Dangers of Searching for a DUI Lawyer Online! A Spokane WA Study

What are the dangers of looking for a DUI lawyer on the internet?

Spokane dui attorney

I visited the site www.1800duilaws.com, entered confidential about my "case", and the info was later circulated on the internet. I typed in something private to see if the site would keep my "story" confidential or not. (See note at bottom of post)

There are several websites that pretend to be law firms, and take all the information you give them and broadcast it all over the internet.  For example “google” the phrase “dui lawyer” in your town. Most likely you will see the website www.1800duilaws.com or one of its affiliated sites.  What happens to the confidential information that you provide the site?  I did a test to find out.  I googled the phrase “Spokane dui lawyer” and came across the site www.1800duilaws.com, and typed in some very sensitive information about my “case”.  I conducted the experiment from a coffee shop in north Spokane.  About 5 minutes after I entered the details of my “Spokane DUI case”, the comment I had entered into the site 1800duilaws.com came back to me in the form of a spam email to my law firm email account.   (I am not sure how I got on their email list, but I am sure that lawyers all over Washington received the same email.)  Basically, the site 1800duilaws.com invites lawyers to contact the person who needs a DUI lawyer, and they eventually try to sell the referrals to the lawyers.  Below is the email that I received.

 

Spokane DUI lawyer

The websites view DUI suspects as a commodity, and then “flip” the clients to individuals lawyers for a fee. The problem is that the site doesn’t even alert people that the information will be shared. The lawyers who receive this information aren’t even necessarily DUI lawyers. These emails are broadcast all over the state. I receive about 10 or 12 emails per week from towns and cities all over. Many of the lawyers could be friends, neighbors, or relatives of the DUI suspect, and the lawyers are under no obligation to keep the information confidential. In Washington state, it is not uncommon for a lawyer to defend DUI cases in the county district courts, but to work as a part-time prosecutor in the local city or municipal courts. I have never done this, but the bar association does allow that. It is possible that a DUI suspect could have his or her DUI case information sent directly to the city prosecutor’s email inbox.

When I conducted the experiment in north Spokane, I encountered many fake websites pretending to be DUI law firms. Spokane DUI lawyer One other site worth mentioning is the fictitious “Johnson Law Firm”.  This “DUI law firm” is mysteriously located at the “147 S Orange street” all over America. As we can see from the adjacent photograph, the “dui law firm” is located at 147 S Orange St in Republic, WA, Okanogan, WA, and Colville WA. It is also located at 147 S Orange St in Topeka Kansas, and also at 147 S Orange St, in Topeka, Illinois.  (Yeah, I didn’t know there was a Topeka, Illinois either.)  Basically, there are webpages for fake DUI law firms in about 40,000 American cities.  There are about 244 such dui law firms in Washington State, including a law firm at “147 S Orange St” in Addy, Northport, Tonasket, Chewelah, Brewster, Bridgeport, Springdale, Oroville, Kettle Falls, Twisp, Winthrop, Marcus, Valley, Loon Lake, Omak, Peteros, etc. All of the websites have the same street address, the same photo of “Mr. Johnson”, and the same testimonial about what a great DUI defense lawyer the guy is.

So naturally I was curious about this “law firm”, and so I called the 1-800 number. My plan was to tell them that I was on my way over to see Mr. Johnson, and I was lost, and was trying to find this 147 S Orange street address in Colville, Washington. When I called the number, the phone rang to some overseas call center, and the man who answered the phone didn’t speak the greatest English. He did seem earnest enough, so rather than give him a hard time with lots of questions, I just let him take down my contact information. I left the number for one of my tracfones. The next day I got a couple calls and emails from a bunch of lawyers, some of whom I knew.  I then revealed my real name, and told them I was just screwing around, and that they shouldn’t pay the referral fee.  The lawyers had signed up for the referrals but didn’t seem to know where exactly the referrals were coming from.  They didn’t know who Mr. Johnson was.

DUI work can be complicated, and there is a lot a person needs to know to do a DUI jury trial, or to try to suppress the breath test, or to fight to keep a person’s driver’s license.   The work is very technical, and using these sites, a person might find a skilled lawyer or they might not. The danger of these websites is that they simply refer the cases to any lawyer who is willing to pay the referral fees.

Writers Note 2/21/12:  I received a comment criticizing this post for its insensitivity to people with HIV.  I was trying to reveal how much sensitive date could be revealed here, not to make light of the situation or exploit the shock value of this health condition.  I apologize for not handling this in a more sensitive manner.  Also, I should note that the company no longer includes case “comments” in their email blast to all the lawyers.  However, the company still sends out everyone’s name and the city they are from.

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11 Responses to “Dangers of Searching for a DUI Lawyer Online! A Spokane WA Study”

  • Back when I was looking for a traffic ticket lawyer, I found these referral sites to be annoying noise — I was looking for a real lawyer, not a referral — but it hadn’t occurred to me how dangerous they could be. Nicely done.

  • William MacDonald:

    Steve,

    Does the Washington Bar allow for the paying of leads?

    • Steve Graham:

      Gosh, I don’t think so William. The ethics advisory opinions on that subject are pretty confusing. A lawyer can advertise with a site like 1800duilaws.com, I suppose, but I think it is kind of an ethical gray area. Someone else might know more, but I have never really looked to closely at the subject because I don’t sign up with sites like that. Although I do advertise.

  • What a great public service to spend the time debunking this “service” — both for the public/clients and the attorneys who may be unwittingly participating without knowing the true nature of the referral service.

  • Steve Graham:

    Thanks Donna! Thanks for visiting my blog.

  • Sammy:

    I’m sure a lot of people appreciate you writing this piece, as I am sure there are a lot of people out there who are wary about entering in their personal information. However, I have to say that I am very taken aback by the description you used in the comments section of the 1 800 DUI Laws form. Whereas I understand you were trying to grab someone’s attention, using a very serious health condition in such a light manner is insensitive and, for me and many others, invalidates your credibility as a professional or even a decent human being. Millions of people suffer both physically and mentally from this virus and for you to use it as means to simply make a point indicates you don’t know how to present a case. To which point I say, good luck keeping clients and acquaintances.

    • Steve Graham:

      Well, some people may have appreciated my point Sammy, but I am sure others, like you, were offended. I apologize for that. My intent wasn’t to use HIV for its shock value, but to prove how dangerous it is to a person’s privacy to use a site like this. Unless I demonstrated the danger, I didn’t think anyone would believe me that the most personal information about a case would be revealed by this company. I picked the subject of HIV, because the confidentiality laws on HIV are the greatest in the American legal system, and if the site allowed that info to slip through, they would pass on ANY information. But still I should have probably used a different example.

  • Dan:

    Good job on researching this down. Now we need as many people as possible people to link to this post, so it’s one of the first things people see on Google searches. Otherwise the information won’t get out.

  • Thanks for providing me awesome info. There are several websites are available now with reference to be law firms. By mistake if you will give any information related to own case thenthey will broadcast it all over the internet and because of this reason you will lose your confidential information. So you should be bewaring about online sites which provide a DUI lawyer.

  • It’s rare that I see a blog post that is both keyword-rich and a service to the public. My compliments!

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Photo of Steve Graham Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer who works in eastern Washington, including Spokane, Grant, Ferry, Stevens, Lincoln, and Okanogan, and Whitman counties. Visit his website by clicking: www.grahamdefense.com
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