A new website has been established by a Chicago law firm to solicit the family members of the crash near Buffalo New York last week. It is the Ribbeck Law Firm, founded by Manuel von Ribbeck. This is the web site’s home page (www.continental3407.us/index.htm) with a snapshot of the page at about 1:50 pm today: /Flight3407WebSite.pdf Other lawyers have been found to be using Google Adwords to solicit readers to their websites with the search term “Flight 3407,” while keeping that search term out of the ad itself.
(I had previously discussed how this air disaster would test New York’s new 30-day anti-solicitation rules.)
The lawyers at Ribbeck express sympathy for the victims at their new site, and then invite relatives to contact them with this come-on from partner Monica Kelly:
Please feel free to contact us at 1 312 822 9999 or 1 312 608 6776 should you have any questions. You can also send an e-mail to Monica Kelly (aviation law) at [email protected]
You can find the ad when you Google Flight 3407 (/Flight3407GoogleSearch.pdf), and you will also find another Chicago firm popping up, The Nolan Law Group. The Google ad link for Nolan brings up this following image as of 1:56 p.m. today under a banner that states, in part, “Free Case Evaluation” (though the banner doesn’t turn up in the pdf: NolanLawGroup2%[email protected] The juxtaposition of an “article” on the crash with “Free Case Evaluation” speaks volumes, to me, of the intent of the web site. (h/t Jennifer Liddy in the comments of prior post.)
A third out-of-state firm, The Gibson Law Firm of Houston, has also started running Google ads that respond to the Flight 3407 search inquiry:/Flight3407Search2%[email protected] Hitting the ad brings us to this page /GibsonLawFirm2%[email protected] with stuff written about the crash next to a sidebar that offers “Have your case reviewed today.” Gibson even goes so far as to claim that the Continental crash is one of their “practice areas.” /GibsonPracticeAreas.pdf
All of this is the type of stuff that New York’s new ethics rule was designed, I think, to combat. The ethics rules also clearly apply to out-of-state attorneys:
Extra-Territorial Application of Solicitation Rules
EC 2-21 All of the special solicitation rules, including the special 30 day (or 15 day) rule, apply to solicitations directed to recipients in New York, whether made by a lawyer admitted in New York or a lawyer admitted in any another jurisdiction.
By soliciting for a New York accident it would seem to make any potential defense that New York has no jurisdiction over them particularly difficult.
Also on the list Google search list is the office of Jonathan Reiter, who had previously had an ad up with a specific reference to the flight, and then had it pulled down when he was alerted to my blog posting. The ad still pops up, though, with a search of “Flight 3407,” which seems to indicate an attempt to coax victim’s families to the site without explicitly stating the name of the flight in the ad.
As I noted in that prior post, when marketing and ethics are entwined, then outsourcing the marketing results in an outsourcing of ethics. Any firm that doesn’t have an admitted lawyer directly overseeing every marketing decision runs the risk of a mistake that can ruin a career.
It’s also worth noting that there are federal penalties for soliciting after air disasters (though I have confined all prior discussion to New York’s ethics rules and how they come into play regardless of the type of disaster). Federal law prohibits solicitations within 45 days. As per 49 U.S.C. 1136 (G)(2):
(2) Unsolicited communications.– In the event of an accident involving an air carrier providing interstate or foreign air transportation and in the event of an accident involving a foreign air carrier that occurs within the United States, no unsolicited communication concerning a potential action for personal injury or wrongful death may be made by an attorney (including any associate, agent, employee, or other representative of an attorney) or any potential party to the litigation to an individual injured in the accident, or to a relative of an individual involved in the accident, before the 45th day following the date of the accident.
This law was passed in the wake of TWA Flight 800 crashing off the coast of Long Island. You can read background on the history of the law here. The issue here will be whether running ads on Google constitutes a “solicitation.”
What state and federal authorities intend to do with these people remains to be seen. Clearly, it seems, as lawyers try to fuzz the line of solicitation, then First Amendment battles will come to the forefront. There is one currently pending before the Second Circuit, which I previously discussed regarding some of the ways that marketers might try to beat the rules and the First Amendment issues that they create: New York’s Anti-Solicitation Rule Allows For Ethics Laundering and Must Be Modified.
Updated 2/16/09 8:52 p.m. — A third Chicago law firm is now directly soliciting clients via Google Adwords and their website, the Clifford Law Firm. A search of “Buffalo Plane Crash” (h/t Dano in the comments) returns this ad (/BuffaloPlaneCrashSearch2%[email protected]):
Buffalo Plane Crash
Experienced Airline Disaster And Wrongful Death Lawyers.
The caption of the webpage is this: Buffalo NY Plane Crash Involved Turboprop Plane: We have aviation attorneys with experience in plane crash claims involving turboprop aircraft.
