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lawsuit, website
Wednesday, Aug. 06, 2008

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As if there weren't enough people out there suing each other, now a Florida attorney has come up with a way to make the process even easier.

Beginning next month, anyone with access to the Internet should be able to log onto WhoCanISue.com. The new website plans to help consumers determine whether they actually have a case and help them find an attorney from a list of lawyers who advertise their expertise on the website. The attorneys will pay an annual fee of $1,000 to appear on the site, plus an additional amount of their own choosing that will determine how prominently they appear in the listings on the site. The website will vet the attorneys to make sure they are in good standing with their state bar associations.

Curtis A. Wolfe, formerly general counsel for Fort Lauderdale-based private equity firm Ener1 Group and the founder of WhoCanISue.com, plans to unveil the new website in September. But he will begin signing up attorneys to advertise on the site when the American Bar Association convenes it annual meeting in New York City on Thursday.

Wolfe's website is not the first of its kind. His most direct competition includes SueEasy.com and LegalMatch.com, among others. But Wolfe says his service — which is free to the consumer — differs from the others in that he will provide real-time access to attorneys. After consumers answer a set of general questions about their grievances, they will be given some guidance about whether they might have a case worth pursuing; if they do, they will be immediately put in touch with an interested attorney.

The proliferation of legal matchmakers like Wolfe leaves some in the profession skeptical. "As if there aren't enough lawyers out there inventing lawsuits, now we're going to invite the public to do so," scoffed prominent Miami trial attorney Richard Sharpstein, a partner at Jorden Burt. "I think this is nothing more than a referral service," he says of WhoCanISue.com. "It encourages, if not creates lawsuits. Our country's courts are clogged with unnecessary and frivolous lawsuits which delay, if not obstruct, the access to courts of people that really need to get there, that have serious legal grievances."

But Wolfe maintains his service could just as easily help someone realize he doesn't have a case — or that, while they may have a legal claim, it won't generate enough money to interest an attorney to take it on.

"With our system they can either find a lawyer or find out by talking to our lawyers that they don't really have an interest in that case," Wolfe says. "I don't think WhoCanISue.com is going to, by itself, increase the number of lawsuits there are, but it may make people more aware of what their rights are."

University of Florida law professor Lyrissa Lidsky believes the service "is likely to increase the number of lawsuits." But, adds Lidsky, who specializes in Internet law and the First Amendment, "It's a good thing to the extent people are vindicating their legal rights to the extent they didn't years ago."

However, if you're looking to use the website to find a good lawyer, in most states you could do just as well by checking with the local bar association. In Florida, for example, lawyers can sign up for the state bar's referral system by paying a $125 membership fee, agreeing to charge clients only $25 for an initial 30-minute office consultation and guaranteeing $100,000 in liability insurance coverage.

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  • Siobhan Morrissey / Miami
Photo: Tim Pannell / Corbis