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