Sokolove's 'creative' advertising skirts ethics rules, says professor

By Ann Knef | Feb 14, 2008

Peter A. Joy

James Sokolove

Paying publishers $1,500 a pop for asbestos clients generated through print advertising may not be illegal.

But it sure is a "creative" way to get around ethics rules.

So says Washington University School of Law Professor Peter A. Joy after reviewing a national law firm's offer to newspaper and magazine publishers.

As described on MediaBids, an online advertising broker, The Law Offices of James Sokolove in Boston says it will pay publishers $1,500 if a "lead" is produced from a print advertisement. MediaBids claims to be "pioneering an effort to bring online advertisers back to print by offering a results-based per-inquiry pricing model..."

Sokolove, a personal injury attorney, is a ubiquitous late night cable TV advertiser. His disclaimer to publishers if they want to collect on leads:

"'[L]ead' is defined as a person who calls who is determined to be suffering from or diagnosed with mesothelioma - determination of diagnosis is made immediately, during the initial phone call."

Professor Joy teaches legal ethics and is director of the law shool's Criminal Justice Clinic.

Most jurisdictions, including Illinois and Missouri, forbid making payments or providing living expenses in exchange for clients, he said. Advancing litigation costs or paying for medical exams or screenings as part of litigation may be permissible.

"But you can't pay individuals, companies or entities for generating clients or client referrals," he said.

Joy was so impressed with Sokolove's unusual advertising model, that he indicated his students would get the opportunity to discuss the ethics of the advertisement.

"I've never seen anything structured like this before," Joy said.

He said that if a lawyer's ad generated five leads, for instance, then $7,500 paid to a publisher may be a reasonable advertising cost.

"What if there are 50 leads at $75,000 and the advertiser (publisher) gets 10 times the reasonable cost?" he said. "That would be a problem."

Sokolove's firm, which acts as a "lead" generator, also has strong local connections with SimmonsCooper in East Alton.

In an article entitled, "TV Ads Lures Inventors," the IP Law & Business reported that Sokolove refers 90 percent of patent leads he generates to SimmonsCooper.

The article stated that Sokolove airs a nationwide advertisement on cable channel Bloomberg Television that blares, "Are you an inventor? Has your patent been infringed?"

In the last several months SimmonsCoooper, having amassed over the years a fortune in asbestos litigation, filed at least two patent infringement suits, both aimed at Apple Inc. and both in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.

In November, Digital Background Corp. (DBC) sued over Mac OS X Leopard operating system featuring iChat.

In February, Restricted Spending Solutions sued over the iTunes Allowance function of the iTunes Store.

According to another article in the National Law Journal, Sokolove has made a cameo appearance in "The Sopranos." In one episode, a Sokolove commercial was audible in the background as lead character Tony Soprano was watching television.

Sokolove has also appeared on "Scrubs," in character being introduced to a patient who might need legal help after being in an accident.

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