If you’ve ever tried to use Google to find a lawyer for a DUI or traffic offense, you’ve probably stumbled across one of those relentlessly SEO optimized sites that isn’t actually a law firm but promises to put you in touch with a lawyer. Basically, they’re referral services.
This always seemed annoying but harmless to me. To Spokane, Washington criminal defense attorney Steve Graham, however, it seemed like something worth a bit of investigation:
I googled the phrase “Spokane dui lawyer” and came across the site www.1800duilaws.com, and typed in some very sensitive information about my “case”. I conducted the experiment from a coffee shop in north Spokane. About 5 minutes after I entered the details of my “Spokane DUI case”, the comment I had entered into the site 1800duilaws.com came back to me in the form of a spam email to my law firm email account.
The contact form on these websites usually includes something along the lines of “you are not forming an attorney-client relationship,” which sounds like they’re just warning you that no one has promised to be your lawyer yet. What they don’t say explicitly, however, is that this means that what you are writing is not a privileged communication. The people who receive them are not acting as your lawyer, and they have no legal obligation to keep your secrets.
I was aware of this, but as Graham explains, it’s much worse than I thought:
The lawyers who receive this information aren’t even necessarily DUI lawyers…Many of the lawyers could be friends, neighbors, or relatives of the DUI suspect, and the lawyers are under no obligation to keep the information confidential. In Washington state, it is not uncommon for a lawyer to defend DUI cases in the county district courts, but to work as a part-time prosecutor in the local city or municipal courts…It is possible that a DUI suspect could have his or her DUI case information sent directly to the city prosecutor’s email inbox.
Geez. I did not see that one coming.
Steve Graham’s post has a lot more information, including one site that masquerades as a law firm with offices in thousands of U.S. cities.