ABA Journal


Business of Law

As Law Student Readies Reverse Auction Site, Law Bloggers React to ‘eBay’ of Lawyering

Mar 14, 2011, 03:26 pm CDT


This site is a good idea for a client who has a case and does not care whether they win or lose it.

By Skip Hummer on 2011 03 14, 6:57 pm CDT

Its an interesting concept. I have a very big feeling there will be a lot of Abuse on this site. Fake lawyers taking money from people who are trying to save a dime. People who dont want to hire lawyer for more than $15/hour. We shall see

By Jon on 2011 03 14, 6:58 pm CDT

Looks like New York Law School is trolling the high schools to fill its class these days.

By 21 Years Old and About to Graduate? on 2011 03 14, 7:02 pm CDT

#3 - Not necessarily. I was a teenager for my entire first semester at Yale Law School. I only turned 22 after the start of my last semester there. Mr. Niznik is set to graduate next December, so he may well be 22 when he graduates.

By Martin on 2011 03 14, 7:12 pm CDT

Congratulations your hard work is paying off!!!

By Krystel Limonte on 2011 03 14, 7:14 pm CDT

I wonder where Mr. Niznik came up with the name Shpoonkle? Did he have various marketing consultants bid to come up with the name, and he went with the consultant that charged him the least?

By Quite a Name on 2011 03 14, 7:20 pm CDT

How is this any different from

By Jay on 2011 03 14, 7:44 pm CDT

My services are priced less than the flat screen tv most typically have in their living rooms and the services are worth substantially more. However, in a criminal practice, no one wants to pay that much when it's all just a misunderstanding and they clearly did not 'do it'.

By Michael on 2011 03 14, 10:56 pm CDT

Not sure why this is such a big deal now - NOT a new concept:,,,,, and more.

By Ryan on 2011 03 15, 3:35 pm CDT

@4 Mr. Niznik graduated from his high school in 2007 from New York Military Academy if you are looking to be perfectly clear, just an interesting point =)

By Ryan on 2011 03 15, 7:51 pm CDT

Comment removed by moderator.

By Law Firm Internet Marketing on 2011 03 17, 12:12 am CDT

The more intersting idea is how the attorney ethics rules regarding soliciting clients plays out in an online evironment such as this. It's simillar to an attorney contacting someone they know who has a specific legal problem which is generally frowned upon. I'd also be concerned if you are an attorney bidding on multiple clients that you may have to remove yourself from many cases since you viewed confidential information of an individual who ends up being your opponent.

By MD Attorney on 2011 03 18, 11:36 am CDT

This sounds to me like a law student who doesn't want to put the time, energy, and hard work into becoming a successful attorney. Ask yourself, "would I want the heart surgeon who put in the lowest bid to to do my bypass?" If the answer is no then why would you want the cheapest lawyer handling your case? I'm going to start a website that only reps clients whose opposing counsel is Shpoonkle attorneys. I like my chances.

By YoBay on 2011 03 18, 12:09 pm CDT

“would I want the heart surgeon who put in the lowest bid to to do my bypass?”

Thanks to your insurance company, you're probably getting this person anyway.

By CC on 2011 03 18, 1:08 pm CDT

The idea is interesting. It is also a generational approach to law and job search in terms of accessibility and bidding. The way that the generation thinks.

But, MD brings in very interesting issues re ethics. The information sharing and the soliciting are issues worth looking into.

By CM on 2011 03 18, 1:16 pm CDT

Apparently Niznik didn't do so well in trademark law - I'd argue that the stylized Shpoonkle is a deliberate take on Google's stylized, mutli-colored mark. Wonder if he'll use attorneys on his service to represent him in the infringement/dilution action Google files against him.

By Bobby C on 2011 03 18, 1:26 pm CDT

# 7 - You're right. This is the same as In fact, has a much better interface.

By on 2011 03 18, 1:28 pm CDT

How full of ourselves are we?

The young lawyer with an idea (albeit not perfectly original) must be shouted down by the establishment!!! Harumph Harumph!!! Young lawyers with little experience and no gilded diploma from a T1 law school must be banished to poverty and despair!!! Harumph Harumph!!!

