eLawyering Blog

Total Attorneys Responds to Zenas Zelotes Attack

Total Attorneys has responded to Attorney Zenas Zelotes filing of ethics complaints in 47 different jurisdictions.

The Total Attorneys response can be found here.

Total Attorneys summarizes its response as follows:

"In a nutshell, Mr. Zelotes’s 303-page complaint (including exhibits) alleges that Total Bankruptcy (and various other Total Attorneys companies) is a for-profit referral service, that the business model of the Total Attorneys marketing sites amounts to impermissible fee splitting, that our advertising is impermissible solicitation and that our advertising is misleading. The complaint is a hodge-podge of hearsay, factually inaccurate statements, and carefully selected lines from a myriad of state advisory opinions taken wholly out of context, all crafted together to paint a picture of our program that could not be ignored by state regulatory counsel."

This is a complicated issue that needs further analysis, as there are two sides to this story. Supporting documents in the Total Attorneys response which require further examination include:

Zelotes Complaint with Exhibits

Total Attorneys Response filed in Illinois

Zelotes Reply

South Carolina Ethics Opinion

Kentucky Ethics Opinion

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Comments (4) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Andrew Velonis - August 3, 2009 9:30 AM

"This is a complicated issue that needs further analysis, as there are two sides to this story" Would that you had included such wisdom on your other article on this matter.

Liz McClary - August 13, 2009 3:59 PM

What is the motivation of Zelote? His own site appears misleading and a bit bizarre even. Just curious - is he mad that he himself was grieved in CT or that he feels excluded from certain marketing?
This attorney seems like a zealot without benevolent intentions. Odd.

Zenas Zelotes, Esq. - September 24, 2009 8:54 PM

Why did I do this? Ethical reporter obligations aside:

Consider the slippery slope (as relates to the big picture). If an attorney can pay Total Attorneys $65.00 per lead ... then it likewise follows that an attorney could pay ANYONE $65.00 per lead (social workers; ambulance drivers; employment agencies; and the list goes on). It does not stop with Total Attorneys (and it does not stop at $65.00). Can you even begin to imagine what would happen to our profession were such practices permitted? Everyone and their sister would immediately realize the FMV of attorney referrals and (overnight) masses of laypersons and would-be entreprenuers would be out actively canvasing for legal cases to refer. Easy money. Cottage industries would spring up overnight for the sole purpose of legal advertising and auctioning off leads. Attorneys (in turn) would be actively bidding up the prices of such leads in an effort to compete for these referrals and for the loyalties of referral rainmakers. Given the green light ... nurses, ambulance drivers, doctors (everyone) would be out looking for a piece of the action. How much do you suppose a PI attorney would pay a doctor or an EMT for a solid wrongful death referral or a solid wrongful death lead? A hell of a lot more than $65.00. The price of legal services would spike and (of more troubling concern) referrals would be driven not by the best interests of the client but by the best interests of the referring agent. There is a profound and very serious resulting public harm.

This is what I am fighting for. This is what is at stake. If Total Attorneys prevails and referral fees are permitted, the floodgates will open and all hell will break loose. This is not just about me. This is not just about bankruptcy. This is about upholding the intergity our profession and (perhaps) even our right to self-regulate. No attorney will be immune from its effects. Opening the door to referral fees would have a profound negative impact on ALL practitioners.

I am also deeply troubled by the fact hundreds of attorneys have knowingly turned a blind eye to the ethical rules that govern their professional conduct in the pursuit of personal financial gain. I have no problem with free and fair competition. May the best man or woman win and to the victor the spoils. But when attorneys engage in unfair and ethical acts in trade and commerce in an effort to seek out market advantage over attorneys who play by the rules and obey the law, that's where I draw the line. Here in Connecticut, the payment of referral fees is a felony crime, punishable by three years in prison and a $1000 fine. Am I, as an officer of the court, expected to turn a blind eye to this and look the other way? Not this Marine. I don't run from a fight. I run straight towards it.

This is why I decided to fight. It is the same reason I was the first attorney in the nation to take on Congress when it tried to gag attorney speech back in 2005 (BAPCPA). It had to be done. And I got the job done. In fact, on information and belief, I remain to this day the only attorney in the country who took up this fight and won every contested issue. The outcome will be no different here.

And quite frankly, most attorneys simply don't have the balls to stand up to the neighborhood bully and swing back. Paper tigers. Not me. I fear no man or men. 500 against one sounds like good odds to me. As I see it, the poor bastards are outnumbered.

Bottom line: the outcome of this determined effort will decide the future ethical direction of our profession. I fighting for a better tomorrow ... and I will win.

~ Zenas Zelotes, Esq.

Gary Weissman - October 14, 2009 3:04 AM

I don't see how this is any different from what Google does. In a video interview, Mr. Zelotes calls Google "pay per click" whereas TotalAttorneys is perjoratively called "pay per referral." In practice, I don't see the difference. On Google, you ONLY pay if the person clicks and is taken to your website -- which to me certainly smells like a lead (or a referral). So maybe Google adwords should be outlawed as well.

But the real question here is this -- why are attorneys exempt from this prohibition on referrals? There are entire law firms whose business is much bigger than TotalAttorneys (think Sokolove) where the whole "firm" is really just a big referral business. What's the difference if you buy a lead from a doctor, nurse or ambulance driver, versus from an attorney? I know that attorneys are supposedly subject to ethical rules, but they can be easily circumvented (just make these attorneys part of your firm, "of counsel"!) And to the general public, they probably believe that ambulance drivers are more ethical than attorneys anyway.

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