The page is here: /BuffaloPlaneCrash–CliffordLaw.pdf
I’ll say this about Chicago personal injury bar: Right now they’re making the rest of us look good.
And as a refresher, this is the definition of solicitation in New York according to Ethical Consideration (EC) 2-18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility:
A “solicitation” means any advertisement:
a) which is initiated by a lawyer or law firm (as opposed to a communication made in response to an inquiry initiated by a potential client);
b) with a primary purpose of persuading recipients to retain the lawyer or law firm (as opposed to providing educational information about the law) (see EC 2-6(c));
c) which has as a significant motive for the lawyer to make money (as opposed to a public interest lawyer offering pro bono services); and
d) which is directed to or targeted at a specific recipient or group of recipients, or their family members or legal representatives.
It is clearly my opinion that, in using “Buffalo” and “Flight 3407” in Google Ads, as it appears is happening, that the “primary purpose” of the ads is to persuade the targets to retain the firm.
2/17/09 Update: DC Firm Jumps Into Cyber-Solicitation Fray, Chasing Buffalo Air Crash Clients
Links to this post:
blawg review #200
could this be the end of the line? when we started blawg review with the question, “do you blawg?” in 2005, who would have thought this traveling carnival of law blogs would still be alive 200 weeks later? …posted by Editor @ February 23, 2009 12:00 AM
february 19 roundup
surprising origins of federal corruption probe that tripped up luzerne county, pa. judges who were getting kickbacks on juvenile detention referrals: insurers had noted local pattern of high car-crash arbitration sums and sniffed …posted by Walter Olson @ February 19, 2009 1:04 AM
Unethical Ambulance Chasing?
In the past I talked about Wisconsin personal injury attorneys sending letters to recent car accident victims, similar Wisconsin law firm’s letters, and accident lawyers who post about recent accidents. In the newest twist, …posted by Frank Pasternak @ February 19, 2009 12:05 AM
ny attorney ethics…
blogger eric turkewitz of the the new york personal injury law blog had an interesting post about attorney ethics and ads on the internet. this post specifically dealt with attorney ads after the buffalo plane crash. …posted by Colleen Ostiguy @ February 17, 2009 10:33 AM
Keep on this, Eric – you are doing a service to the bar and the public. Thanks.
# posted by Anonymous John Hochfelder : February 16, 2009 5:48 PM
When I google “attorney flight 3407” the first non-sponsored link that comes up is your blog post. It’s no surprise that you are, like the other lawyers who have targeted these families, a personal injury lawyer.
I argue that your ethical critique of these other lawyers is ALSO a violation of NY ethical rules. If I am a family member with very little knowledge of where next to proceed, and I google the most obvious search terms only to find your blog post at “nypersonalinjurylawyer”, what’s to say that you didn’t target me any differently than the lawyers you have critiqued. It’s still the user (the family member) typing in the search terms and deciding whether to pick up the phone or write an email.
SEO tactics are powerful. It seems quite a few lawyers are implementing them – inlcuding you.
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous : February 16, 2009 6:00 PM
I did a search at 4:50 pm for “Buffalo Plane Crash” and three firms showed up:
1. Buffalo Plane Crash
Experienced Airline Disaster
And Wrongful Death Lawyers.
2. Air Accident Attorneys
Experienced Aviation Accident &
plane crash Law Firm
3. Airline Crash Attorneys
Law Firm of Jonathan C. Reiter
Contact Our Aviation Attorneys
the first two are Chicago firms and the third is Mr. Reiter again.
I also did a search for “flight 3407” and another chicago law firm showed up although they called themselves “Ribbeck Law Chartered” (whatever that means). Anyway, this one was particularly troubling because they use a “.us” (www.continental3407.us) instead of a “.com” address suggesting a government address… Furthermore, this firm states: “For the ones who have contact (sic) us, we want to informe (sic) you that all levels of government are assisting in resolving this terrible tragedy.â€ as if they are reassuring the reader that the government is on the job…
What is it with Chicago law firms? I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising considering how politics is run there. Is there anything that can be done about this?
# posted by Blogger dano : February 16, 2009 6:00 PM
First: If you went to my website you wouldn’t find anything on aviation law. But that, of course, begs the question, since if this were some other type of disaster in New York, I would have done nothing different.
Second: I’ve been writing about the new ethics rules for over two years, probably over 20 posts. If you click the “attorney ethics” category tag you will see them all. The ethics rules target the personal injury bar. Should I not write about them at the time they become tested?
Third: You are correct that, by writing about the ethics issue, a blogger might end up in natural results. I actually mentioned this very problem in one of my prior posts. That is part of the millions of shades of gray that make this a First Amendment conundrum for these particular rules, and the essence of several posts.