Clearly, we of the established and accepted "best practices" ilk will destroy any lawyer willing to debase him/herself by offering his/her services in something so tawdry as an auction! Huzzahh!!!

Really? REALLY!!!???

Welcome to 2011. Things change. Fast. Get accustomed, or get steam-rolled.

Sure, he is offering a service/product that has been tried and failed several times. Anyone remember the Commodore 64? The VIC 20? How about Tandy Computers? Anyone? Willys Overland? Tucker? AMC? Indian Motorcycles? Service Merchandise? Gold Circle? Incredible Universe? Media Play?

Now how about Apple? Honda? Harley-Davidson? Target? Best Buy?

Plenty of folks have ideas that flop. The market learns, and the next iteration of the idea is somehow better. One of these will stick, maybe it is this one. Maybe not.

By chris the student on 2011 03 18, 1:56 pm CDT

I think this is a great idea. Those individuals do need attorneys.

I have found that the more I charge the more respect I get from clients. My motto is "You get what you pay for..." When I charge less to help someone out, I get less respect.

The problem comes with litigation services. You cannot al la cart discovery and if you do not have a sizeable retainer, will you compromise your services? I can generally tell when a client isn't paying, the attorneys will settle a case fairly quickly to a disadvantage to their client.

And nothing is more aggravating than a greedy attorney taking a case on contingency that should have been hourly. It makes a case drag on and on,..

By Angelaesq on 2011 03 18, 3:01 pm CDT

I'd like to add to #18's comment. While I agree this is not a new concept, I think there is a large group of potential clients who simply cannot afford a lawyer for their dispute (at standard fees) and thus those folks may otherwise go pro se, or simply not fight a case and not seek justice. In my opinion, this bidding concept seems to me best positioned to support THOSE individuals with smaller claim, less complex civil cases. I don't think this dumbs down the law profession or the income potential for most lawyers for the vast majority of legal issues.

By Robert Brown - student at Thomas Jefferson in San on 2011 03 18, 3:41 pm CDT

A good underlying idea. Unless the $500/hr lawyers decrease fees or increase pro-bono, there are a lot of folks having to do pro se that might otherwise hire a lawyer. Is the resistance just self-protection, fear of change, fear of technology, and trying to shelter the golden goose?

By Gen Digital on 2011 03 18, 4:40 pm CDT

Is "shpoonkle" supposed to mean anything? I googled it and came up with "a special uncle that likes to help at bath time"??? (& yeah special uncle spelled a little differently)

By Airz Law on 2011 03 18, 5:44 pm CDT

Well, like pretty much every development in our economy since about 1980, it's a pretty safe bet that this site, if it takes off, will:

(1) Allow corporations to swoop in and push the little guy out; and
(2) Depress salaries industry-wide, while the CEO and Directors of said corporations vote to pay themselves obscene compensation.

Next after Shpoonkle: McLawyers.

By McLaw Jobs for Everybody! on 2011 03 18, 6:43 pm CDT

I'm not super familiar with NY legal rates but generally the "$500/hr lawyers" are doing Wall Street or other type of corporate financial practices. The neighbor disputes, divorces, residential home construction, routine criminal cases, and suing the local retailer all fall in the $100 - $300 range (or contingency) depending on the matter and how much you think you have to lose or gain by having a top notch attorney. For instance, I know the ins and outs of the bankruptcy code and can roll just about any divorce lawyer when the subject comes up in a case. They fold like a cheap suit even where they have a defense. I can get a non-violent felony case reduced or dismissed by putting up resistance -- which your rookie lawyers with the fancy websites just do not have the experience to do.

Good luck to all you new or rebooting lawyers out there. It's a tough business. Go get some.

By Michael on 2011 03 18, 7:37 pm CDT

Similar arrangements for legal work also exist on other outsourcing/offshoring web sites (I don't want to mention their names because I don't want to drive more business to them).

Although I've been able to bring in a significant amount of business with such sites, the clients are hell. Explaining simple things to them requires an extensive amount of time. They want things on-the-cheap, but they themselves can create a lot of extra unbillable work with their changing requirements.

