Ebay For Lawyers
The economic downturn has affected everyone. Even lawyers. But one law student thinks there’s a better way to get business than sitting around and waiting for clients to come through the doors. The solution?
It sounds an awful lot like a Yiddish swearword. But Shpoonkle is the brainchild of 21-year old Robert Grant Niznik. The idea, as the Wall Street Journal reported recently, is a site that’s the equivalent of Ebay for lawyers. People post their problems and cases on the site, then lawyers bid on the case.
“Lawyers who are protecting their turf are going to criticize these innovations…but the delivery of legal services is pretty well a broken system,” says Patti S. Spencer, a Pennsylvania-based attorney who signed up for the site.
One of those critics, New York-based criminal-defense attorney Scott H. Greenfield, is quoted in the very same article as saying, “I don’t think Shpoonkle will fly and consider it a nonstarter.”
In fact, Greenfield had a lot more than that to say. On his blog, Simple Justice, Greenfield recently said of Shpoonkle: “Any lawyer who signs up for this service should be immediately disbarred, then tarred and feathered, then publicly humiliated. It doesn’t matter how awful a lawyer you are, how pathetic your business, how grossly incapable you may be in getting any client to retain you. Those are all good reasons to apply for the assistant manager’s position at Dairy Queen. This is worse.”
Why the backlash? Some lawyers worry that it cheapens their perception. On the Solo Practice University blog, Susan Cartier Liebel writes of Shpoonkle, “Here you have a race to the bottom as lawyers bid against one another to pay the lowest fee to anonymous clients with legal problems.”
There also seems to be a fear that sites like this will lower the perceived value of attorneys at law. But is that necessarily true? The whole point of a site like Shpoonkle, or the similarly conceived, recently launched LawyerBid, is to help people find legal services that they can afford.
While it might surprise people like Scott Greenfield, even people without means need legal advice. Why not provide a place for people to post their case, have–potentially–thousands of lawyers look at it, and then get a whole plethora of different prices. Ostensibly, the would-be client could look into the various lawyers bidding on their case and decide which one is not only right for their case, but right for their budget.
I’m sure it hurts people like Greenfield deeply to see their profession treated so unceremoniously. But prestige and pretense can go hand in hand. There’s nothing sacred about legal advice, and there’s nothing sacred about flipping through the yellow pages to find an attorney. New technology has brought us new ways of doing things. I for one, think any service that provides people with more options is a good thing. Because, in the end, the people who don’t like competition are the ones who aren’t offering competitive rates. And sites like Shpoonkle and LawyerBid obviously aren’t catering to them, or their clients.
So what’s the problem?
Besides, the site isn’t just meant to help people looking for legal advice. It’s meant to help attorneys looking for clients. “Obviously attorneys are looking for work,” Niznik said in the Wall Street Journal piece. “Why isn’t there a venue to connect them to people who need legal services? That’s how I came up with the idea.”
It’s not a bad idea. I don’t know if it will take off, but I sure like the concept.
What do you think?