# posted by Blogger Eric Turkewitz : February 16, 2009 6:17 PM
It’s not just Chicago firms touting their services to Flight 3407 victim families. “The attorneys and staff of Kreindler & Kreindler LLP offer their sincere condolences to the families of the victims of Continental Express Flight 3407 which crashed near Buffalo International Airport on February 12, 2009.”
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous : February 16, 2009 9:50 PM
As of now, a Google search for flight 3407 (without quotes) produces a sidebar ad for cdelaw.net, the website of Clapp, Desjardins, and Ely, a PI firm in DC.
Interestingly, the first thing that appears on CDE’s site is a blurb about the Continental flight.
# posted by Anonymous Patrick : February 17, 2009 10:22 AM
As to 1), you are still a personal injury lawyer. Those few that are positioned to gain/profit from disaster are attorneys, in particular personal injury attorneys. In addition, your website advertises relief to those injured. It does not say by what except reckless or negligent conduct. In fact, your settlement list notes a variety of contexts within which you’ve helped those injured – be it from med mal or car accidents. If I am a family member, it’s the fact that you are a personal injury attorney that most entices me to call you.
As to 2)and 3), good question and I agree.
To the unwary, blogging puts you in a unique position.
First, you are critiquing the arguably shady practices of not only your fellow lawyers, but also your fellow PERSONAL INJURY laywers. If I am family member, I may think, “Hey, this guy is upstanding and truthful and forthright. If he’s not afraid to stand up to his own profession, then he certainly won’t be afraid to stand up for me, all the while being upfront and truthful and forthright, etc…
However, to the wary, you are simply implementing SEO measures to attract the attention of these family members as much as those who are paying for sponsored links. Whose to say that you haven’t been called and offered to be retained? And if you haven’t already been, that you wouldn’t turn such down?
I think it’s a huge gray area – Interestingly, the use of google and blogging and SEO tactics have evolved so quickly as to render these advert. rules obsolete.
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous : February 17, 2009 3:16 PM
The issues that you raise were the ones that I thought about when writing this:
New York’s Anti-Solicitation Rule Allows For Ethics Laundering and Must Be Modified
The only “solution” is for PI lawyers not to write about the issue of solicitation. And that doesn’t seem to be a solution at all.
So I’ve elected to write about it, about the million shades of grade, and to note that some may think I am one of those shades.
I simply can’t think of any other way to address the issue than to hit it head on.
# posted by Blogger Eric Turkewitz : February 17, 2009 3:36 PM
Eric, your postings are interesting, but your public service interests would seem more authentic if you took the very carefully optimized keywords “Flight 3407 (Buffalo Crash)” out of title of your posting. It’s my opinion that you are demonstrating your own creative approach to subverting the very ethics rules you cite. You are another shade of gray– creative indeed. Write on, Eric!
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous : February 17, 2009 5:03 PM
I needed to reference the subject matter in the headline. I used Flight 3407 b/c that is the way the Ribbeck law firm referenced it, and then I added “Buffalo Crash” so that folks would know it wasn’t the splash landing that I was writing about.
Then I added “Contravening Ethics Rules?” b/c I am hardly the last word on the subject.
All in all, one long, ugly, sloppy headline. Not quite the classic NY Post “Headless Body in Topless Bar” gem. It’s a good thing I don’t work for the Post or I’d be fired.
How would you write the headline?
# posted by Blogger Eric Turkewitz : February 17, 2009 5:15 PM
One last note: In a mass disaster I assume anything that appears in my tiny corner of cyberspace will get swamped by major media and will not appear high up in natural results.
Now I don’t have access to Google’s algorithms, but that is the assumption that I work under. I would consider it unlikely that my posts on such a subject would be seen too much outside the legal blogosphere when there is such a vast amount written on the subject.
If my notes spur discussion on the ethics rules and possible modifications to take into account First Amendment issues, then that is a good thing.
# posted by Blogger Eric Turkewitz : February 17, 2009 5:23 PM
Keep up the good work, Eric. Unfortunately, the toothpaste is out of the tube, and it ain’t ever going back in.
There is simply too much money in plane crashes, and it is too easy to get. The empty threat of an ethics violation is never going to dissuade lawyers from fighting to get clients because of the money at stake.
# posted by Blogger Cloudesley Shovell : February 19, 2009 6:09 AM
I don’t think it’s proper to capitalize on other people’s agony. It’s like ambulance chasing practices. I mean we should give them time to grieve. The surviving families may be disoriented now but I’m sure they’ll be right on track to face reality and this includes their legal options.
# posted by Anonymous LegalStrategist : February 20, 2009 8:08 PM
This is weird. Real nice work Eric. Thank you for covering this.
# posted by Anonymous New York Hotel : October 06, 2009 12:31 PM