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:
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?)