Online Bidding for Clients

Today’s Wall Street Journal published an article on Shpoonkle, an online auction site similar to eBay where lawyers can bid on clients.  Both Susan Cartier Liebel and Scott Greenfield had blogged about this site in the past month.  Robert Ambrogi even chimed in that the concept is old news and will hopefully fall to its demise sooner rather than later.

Should we really consider this a new method of online delivery of legal services or is it just another form of online lawyer marketing?  

My interest here as a virtual lawyer is in the potential online delivery of legal services to clients.  It doesn’t seem that Shpoonkle provides the registering attorneys with client portals or any other way of actually working with the clients online.  Once an attorney “wins” a bid, the parties move back to a more traditional attorney/client relationship.  However, I can see this form of bidding taking the next step where the attorney whose bid is chosen uses some form of secure workspace provided through the site to unbundle legal services online to the client.  Think about how operates. 

While I’m not at all a fan of this concept, I can understand why a lawyer who has thousands of dollars in debt from law school and no job prospects or client base to work with would sign up for this service.  These are not easy times for the legal profession.  However, I know there are more dignified and just as effective ways to build a client base using online methods.  Of course, most law schools didn’t teach those practical strategies to law students who are now trying to swim upstream.  So really, who is to blame if anyone? 

Looks like they will need to add this bidding for a lawyer concept to the long list of issues that the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 had in their issues paper on the Use of the Internet as a Client Development Tool.  Guess we can only wait and watch to see how many lawyers sign up and whether this model, which Robert Ambrogi points out is not new at all, will actually take off this time around with the online consumer.  

I would love to read an analysis of this model from an ethical standpoint.  Will try to work that into a future post.  Anyone have any initial thoughts going by the ABA Model Rules as a guidepost?

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