Recently we started hearing from callers to our office that they had received lists of several “pro bono” area criminal defense attorneys. These are people who would contact our office for the free information we have regarding DUI defense, domestic violence, or other areas of law, but then share that they could obtain free representation elsewhere due to so many “free, pro bono” lawyers advertising on the Internet.
This didn’t sound right to me, and it caused me to start doing some investigation.
What I discovered is that recently various websites have been created with names indicating that they are for free or pro-bono attorneys. These sites aren’t actually created by lawyers, or even for the benefit of lawyers. Instead they are sites setup to trick the public into clicking on them.
Here is how it works. If you go on Google and search for a lawyer you might see an advertisement in the top part of the search results. Those are usually pay per click ads. This means that whenever they are clicked the advertiser has to pay a fee to Google. Fees vary depending on a lot of factors. They range from just a few cents to hundreds of dollars per click.
The fake attorney websites will be listed with the pay per click results. This means that the people who setup that site will be charged every time someone clicks. I’m guessing it is a small amount; otherwise this scheme wouldn’t be worthwhile.
When you click on one of these ads the fake pro bono attorney website is just a collection of other ads, but this time for real lawyers. This will be through a program also run by Google where private websites can devote space for Google ads, and then when those ads are clicked the website gets a cut of the pay per click fee. This is how the people who setup these fake pro bono attorney ads make their money. They are hoping to pay less money to Google to have people click on their site than they collect back from Google when people click on the ads inside their site.
The real lawyers who are advertising online end up paying the pay per click charges for these clicks. These lawyers just signed up with Google to have their websites advertised, they didn’t specifically agree to be listed in these directories. The people who need legal services, and are hoping to find some free or reduced cost help end up getting mislead by this scheme thinking that the lawyers they are getting connected with are “pro bono”.
In the sense that the real lawyers are paying for clicks from these fake websites, then they are being ripped-off by the schemers. The public who is tricked into thinking they are getting connected with pro bono lawyers are also victims in the sense that they are wasting their time calling law firms that aren’t going to be able to help them. This is time they could better spend applying for a public defender (that is the office that will provide free criminal defense services for poor people.)