Auction Site Lets Lawyers Bid on Contingency Cases

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.

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6 Responses to “Auction Site Lets Lawyers Bid on Contingency Cases”

  1. Ron Miller says:

    My first reaction is this is nuts. My second reaction was I can see where this might make sense in soft tissue injury cases where the clients just needs someone to process the claim and make sure they are not completely taken advantage of… it makes arguably a little bit of sense. The problem is the equation is both cost and quality of service, not just for lawyers but for virtually any service where the quality of the service varies.

    Practically, the lawyers willing to get into this bidding are unlikely to be high quality lawyers. I’m not saying none of them are. But most of these are not going to be good lawyers because they are bidding in an environment where being a skilled lawyer is not a particularly relevant factor.

  2. Maybe I’m naive, but there seems to me something very untoward about this process. I share your concerns about confidentiality and agree with the previous comment about the caliber of attorneys likely to be drawn to the site. It reminds me of old movies in which slave auctioneers would display the captives’ teeth to bidders, only here, would-be plaintiffs would proudly show-off their injured body parts.

  3. Ron Miller says:

    Oh, geez, Sheldon. I don’t like it either but I don’t see it quite that way!

  4. Tyler Kolle says:

    Thank you for the write-up, Robert. Let me respond to a number of observations made here.
    First, EagleFee is a forum, not an auction site. Lawyers who wish to represent a claimant submit offers of up to 500 words including a proposed fee. The claimant can then initiate contact with any, all, or none of the lawyers submitting offers. Offers, maybe proposals would be a better word, are confidential; lawyers do not bid against one another or base their offers on what anyone else says.
    Just as all cases are different, so are all lawyers. Beyond proposing a fee, lawyers are encouraged to provide biographical information, relevant professional experience and an explanation to the claimant of why the lawyer should be hired. I believe most lawyers will provide links to their websites to provide much of this background information. This process is very similar to what every lawyer already does when first meeting a client in the office.
    I disagree with the commentator who thinks that EagleFee creates an environment in which “ being a skilled lawyer is not a particularly relevant factor.” Skilled lawyers should easily be able to cite sources supporting their reputations and proposals. Claimants are instructed to consider the totality of the offer, not just the suggested fee. EagleFee simply requires all lawyers, even skilled ones, to articulate why they deserve the client’s business, nothing more, nothing less.
    I also believe confidentiality concerns are misplaced. The reason EagleFee uses third party authored documents to outline claims is to prevent claimants from making uncounselled statements online and to provide lawyers with more objective information to evaluate. Information contained in public and quasi-public documents is not generally confidential and, to the extent protections exist, they are trumped by the realities of the claims or litigation processes. Claimants are instructed to redact (should I say cross out) identifying information from medical reports. I think they can handle this. To the commentator who is concerned about the potential for “untoward” images or material appearing online, I can only say that it is unimaginable to me that anything submitted to EagleFee can rival the salacious content already freely available on the Web.

  5. mark zamora says:

    I spent about 20 minutes on the site. Not one potential case in about 15 states I checked. Business wise, not sure this ever competes against the multitude of TV advertisers just in FL/GA and AL – combined they spend more than $50 million on the air and on the web.

    That being said, my first thought is – does this pass ethics muster? I’ve sent an email to a bar assoc. – no word yet.

    Business and ethics- next is the client. Living in the south, for many potential clients I’d say we *maybe* send any papers via email or scanned in 1 out of 200. Expecting that someone will “upload” any documents to me .. you are trying to appeal to the 1% of the 1% of all cases. My two cents to Eagle Fee.

    IF this gives a person another avenue to find a lawyer, that may not be a bad thing. I’m just being candid and assessing it on a few levels. I could be completely wrong, that’s why its an opinion

  6. [...] in which the providers of a service compete to obtain the consumer’s business. I’ve written about other reverse-auction sites before, including EagleFee and [...]

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