Legalmatch and Me

Of all of the amazing things that have happened to me because of this blog, perhaps the most interesting (and hardest to explain) is my relationship with LegalMatch. 

Back in April 2004 I wrote a short post titled Why I’ll Never Use LegalMatch, in which I took the company to task for its sales tactics.  I’d been writing this blog for a few months and thought nothing of the post or the title.  The post attracted (and continues to attract) dozens of comments about LegalMatch — some positive, but most negative.  I followed up the original post with several more, including some interesting give-and-take with LegalMatch executives.  Ultimately, I received an offer from LegalMatch CEO Randy Wells to meet him in New York.  The result of that meeting was this Apology from LegalMatch posted on my blog. 

LegalMatch next asked me to come to San Francisco to visit their offices and meet with their people.  I got a peek inside LegalMatch’s technology, met some of the company’s people, and extended an invitation to Randy Wells to come to LexThink. 

After LexThink, Randy asked if we (my LexThink partners Dennis Kennedy, Sherry Fowler and I) would do a “private” LexThink event for LegalMatch in lieu of their traditional management retreat.  We agreed, and I facilitated their management retreat last weekend.  LexThink, Inc. charged LM $5,000.00 for the event.

At the retreat, I saw forty LegalMatch managers brainstorming about how to make their company better.  I also engaged many of them in (sometimes heated) discussions about how their methods had alienated folks like me and countless other potential customers.

Gullibility Break:  Look, I know my post and the resulting comments have cost LegalMatch hundreds of thousands of dollars (this figure comes from someone outside of LM).  Just Google LegalMatch, and you’ll understand why, though I’m a bit concerned because at least once a week, someone Googles “LegalMatch” over and over and follows each link back to my blog posts — perhaps to keep my year-old post high up on Google’s first page?

I’ve also learned that many of the internal policies (and people) that led to the things I complained about have changed.  If my experiences with LegalMatch are part of some sort of “grand plan” to sucker me in to coming over to the LM “dark side,” I’ve got to admit that it has been masterfully planned, acted, and executed.

Starting today, I’m changing the title of my original post to “Don’t Sell Like This.”  The comments will remain active, and the content won’t change.  The titles of the rest of my LM posts will stay the same, and I’ll keep the LegalMatch category alive.

Full Disclosure Break:  While a part of me thinks I’m an idiot for not demanding that LegalMatch pay me $XXX,000.00 for removing all of the LM posts from my blog, I’ve not gotten anything personally from LegalMatch for writing this post or doing what I’m doing.  The only compensation I’ve received from the company is the value of two airplane flights, a few nights in a hotel room, a couple of lunches and two dinners for the meetings in NYC and SF.  I’ve received no promises and have no expectations. 

I’m ultimately doing what I’m doing because I think it is right, and because I’ve gotten to like a lot of folks at LegalMatch.  Will I work with LegalMatch in the future?  Possibly.  Will LegalMatch be involved with LexThink in some way?  Maybe.  Is this some horrible violation of blogger ethics?  I’m sure you’ll tell me so.  Thanks for your time, and now back to regular blogging.

 

and Speaking of LegalMatch ...

Kirsten Osolind, on her fantastic re:invention blog weighs in with some smart steps companies can take to extinguish negative online publicity:

1. ACKNOWLEDGE RESPONSIBILITY RESPONSIBILY
If your company has done wrong or had an issue, acknowledge the issue/wrong, take responsibility, and provide an overview of what you are doing to address it. Respond on the site where the negative publicity occurred if possible and if warranted, on your company website.

2. GO TO THE MATTRESSES - BUT DON'T GO ALONE
If the online criticism is unfounded/false/incorrect, utilize your network FIRST. Solicit help from loyal customers and advisory boards - asking them to post personal positive feedback, articulate your key messages, or provide enthusiastic endorsements to counter the negative claim. Ask them to question the person who made the unfounded online claims and solicit more specific detail from the negative evangelist. You'll be better prepared to answer on behalf of your company.

