Searching for a lawyer? Go online.

August 4, 2007

Saturday,  August 4, 2007 3:23 AM
Central Ohioans looking for legal help and lawyers looking for clients now have a new method of connecting: through the Internet.


The Columbus Bar Association rolled out this summer. It was designed as a marketing tool and information site for consumers.

So far, 38 local lawyers in 15 fields of practice have posted profiles, said Anne Leonard-Palmer, who is managing the site for the Columbus Bar.

The site allows consumers to do research on local lawyers and compare prices based on the type of legal services they might need, she said.

"We think consumers want to be more prepared before they hire or even contact an attorney," Leonard-Palmer said.

Liamlaw also offers consumers free access to a legal glossary, a legal tool kit that describes what consumers should know about hiring a lawyer, and links to other sites of interest. The site has had 446,000 consumer hits since going up in May, Leonard-Palmer said.

Consumers commonly seek referrals from friends or relatives when the need for a lawyer arises. Going online might spare them from revealing personal or embarrassing information, a local bar official said.

"Many consumers appreciate the privacy and ability for self-information that the Web provides," Alex Lagusch, executive director of the Columbus Bar Association, said in a statement.

Lawyers who participate in

Liamlaw are members of the Columbus Bar and in good standing with the Ohio Supreme Court. They pay a $300 monthly fee to have their profiles and contact information listed on the site.

The Web site provides lawyers with an allowable way to market their services. The Ohio Supreme Court says lawyers cannot solicit clients via telephone calls, the Internet or e-mail, according to the Ohio State Bar Association.

But lawyers are allowed to advertise using the Internet, TV, radio and print media, following guidelines set by the court.

As a result, "Liamlaw helps

attorneys advertise themselves in a more humanistic way, to give consumers more of a choice in hiring," Leonard-Palmer said.

Dublin lawyer Nancy L. Sponseller, who put her profile on Liamlaw, loves dogs and works to find homes for rescued canines. And she says so online. She said her profile on Liamlaw has connected her with clients who feel she is "someone they can sit down and feel at ease discussing their (legal issue) with."

"More and more people are on the Web looking for information about everything in their life," Sponseller said. "So it makes sense that they are going online looking for lawyers, and I wanted to be a part of it."

The Columbus Bar invested $150,000 to create the site and expects to recoup that investment by June, Leonard-Palmer said. Although the group already offers a telephone-based legal referral service, it felt that consumers needed access to legal referrals outside of the phone bank's weekday hours, she said.

"Yahoo users searched more than 600,000 times for the phrase 'Columbus and Ohio lawyers and/or attorneys' last year, so there is a real need here," she said.

The move to use the Internet for legal referrals is part of a new trend by bar associations nationwide to aid consumers who traditionally are unsure what to look for in an attorney or even how to look for one, according to the American Bar Association.

The online directory "is a relatively new way for legal consumers to find a lawyer," Ronald Abernathy, chairman of the association's committee on lawyer referral and information services, wrote in an e-mail. "Whether online directories are the wave of the future or constitute a trend is unclear at this point and I suspect the marketplace will determine their future."