product for whatever she can convince the suckers to give her for it?

        You mean there’s nothing inherently illegal or unethical about taking advantage of the ignorance of people with law degrees?

        What a unique and interesting perspective, Amanda!

      2. 1. Yes, just look at all the horrible things they sell on TV “for only 5 easy payments of 199.99!” Or any of the clothing and jewelry peddled on the shopping network as the latest fashion when in fact you can find the same thing at your neighborhood walmart.

        2. My main concern is the fact that we are not talking about your average Joe Blow here, the clients are ATTORNEYS – some of the most educated people in the country. It is even more disappointing, that not only are they very well educated, all attorneys go through two semesters of Contract Law their first year of law school.

        “taking advantage of the ignorance of people with law degrees” is an oxymoronic statement – the direct antonyms of ignorance are “competence”, “education” and “intelligence”. Therefore an ignorant person with a law degree is educationally incompetent.

        The fact that an older attorney might not be familiar with social networking is not an excuse, they should either recognize their lack of understanding of the technology and do some research on it, OR, stick with traditional advertising methods such as newspaper/yellow pages ads, billboards, commercials etc.

        Apparently our law schools are not doing a good enough job of teaching the subject where an attorney can not properly read/negotiate a basic services contract for themselves, let alone for their client.

      3. 1. Maybe irony really is dead.

        2. Wrong. The opposite of ignorance is not “competence,” “education,” or “intelligence,” but “knowledge.” A lawyer can be highly competent in the courtroom, very well-educated, and extremely knowledgeable about all things legal while still being ignorant about internal combustion engines, nuclear physics, or web marketing.

        Salespeople often make money by exploiting people’s ignorance. Sparta Townson is such a saleswoman; she can talk a good game and persuade ignorant lawyers to trust her. Instead of trusting barkers like her to direct their web marketing, though, lawyers should do some research on their own. Spread the word.

      4. oh, and PS Mark… OMG are the prices for the non-profit quote above out of bounds. a reputable business could get that done for 1/2 some even a 1/3 of those prices.

      5. I have several clients that I have done IT work for. One was school teacher, another has her MA in therapy, one gentleman actually gained his PH.d in Social Sciences. The one common theme for all of these above is that none of them are IT related. Some were even using a nationally unnamed NERD service that charge 150 to 250% more for items other local services charged.

        It isn’t that intelligent people should be able to see a good deal. it is that intelligent people gain that insight in their field of endeavor.

        I’m a pretty smart guy myself, but I cannot tell you if the guy at the auto shop is ripping me off even if I can source the parts myself.

      6. You were clearly not paying attention to my whole post.

        If you dislike my definition and antonyms for the word “ignorance” you could look them up in any online dictionary. I was simply defining the word that you have first chosen to use.

        ig·no·rance (?g’n?r-?ns)
        n. The condition of being uneducated, unaware, or uninformed.
        The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

        from my understanding an ignorant person is lacking knowledge by choice.

        regardless of the definition, I have also addressed the options of attorneys unfamiliar with websites and social networking: stick with traditional media outlets.

        I can not tell if the guy at the auto shop is ripping me off either, that Is why I do my research by asking my friends and neighbors about the services they have used, how much they have paid for similar services and get at least 2-3 quotes on the work being done, Instead of stopping at the first carshop I see on the street corner.

      7. Thank you for trying to define my terms for me, but the argumentum ad lexicon is not accepted here, “any online dictionary” is not an authority, and my OED can beat up your American Heritage with 19 volumes tied behind its back.

        Ignorance is the want of knowledge; choice has nothing to do with it. Because knowledge can be gained without education, “educated” is a weak antonym for “ignorant,” only functional as far as educated people have knowledge. There is nothing contradictory (much less oxymoronic, which is a term often misused by people who think every contradiction in terms is an oxymoron and who further think that using the word “oxymoron” makes them sound less ignorant) about an educated person having ignorance in some area not covered by her education. For example, you are apparently educated, with at least a 4-year degree, but you are ignorant of rhetoric—see “oxymoron.”

        Better antonyms for “ignorant” are “knowing” or “savvy” (but not “intelligent” or “competent”, because lots of intelligent people are ignorant and lots of incompetent people are not).

        I agree entirely that lawyers should be more savvy about web marketing; that is precisely why I bother with posts like these.