3. TRY PAID SEARCH
Paid search (paid inclusion, pay-per-click) can work to counter negative publicity. You can articulate your key messages to your target audience, showcase customer endorsements, and push down the negative comments.

4. DO GOOD AND BE GOOD
Continue to offer good customer service and good quality products. Over time, loyal and satisfied customers will help douse the online flames and evangelize truth over fiction.

5. LITIGATE AS A LAST RESORT
As a last resort (and we mean a LAST RESORT), companies can pursue litigation, contacting site owners directly or spam checking/reverse link look-ups.

I almost left that last one out. ;-)

LegalMatch Apologizes

Several weeks ago, I got a telephone call from Randy Wells, the LegalMatch CEO. Randy wanted to meet with me in person, and (after I was certain the purpose of the meeting was not to serve me with summons) I suggested we meet during LegalTech New York. (Full Disclosure Time: LegalMatch picked up the tab for my trip to NYC.  I did not agree to do anything in exchange for the trip, other than meet with Randy Wells.)

Randy and I had a nice conversation during dinner – most of which was “off the record” – and we discussed LegalMatch’s reputation problem. I told Randy that, though my blog has become sort of a clearinghouse for LegalMatch comments pro and con, my only problem with his company’s service was (and remained) the methods they used to entice lawyers to subscribe to their LegalMatch service.

While Randy assured me that things were changing inside LegalMatch, I suggested to him, in true ClueTrain fashion, that he needed to open a dialog with all those who seem to really hate his company, including the people who continue to leave unfavorable comments on this blog.  

Randy took my advice, and has sent me the following letter that I post (unedited) in its entirety. If you have comments, feel free to leave them to this post, because I know LegalMatch is reading.   Otherwise, call Randy directly. His telephone number is at the end of the letter.

 

OPEN LETTER FROM RANDY WELLS, CEO OF LEGALMATCH

To Our Colleagues in the Legal Community,

 On behalf of LegalMatch, I would like to personally apologize for a number of overly aggressive sales practices conducted by the company in the past. After consulting with many individuals and groups within the legal community and after a thorough review of our internal practices, it became clear that LegalMatch was less than professional in its approach.

As a result, since taking over the position of CEO at LegalMatch, I have implemented a number of improvements to our marketing team and their practices that will immediately address and rectify these issues, including: 

1)  A new training program with focus on best-in-class, professional marketing practices.
2) A new improved compensation system that is no longer 100% commission based - reducing the ‘sell-at-all-costs’ mentality.
3) A reorganization of the marketing team that will make it much more customer-centric and friendly.

In addition, the company’s founder, Dmitry Shubov, understands that in order for the company to continue it’s phenomenal growth (53% 2004) that he must divest his majority stake in LegalMatch.

There are several negotiations in process.

Given Dmitry’s vast experience in the online legal category, LegalMatch will retain his services as an outside consultant.

This decision, along with our new programs and ongoing improvements, marks the end of one chapter in the company’s history, and the start of an exciting, new chapter in our continued growth. Our mission today is to build on these renewed values and principles that aim squarely at serving the legal community. Helping consumers find qualified attorneys and helping attorneys develop and focus a law practice is at the core of our company’s vision today.

Once again, I hope you will accept this apology and invite everyone to give LegalMatch another chance in the near future.

If you have any questions, please feel to email or call me directly.

 
Sincerely,

Randy Wells

CEO of LegalMatch

Randy.Wells@legalmatch.com

415-946-0896

 

Should I Charge Legalmatch for Advertising on my Blog?

In my agreement with Law.com, I'm not supposed to sell any other advertising on my blog.  It seems a reasonable demand since they are paying me millions of dollars each month to be part of their Blog Network.  You see, I think I may be violating my contract because Randy Wells, who became LegalMatch CEO when his predecessor was indicted, left two comments to posts (here and here) on my blog today.  It seems to me that when you read the comments -- and I encourage you to do so -- you are getting a thinly-veiled advertisement for the LegalMatch service.  Now, as David at Ethical Esq. tireless points out, I'm all about making money, but I really don't want to ruin a good relationship with my friends at Law.com.   It would be far better, in my opinion, for Randy to pony up the big bucks, call the American Lawyer Media advertising department, and buy the huge honkin' ad on the right side of my blog instead of posting comments to two posts from several weeks ago that very few people read in the first place.

