The Connecticut Complaint--Total Bankruptcy--Legal Ethics Enforcement Gone Wild

I've now had a chance to review to review the Connecticut attorney grievance committee's complaint against the attorneys who participate in the Total Bankruptcy advertising system.

First let me say that I'm no great fan of these Internet mass advertising sites. I think attorneys can do better on their own with a little educational marketing. That being said, I understand that some attorney would rather pay another to help with marketing than to develop educational information/websites, etc. themselves. Also, note that I have no dog in this fight. I don't do bankruptcy cases and don't know anyone who is a participating member of Total Bankruptcy. I don't know Kevin Chern and have never spoken to him.

I did file a comment with the Virginia State Bar that opposed a recent proposed legal ethics opinion that was itself "opposed" to Total Bankruptcy. At the time, however, I was  unaware of who the target company was.

That being said, this Connecticut complaint seems rife with unwarranted conclusory allegations all designed to label Total Bankruptcy.

The entire complaint is premised on the shaky foundation that Total Bankruptcy is a for profit (and thus illegal) lawyer referral system. My view is that no rational consumer (the ultimate judge) would look at the Total Bankruptcy site and come to the conclusion, as the chief ethics counsel for Connecticut does, that Total Bankruptcy present potential clients with bankruptcy information "in such a way that suggests it is an independent agency recommending an attorney's services."

It simply does not. Go and look at the site yourself. No rational, objective consumer, would think that the site is an independent agency.

Its an ad for legal services. Simple. Nothing more, nothing less.

At page 6 of the complaint, it gets really bizarre. It complains that the site "capitalizes on the financially insecure consumer's fear of debt, poor credit rating, shame and creditor harassment."

So what? That's marketing 101.

The Complaint agrees that the site contains a ton of useful information including information about whether bankruptcy is the right choice for you, a government "means" test and advice on life after bankruptcy.

That's marketing 101.

The Complaint then alleges that the site purports to be evaluating a potential clients needs because it has check off boxes asking questions like "how much debt do you have and where is the debt coming from."

The complaint  says that these check off boxes "imply that Total Bankruptcy is considering these factors in determining which local attorney is right for the client."

No it doesn't.

Lawyer advertising ethics rules purportedly exist to protect consumers. There are almost no consumer complaints filed about lawyer advertising. Complaints come, by and large, from competitors.

At "worst" Total Bankruptcy could beef up its disclaimers and make it known that lawyers are buying an "area exclusive" marketing opportunity.


Problem solved.

Instead, the Connecticut Bar wants to charge 5 lawyers with felonies.

Which path will protect consumers?

Better disclaimer or jail?
Ben Glass
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Ben is a nationally recognized expert in attorney marketing and the owner of Great Legal Marketing.
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