“Exclusive Attorneys”: Lies, More Lies, Still More Lies, and a DR Violation">“Exclusive Attorneys”: Lies, More Lies, Still More Lies, and a DR Violation
Bryant Valdes to MWB, 1 April 2010:
I tried reaching you by phone and you were unavailable, so I decided to write you an email. I found your Law Firm on local.yahoo.com. I am with a company called Exclusive Attorneys. We are NOT a referral service. We chose your name because we are currently looking for just one reputable law firm that can handle all of Harris County or some of the surrounding Counties, exclusively for the Criminal Defense & Dui clients that are visiting our site. I wanted to see if you or your firm were looking to generate any new cases this year?
The way we work is very different from other online companies. We only look for ONE attorney per county/State instead of putting you on a list with hundreds like Find Law, Lawyers.com, yellowpages.com, etc. ExclusiveAttorneys.com is guaranteed to be found on the first page of Google when you type in keywords such as: Criminal Defense Lawyer, Drug Crime Lawyer, Murder Lawyer, Drunk Driving Lawyer etc… Once a potential client is at our website, it prompts them to enter in the County of where they are looking for a lawyer. If they select Harris County, it will route the client directly to your firm’s website exclusively, having the client calling you directly.
Lie Number One: that Mr. Valdes “Tried reaching me by phone and I was unavailable.” I wasn’t unavailable, I log all incoming calls, and he never called. “Exclusive Attorneys” is spamming thousands of lawyers, pretending that they’re putting more effort into it than they are.
I’ve written before about the lies that marketers tell to try to get lawyers on the phone. If they’ll do it for their business, they’ll do it for yours; when you let marketers lie on your behalf, your license hangs in the balance (and it should).
Lie number two: “ExclusiveAttorneys.com is guaranteed to be found on the first page of Google….” Try it now: Google “Criminal Defense Lawyer” (with or without quotes). I did, and Exclusive Attorneys is not in the first five pages of results. “Drunk Driving Lawyer”? Same result. “Drug Crime Lawyer” and “Murder Lawyer”? Zip. Some guarantee.
So this, their core product, “Our website is found on the first page of Google, and when a potential client comes to our website, we route them directly to you,” is a lie.
Lie number three: “we are NOT a referral service.” If potential clients inquire about a lawyer in a particular county and you refer them to a particular lawyer, you are a referral service. You’re not a very good referral service, and you’re not a legal referral service (about which more later), but you’re a referral service.
Lie number four: “We chose your firm because we are currently looking for just one reputable law firm….” Exclusive Attorneys chose your firm because you were on a list of lawyers, and they’re looking for a sucker to send them money.
Bryant Valdes to MWB, 11 August 2011 (and 11 August, and 16 August…seven times in all):
RE: May I give you a call?
RE: Looking for a criminal lawyer
RE: criminal defense, dui clients
RE: I’m looking for a criminal defense lawyer
[Lies number 2–4 repeated, except that instead of looking for a reputable law firm they are now just looking for a law firm, they don’t use the word “guarantee” in connection with Google placement, and the pitch is for Florida counties rather than Texas—I joined FACDL, and Exclusive Attorneys somehow got my email address in connection with Florida practice.]
Lie number five: “RE:” I suspect that this is an effort to a) get past spam filters; or b) get a busy lawyer to open the email, thinking that it’s part of an ongoing conversation.
“I’m looking for a criminal defense lawyer” isn’t really a lie, but it isn’t the whole truth either. A criminal-defense lawyer is more likely to open an email with that subject than one with the subject, “I want to sell you online advertising.”
Manny Martinez to various Houston criminal-defense lawyers, 12 October 2011:
My name is Manny. I was emailing you because I found your firm online and I was looking for lawyer in Houston that handles Criminal Defense. It’s not a specific case for me. I’m with a company called Exclusive Attorneys and I promise you that we are not a referral service or a directory like FindLaw, Lawyers.com or any other online company.
Many Counties are already reserved in Texas for Criminal Defense, but we just opened the market in Houston which is why I am contacting you today.
Lie number six: “We just opened the market in Houston.” We know that this is a lie because Bryant Valdes was trying to sell Exclusive Attorneys’ service in Houston eighteen months ago.
So imagine that you’re a criminal-defense lawyer who wants more business in Houston, and you get this email from Manny Martinez or Bryant Valdes. And imagine that it doesn’t matter to you that they’re lying to get your attention, it doesn’t matter to you that the lies start in the subject line. Imagine that it doesn’t matter to you whether the people marketing your practice online are liars and charlatans. In other words, imagine you’re an unethical bastard and, as long as it’s not going to get you disbarred, you’re okay with a little deception. Imagine further that it doesn’t matter to you that their promises about their product fail to stand up to even a quick Google search. Not only are you an unethical bastard, but you’re a credulous unethical bastard.
Saying that something is not a referral service does not make it so.
Texas Government Code Section 952.002:
(1) “Lawyer referral service” means a person or the service provided by the person that refers potential clients to lawyers regardless of whether the person uses the term “referral service” to describe the service provided.
Does Exclusive Attorneys refer potential clients to lawyers? You bet. They do it two different ways. Like this:
and like this:
ExclusiveAttorneys.com, which takes an inquiry from a potential client and refers that person to a particular lawyer, is a referral service.
In Texas a lawyer cannot participate in a referral service that does not comply with the requirements of Chapter 952 of the Texas Occupations Code. So a lawyer who uses Exclusive Attorneys is in violation of Rule 7.08 of the Disciplinary Rules.
Suppose that Messrs. Valdes and Martinez were correct, and Exclusive Attorneys were not a referral service. There’s a State Bar Ethics Opinion, Number 573, dealing with online services that might look a little bit like referral services but are advertising. I discussed it here in connection with the ethical problems with LegalMatch. Among other things such a service must, in order to pass muster, not
unreasonably limit or restrict, either directly or by means of a high fee structure, finely drawn geographic areas and legal practice areas, or otherwise, the number of lawyers it allows to participate for a given geographic area or legal practice area to such an extent that the Service in effect is referring particular types of potential clients to particular lawyers.
Exclusive Attorneys fails to comply with that part of Opinion 573. The service is—not only in effect but by design—referring particular types of potential clients (they would probably say “leads”) to particular lawyers. That’s the whole point of the service, as Valdes and Martinez’s emails make abundantly clear. (“Unreasonably?” if limiting the number of lawyers to one is not unreasonable, then nothing is.)
So even if Bryant Valdes and Manny Martinez were correct, and ExclusiveAttorneys.com were not a referral service, participation in the service would violate the Texas Disciplinary Rules.
(Because this bullshit will continue until lawyers stop outsourcing their marketing, here’s a list of Texas lawyers who, according to Mr. Martinez, participate in ExclusiveAttorneys.com:
- Coby Wooten has the Dallas area for Personal Injury and has already renewed 3 years in a row.
- Bailey & Galyen have the Dallas area for Business/Corporate Law.
- Tom Thurlow recently took over Personal Injury in the Houston area.