As for the breach of contract issue, I think I'll leave Wells' comments for now, but if you do go to LegalMatch, be sure to tell them I sent you.  Maybe they'll think of me as one of their affilliates and I can get a referral fee.  Oh, and if you are wondering, I did try to leave an "ad" for the [non]billable hour on the LegalMatch Blog, but they don't have comments enabled.

LegalMatch Revisited (Again)

I've kind of watched with amazement at the number of comments my posts concerning LegalMatch have generated.  Today, I received a comment to two of my posts from Lance Burton, "Director of Attorney Relation Services and Continuing Advanced Education" at LegalMatch.  His comment, "For an informed response to the many comments listed here with respect to LegalMatch please review the items at the following site."  The site is the LegalMatch Blog and I encourage readers to take a look. 

In the response, Mr. Burton first addresses my major complaint about LegalMatch, saying:

The major issue in the blogs and in other chatter concerning LegalMatch is a complaint that we use deceptive and hard sales tactics to get attorneys to the phone. I’ll be the first to say, we do whatever we can to get a minute with an attorneys to talk with us about the clients we have attracted to our website.  (Underlined emphasis mine).

and then he takes a shot at some of the people who have been leaving the comments in my blog posts:

The former employees that seem bent on making LegalMatch look like the bad guys in the 'blogs' and who continue to pop off about being exploited, or complaining that LegalMatch didn’t do this or didn’t do that, professing to hold special insights into how LegalMatch works, generally fall into two categories. First, there is the occasional contractors we hired who fooled us for awhile by pretending to understand the LegalMatch mission and to have the client’s interest at heart, but didn't. We ultimately recognized the pretenders in this group whose only real interest was in lining their own pockets. They thought LegalMatch was just another Internet dot com that would yield loads of money for them to rip off. The second group of sales contractors we had to weed out were those individual who came to us as “labor fakers.” These individuals, who we asked to work hard in the interest of building LegalMatch goodwill so as to benefit our clients and member attorneys, misunderstood the work ethic necessary to keep a start up moving to solvency. Who could predict that these individuals were just too lazy and short sighted to recognize the opportunity put before them. They apparently thought they would never have to ever work hard again. Shame on them. I personally apologize to anyone who may have encountered these aberations.

I applaud LegalMatch for doing this.  I'd love to see the dialog continued on the LegalMatch blog, instead of mine.  However, the LegalMatch Blog doesn't have comments enabled.  Oh well.

LegalMatch, Compared

I haven't posted about LegalMatch for several months, though my LegalMatch posts continue to draw comments weekly.   In a comment to my initial "Why I'll Never use Legal Match" post, reader Maury gives an unbelievably complete summary of all of the legal referral sites out there, along with his "grades" for visibility and cost. 

Maury appears to work for a lawyer referral service himself, but the information seems pretty reliable.  If you are looking for a comprehensive comparison of most (if not all) of the legal referral web sites out there (and Maury covers over 100 of them!), scroll down through the comments to the LegalMatch post.  Thanks Maury!

Comment from Former Legalmatch Salesperson?

This comment showed up today as a response to my original LegalMatch post, Why I'll Never Use Legalmatch. I express no opinion on the comment's validity, but food for thought if true:

Unfortunately, I was one of the salespeople at Legalmatch. For a very short time. (There are hundreds of us, and most of us were lied to as much or more than the attorneys.) Most attorneys did not have great success with the service, although they hid that from the sales people. The reason? People shop for free advice or post their cases for fun. They rarely hire an attorney. Yet, there is enough volume of these non-cases being posted to keep justifying the demand for "more attorneys" - i.e., more "allocations." With high volume/high pressure sales tactics, extreme turnover of commission-only salespeople, and the real difficulty many attorneys have in getting clients, Legalmatch keeps getting people to sign up and hand over thousands of dollars. (Non-refundable once you've used the system - read the contract. And just try to get your money back from them if you're unhappy.) Not a big surprise to me that Shubov was indicted.