      8. Wow. What a response from a yet-to-be attorney who has neither experience nor knowledge.

        I happened to be an attorney, an internet developer and a marketer. In other words, I have certain insight into this subject that most of my fellow attorneys do not.

        What I mean to say is that I do not expect my fellow attorneys to be familliar with the subject (Mark’s comment about education, quotes, etc., is right on point) and neither should you.

        Why?

        Well, for the same reason that I would not pretend to have any idea about Admiralty law, IP law or some other such specialty area. We just do not always have the time to research and learn about subject areas, especially when we are also trying to run a business.

        One of the things they do not teach in law school (and something I think we all lament) is how to run a law business. Yes, even those who desire employment in a larger law firm need to understand how hourly rates are calculated against overhead, etc., in order that they be more productive and revenue-generating, and so forth.

        Lastly, as a small suggestion, you may want to take more time to listen and less time chastising others – it is better to be quiet and have folks think you are a fool then to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

  6. If these Web Site services are so ridiculously priced, can someone explain to me why my lawyer charged me $185.00 for a 10 minute phone call? I would think that lawyers are scamming me as well! Two wrongs do not make a right!

    1. David, what was your deal with your lawyer?

      $185 for ten minutes is $925 an hour (lawyer math—10 minutes = 0.2 hour), which is a steep hourly rate. I doubt that you agreed to that.

      If you paid your lawyer $185 to do a job, and that job only took 10 minutes, I’d say you got exactly what you paid for.

  7. Mark,

    As an out of work IT guy with plenty of website design history, a love of the legal world and a [quiet] reader of this blog, I’d be happy to do that same work for less than 25% of that cost! 🙂

    That’s just silly, I don’t care who you are. Are we supposed to go with the thought that the greater the income of a business, the more they should spend on a website???? Sure, a larger company usually means a larger website / presence, but that has ZERO to do with rates / charges / income of the company needing the work…

    Then again, there is a sucker born everyday, and if you wanna pony up 10-15k for a site, there will be someone there to take it, and I can’t blame them, but her tactics are a bit much…

    JD

  8. [Text deleted—duplicative of this comment. Just another sort of spam.]

    [Patrick, three things, other than “don’t try to post comments here that you’ve posted elsewhere”:

    1. This isn’t the “Sparta Townson sucks/rocks” blog. If you’d like to address the specifics of the post, feel free, but be prepared to back up what you say with something more than amorphous claims of being a “Professional in the social networking industry.” You might also be interested in my Social Media Tyro blog, where we’ll be discussing Ms. Townson’s actual credentials. If you know of a single case in which an IGG client is in the top 5 of a Google search for “[Large Texas City] [Area of Law] [attorney / lawyer],” email me.

    2. Are you going to file that grievance or not? Here’s how. Don’t threaten—threatening just makes you look like a douchebag.

    3. I understand you and Ms. Townson have been threatening lawsuits. $300 will get you into court; again, don’t threaten. I was just going to let the story drop till I heard that Townson was trying to suppress it. Threatening suit to suppress a story online is the mark of a true social media amateur.

    Okay, I counted wrong. Four things:

    4. What the fuck is a “News Consultant”?
    ]

    1. The interesting thing about the referenced post is that “SEO professionals” (that is Search Engine Optimization) do not require the use of spam links, silly-self-touting blog posts, “closed” blogs (in reference to the comment about the “open” blogs) or the other silliness that she (or this “news consultant”) have blathered on about.

      SEO requires dedication to message and purpose, an incredible amount of time and energy (for EACH web site) and an aptitude that is not born of self-aggrandizement.

      Lastly, SEO has absolutely nothing directly in common with social media. One (social media) is merely a tool through which one might improve one’s search engine standing/ranking.

      I am, among other things (including being an attorney), a “professional in the social networking industry.” I find these assertions to be nothing more than puffery at best, and maybe asinine at worst.

      1. Thanks for that link Mark. I tossed in a very quick response because I think there might be some misconceptions about what SEO really is – I am certain that the “internet guru girl” has not clearly explained the true aims, purposes or mechanics of SEO thus far.

  9. I have no doubt that shell be a lot closer to being an “expert” in social media after she learns just how something like this can affect a person’s life. Like getting sued for libel or having the most visible and respected criminal defense lawyers in the country tell everyone you’re an idiot.

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