Even worse, I have to match bids from India and the Phillipines; so I have clients feeling that they could pay $2 in hour elsewhere and mad that I am SO expensive (my overhead is low and the economy slow, so I charge about $20 an hour). Actually, one client originally DID send the work to the Phillipines but had to bring it back because that firm never delivered what was needed, but the client is still upset about my relatively "expensive" rate (this is a medium-sized business who has outsourced nearly all other job functions to China and Southeast Asia).

There might be some clients on these sites who are fine, but I haven't found them yet. If some of you have, I'dbe interested to hear how you initially vetted them.

By More work for India? on 2011 03 18, 10:26 pm CDT

lt's a bad idea. Here's why:

Donald Rumsfeld called them 'unknown unknowns' - the things you don't know that you don't know - and they are the reasons that this is a bad idea from a lawyer's perspective. Clients rarely tell you 100% of a story. Often, they leave out 'unimportant' details that turn out to be crucial. But when you read a brief description, and quote on that, you don't know that that detail is missing.

This is how lawyers get burned on flat fees - what should take an hour takes six, because the client - intentionally or not - didn't give you 100% of the story.

Young lawyers (not necessarily young in age, but without a lot of experience) don't know how badly something that seems simple can spiral out of control, and the next thing you know, that 'simple letter' you quoted $100 on turns into full-blow litigation and you're in deep because your letter violated some rule. Experienced lawyers have been there, and should - should - be more cautious. Which is why they decry these sites.

And I won't touch the clients with unreasonable expectations - like, 'I should be able to stay in my house, even though I'm months behind on my mortgage, because the loan was unfair, and I should be able to travel to Europe, too' - who troll sites like these looking for someone to tell them what they want to hear.

By G on 2011 03 19, 12:59 am CDT

I agree with G. I don't accept flat fee cases. Be warned, if you do so, you are literally giving the client carte blanche to consume your time without additional compensation. This isn't a big deal if you are offshore and your labor costs are only $1 an hour, but if you are in North America, you won't be able to afford to throw in enough hours. Another issue is that clients often assume that these flat fees include out-of-packet expenses, filing fees, etc., so you might actually take a significant financial loss.

I realize that clients require some certainty regarding costs, so I'll give rough hour estimates. Unfortunately, much of the work listed on these crowdsourcing sites are on a flat fee basis.

Perhaps the one good thing about crowdsourcing is that it channels some of the worst clients away from lawyers who avoid it. I don't plan on ever taking additional crowdsourcing business. New attorneys could probably get better, safer experience by pro bono work for a nonprofit while earning more money working part-time doing just about anything else.

By More work for India, Crowdsourcing Hell on 2011 03 19, 3:17 am CDT

Agree with #12. How have these obvious ethical issues been dealt with on these other bidding sites?

By Ethics on 2011 03 20, 12:28 pm CDT

Excellent comments, for the most part. Here's my $0.02:

1. I agree 100% with #26 and #27 - how on earth can someone simply throw out a firm flat-fee bid for work without knowing the whole story? You know exactly what will happen - the client didn't give the whole story in their post, the work become 10x what you thought it would be, and you'll hold the bag. The #1 problem with young/new attorneys is their lack of BUSINESS sense. Going to law school may teach you to "think" like a lawyer, but it doesn't teach you how to actually BE a lawyer. The law is a business, not a "profession" (as many like to call it - usually those who aren't in their own practice and who do not need to pay the rent on an office each month).

2. #12 is a perfect example of just one of the ethics problems with a site like this. Here's another - what about attorney-client priviledge? If a client posts their problem online for the world to see, how can an attorney ever claim that their relationship with their client is priviledged? In divorce cases, I already troll for social media postings. Why not include postings like this in discovery as well? #28 is also correct.

By MN Attorney on 2011 03 23, 5:25 pm CDT

Assuming this kid is looking to make $ on the final bid doesn't a question arise as to the ethics of splitting fees with a non lawyer come into play?

By Terry on 2011 03 23, 11:13 pm CDT

Would anyone who has had experience with any of the existing "bid for services" sites (,,,, etc.) like to comment on the experience? I am skeptical, but open-minded enough to wonder if there is any evidence that can be offered about how clients or cases secured through such sites actually work out.

By John Ruskin on 2011 03 24, 9:40 pm CDT

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