LegalMatch Founder in Trouble?

I thought I was done talking about LegalMatch (see here, here, and here, and here) but several readers e-mailed me with news that LegalMatch's Founder and CEO, Dmitry Shubov was indicted. Here is the story from the AP:

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) -- The founder of an Internet-based service that matches lawyers with clients was indicted for allegedly hacking into the voicemail system of an Irvine competitor and deleting messages.

Dmitri Shubov, 31, of San Francisco was charged with three counts of unlawful access to store communications and one count of making false statements, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Stolper said Wednesday. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Shubov is the founder of LegalMatch.com, which matches lawyers with potential clients, Stolper said, and one of his competitors is Casepost.com. Shubov allegedly telephoned the company, used an access code to hear messages and then deleted them, Stolper said.

He also allegedly lied to FBI agents about the activity during an interview earlier this year, Stolper said.

At least he won't have any problems finding a good lawyer.

LegalMatch doesn't get it.

I have posted here, here, and here about LegalMatch.  This e-mail just came from Randy Wells, a LegalMatch executive whose prior e-mail I posted here.  Randy says:

In response:

In the early days of the dot.com existence, much was expected from the net.  It has taken years to change habits of the American public.  We now have literally thousands of clients coming to us each and every week in search of a competent attorney who is willing to take some time with a client prior to physically seeing them.  I am sorry if our practice of helping people find attorneys is somehow offensive or deceptive to you. 

We are the dominant space on the net, and our major focus is on helping people, not the attorneys.  We know if we truly provide service to the general public, then our attorneys will be happy.  Most other "models" on the net try to "sell the attorney" on some "future promise" of direct referral clients. 

Our focus is on helping clients and giving them a choice of professionals.  True, in the beginning stages, we had trouble getting enough traffic to support the model.  I'm proud to say, that no longer is an issue.  We are not a referral service by any means.  Our attorneys, and our client's, names and contact information are kept confidential until the client chooses the attorney.  The client's choice of representation is based on the attorneys response to the perceived problem, and the attorney profile page (which outlines background reference checks, and personal mission statement).  This allows a level of scrutiny that some lawyers are not comfortable with.  We know that legalmatch is not for every attorney.  We applaud the attorneys that have recognized that the internet is here to stay, and that helping potential clients by a methodology of getting background checks and dialogue, is a meaningful service for the public.

Randy Wells, Vice President
Membership

Randy, I applaud your company's focus on "helping clients and giving them a choice of professionals," and I agree that the more a potential client knows about their lawyer, the better for all involved.  Oddly, neither of your e-mails has even touched upon my only complaint about your company -- your sales tactics. 

You apologize to me by saying, "I am sorry if our practice of helping people find attorneys is somehow offensive or deceptive to you."  I don't take issue with your business model at all -- instead, I take issue with your sales model.  It is your practice of "helping" attorneys find Legalmatch that is offensive and deceptive to me.   If you want to sell me something, tell me so.  You would be surprised just how interested I may be in a company with "thousands of clients coming ...  each and every week in search of a competent attorney who is willing to take some time with a client prior to physically seeing them." 

If you have a good product (and you seem to think that you do), don't be afraid to openly sell it.  Evangalize it.  Make me excited about buying it.  Your sales pitch left such a bad taste in my mouth that I don't know if I'll ever use your product -- no matter how good it is.   Also, your claim that you "are not a referral service by any means," and that your service is different from, "Most other "models" on the net [that] try to "sell the attorney" on some "future promise" of direct referral clients," doesn't ring true when I look at these statements on your website:

The goal is to get you clients in your preferred specialty that you judge of high value, so that you work reasonable hours while maintaining or increasing your revenues.

If in your judgment we don't provide you enough clients to more than pay for your membership within your membership term, we'll extend it for free for up to 12 months until we do!

Therefore, we believe that we will have met our burden under this guarantee if you at least were engaged by enough clients via our service, by the end of your membership term, so that your expected revenues when and if collected, would more than cover the membership fee you paid.

