Reverse-auction websites where lawyers bid on cases posted by potential clients are nothing new. I’ve written here before about sites such as Shpoonkle and the now-defunct sites Tip-Mart.com and LawyerQuotesFast.com. Now there is a fledgling new entry in this field, and it is distinguishing itself from others by focusing exclusively on contingency fee cases involving injury victims.
The premise of the site, which is called EagleFee, is that consumers can benefit by having lawyers bid to represent them on a contingency fee basis. Standard contingency fees are unfair to consumers, the site argues, insofar as lawyers charge the same percentage regardless of the merits of the case. They are also unfair because they often build in referral fees. By having lawyers review case documents in advance and submit contingency fee offers, consumers should get a fairer fee, the site says.
The site works by enabling an injury victim to submit a claim and upload supporting documents, such as accident reports, medical records, photographs, and the like. Once a case is posted, it can be reviewed by any lawyer, without advance registration or payment. If the lawyer wishes to make an offer to handle the case, the lawyer proceeds to “checkout” where he or she writes an offer of up to 500 words, pays a $25 offer fee, and submits the offer to the potential client. The offer must include a proposed percentage fee. The potential client reviews the offers, reviews any other materials (such as the lawyer’s website), and makes a selection.
“I am trying to introduce efficiencies into the world of contingent fee representation,” Tyler Kolle, the founder of the site and a lawyer in Lewiston, Maine, wrote me in an email. “I believe contingent fees ought to be set according to the merits of the claim.” His site does this by eliminating fee splitting and by enabling lawyers to review documents and submit offers based on the case’s merits. He calls the submissions “offers,” not “bids,” because no one making an offer can see what anyone else has offered.
As I noted, the site encourages potential clients to upload documents related to their claims. However, EagleFee’s FAQ discourages clients from posting “uncounseled statements” on the site. It further cautions them to redact any personal information from medical reports.
However, no preregistration is required to view cases seeking counsel. That means that anyone can view these cases, not just lawyers. To my mind, clients post here at their own risk, because they do not know who will see their documents. Further, knowing what to redact and — more importantly — how to redact is not always a simple matter.
“While I have some concern claimants won’t properly redact information from medical reports, I plan, at least initially, to police this aspect of new listings,” Kolle said in response to my question about this. “I am hopeful that once a number of exemplary listings exist, new claimants will see how to redact personal information properly. The site is really designed to allow claimants to upload limited medical information, ER records, discharge notes, significant test results and the like. I won’t let people upload their entire medical history. I am confident claimants will be able to remove whatever identifying information they don’t want on-line.”
Another concern I raised with Kolle is that anyone could submit a bid, even someone who is not really a lawyer. Although the checkout form requires both a bar number and a credit card, I asked Kolle whether he had considered a tighter screening process. Here is his reply:
I don’t think more of a screening process is necessary for several reasons. First, individuals making offers … only communicate with claimants through the site. This means claimants can’t be e-mailed except through the site at a cost of $ 25, this makes spamming unlikely. Second, since EagleFee only deals with contingent fee cases, non-lawyers would have a pretty difficult time generating a settlement and, therefore, a fee. Finally, EagleFee really is a forum that encourages claimants to research offers and offerors before initiating contact. A non-lawyer making an offer has no assurance the claimant will respond but can expect to be researched. Unless an offeror is first willing to create an extensive false on-line identity (claimants are instructed to search a lawyer prior to contact and look at websites, case references and to check with the local bar for current status etc.) they will never be contacted. Since the offeror will need to use a credit card to make the offer, anonymity will be impossible. I just don’t see this as being much of a problem.
One unusual aspect of EagleFee is its “rewards” program. Potential clients can earn rewards based on the number of offers their cases generate. If a case results in six or more offers, the client will earn “EagleFeeRewards” of from $25 to $200. For the first five offers, the site keeps each $25 offer fee paid by the lawyer. For the sixth and seventh offers, the client receives each $25. After that, the client and the site split each $25 fee, up to a maximum payment to the client of $200.
To date, there is not a single case listed on the site, although it is fully up and running. Kolle tells me that he is about to embark on a new marketing campaign to raise the site’s profile.