In Vilella v. AT &T , a New York lawyer learned the hard way that the internet is chock full of unscrupulous sales people and tactics. But perhaps the most important lesson for New York lawyers is that judges will be less than sympathetic to those who are motivated to take these charlatans of the internet to court.
At least, this is what happened when Vilella, a bankruptcy attorney, sued to rescind the contract with the marketer and recover monetary damages. Essentially, Justice Carol Robinson Edmead, of NY County Supreme Court, found that Mr. Vilella should have known better than to involve himself in such a contract, because he is, after all, a lawyer. The Court will conduct a hearing, however, on the issue of substantive unconscionability.
What is the take away here? For me, Mr. Vilella is a hero. I, too, have fallen for promises that sounded too good to be true, and were, of course. Sure, I read the contract. But (1) the contracts are misleading; and (2) I, probably like Mr. Vilella, was excited by the idea of getting quick traction on the internet through somebody else’s efforts–somebody who does this for a living. Of course I jumped. And the unscrupulous internet marketers have always relied on an unfortunate reality among the solo and small-firm lawyers upon whom they prey. We don’t have time to come after them. We are too busy trying to serve our clients and stay afloat. In this way, such marketers are as craven and depraved as the health insurance industry, which denies claims its employees know to be legitimate, knowing that the beneficiaries are too sick, too busy, or both, to take the time to fight for what they are entitled to. Mr. Vilella has at least called these unscrupulous online marketers out, as many of more of would have liked to do.
The other lesson is this. If you are a small firm or solo lawyer, there are better and less expensive ways to market your practice, and to do so in a way that you have control over. Blogging, public speaking, using social media, attending networking events–all of these can help, and require nothing more than time and sweat equity.