LegalMatch Part III

This LegalMatch thing has taken on a life of its own. Recall that I posted here and here about my experience with a LegalMatch marketer and the company's reply. Since then, Rick Klau and Carolyn Elefant have continued the discussion on their blogs.

I have never used LegalMatch so I can't vouch for their service. I'm sure they have dozens (hundreds, thousands?) of satisfied customers. My only complaint was that their sales pitch, which I felt was less than honest, offended me as a potential customer. Not the way to get the relationship off on the right foot.

The point I wanted to make in the original post is that you need to be very careful about first impressions when communicating with potential customers. Don't overpromise, don't pressure, don't brag, don't deceive, and don't talk down to your potential clients. Articulate the benefits of hiring you with humility, and let the prospects decide on their own timetable if you are the right attorney for them.

LegalMatch, Part II.

The other day, I titled a post, Why I'll Never Use LegalMatch. Today, I got this e-mail from Randy Wells at LegalMatch:

I read your commentary with interest. It is important to understand that we uphold our attorney relationships in the highest regard. Our "start up" days are over, and we are respected throughout the legal community. We never contact an attorney unless we have more clients coming to us for help, than we have attorneys in our system. This system has proven to be very sucessful for our members. We do not use "high pressure" sales people. In fact, close to half of our attorney allocation managers have their J.D. and many have been in practice.

Our process is simply to interview attorneys that have responded to our call to help clients. We don't quote pricing until we have a very clear understanding of the geographical area of practice, the preference within the specialty, and the years of experience. Quoting a fee schedule prior to understanding the needs of the attorney, and the practice of law they are involved in, would be akin to going to see a Doctor and asking he/she for a procedural price before even having an examination.

We are approaching this process responsibly, and reasonably, for the people who have asked us for help. Some Attorneys don't like to be interviewed and have their records scrutinized. The public trusts us, and we will not betray that trust. You can't "buy" your way into LegalMatch. We reject many attorney applications due to past disciplinary problems, but even more, due to NOT having a client flow that can support the Attorney practice. It sounds like you haven't reviewed the site thoroughly. Please go to www.legalmatch.com, and go into the Lawyer join section. Our company history, press releases, and testimonials should give a fairly clear picture.

My response: I wouldn't have posted at all, had the call from Legal Match been something like: "I"m Randy Wells from LegalMatch and I think you might be interested in joining our referral service because we regularly have potential clients in your area who may need a lawyer like you." However, to call me and not identify yourself as a salesperson, but instead masquerade as an attorney with a specific client in need of an attorney immediately is dishonest -- especially if you require me to join your service to get the referral.

I can't imagine having a client come into my office with an out-of-state problem (let's say it relates to her divorce in Montana) and I tell her I'll call a few Montana attorneys to see if they can help her. To each attorney, I leave a message on their voice mail saying, "I have a client in immediate need of your services in Montana, call me at XXX-XXX-XXXX." When they call, I tell them they need to pay me before I'll give them the client's name -- whether the client hires them or not. I could never imagine doing that, and I doubt that it would even be ethically permissable. That is my complaint. Your sales pitch immediately makes me want to not use your service. And if your sales pitch angers me enough to write a two posts about it, think about how much other business you must be losing from lawyers who feel the same way.

Don't Sell Like This.

Yesterday, I received two after-hour voice mails that went something like this, "Hi, I'm Bill Johnson and I have some clients in your area in urgent need of a matrimonial lawyer.  Please give me a call as soon as you can at XXX-XXX-XXXX."  The number is not toll-free, but a long distance number on the west coast.  I'm not calling it this time, but I've fallen for this ruse before.  The caller is not an attorney seeking to refer a client, but rather LegalMatch, a for-pay lawyer referral company.  They don't have a client in "urgent need of my services," but want me to sign up for their costly service to have them send me prospects.  Many lawyers I've spoken to don't think highly of the company's claims.  I can't vouch for their services, but their deceitful telephone pitch really pisses me off.   If they are trying to sell me a product, tell me so.