Lawsuits against file-sharers are commonplace in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of people have been accused in recent years, most after using standard BitTorrent clients.
The cases barely make the news anymore but for copyright holders and law firms they are still big business, with many cases ending in out of court settlements.
As is the case in any legal dispute, lawyers from both sides can profit. The ones representing the copyright holders usually get rewarded with attorney fees and a piece of the settlement award, and those on the other side get paid for the defense.
To many, the attorneys representing the alleged pirates are seen as “the good guys.” However, several insiders believe that not all attorneys have the best interests of their clients at heart.
TorrentFreak spoke with defense lawyer Robert Cashman, who has represented many accused pirates over the past five years. He recently sounded the alarm bell warning people about attorneys whose main motivation is earning a few bucks.
Cashman is one of the attorneys who comes recommended by the EFF. While many defense attorneys are indeed a great help, there are also several who run a “settlement factory” by settling cases on a routine basis, with minimal investment.
“The ‘settlement factory’ attorney problem began years ago, even when there were only 20 of us on the EFF’s subpoena defense list,” Cashman says.
While Cashman confronted several colleagues with his observations, the problem still exists and got worse over time.
“They run a volume-based business where in a number of cases, they have hired multiple attorneys to take calls for their firm as a result to some Google AdWords or online marketing program they just spent who knows how much to attract these ‘leads’.”
“The attorneys they hire are tasked with convincing a person who filled out their online web form to settle the claims against them, even when settling is not in the best interests of the client,” Cashman adds.
In addition to active advertising campaigns, these attorneys also approach defendants who have already retained counsel elsewhere, encouraging them to go for them as a cheaper option.
According to Cashman the “settlement factory” attorneys are able to offer their services cheaply, because they spend minimal time on the cases and run a volume-based business. While this may result in lower legal fees, it might not help an eventual settlement.
Cashman previously confronted a colleague he was mentoring for selling his services short and received a telling reply.
“He explained to me that he actually only spent a few MINUTES on each case because he already prearranged with the plaintiff attorney to settle claims for a certain amount using their boilerplate contract, and thus $300 for him was a windfall.”
The main problem is that instead of looking at the unique aspects of every case, settlement factories often agree to higher settlement amounts, driving up the ‘price’ for everyone.
“The result is that because these attorneys are willing to pay higher prices when settling cases, they “drive up” the prices for all of us other attorneys who are trying to negotiate for a significantly lower amount,” Cashman notes.
Instead of actually looking for ways to negotiate a lower settlement, exploring viable defenses, or considering other individual characteristics, they go for a quick solution.
“The client is getting served on a golden platter to the copyright trolls who are extorting money from them, and it is the very attorneys in whom they are placing their trust who are allowing them to be cheated,” Cashman says.
At the end of the day the defendant is poorly represented, must pay a higher settlement, while driving up the settlement amounts for other defendants in the process.
In part, Cashman’s plea is in his own interest. He runs a business as well and needs to make a profit. So when colleagues get all the work at a cheaper rate, that hurts business.
However, he believes that every attorney should still serve the client to the best of his ability, and the settlement factory attorneys only seem to make matters worse.
“The goal of the defense attorney should not simply be profit off of the problem, but to take steps to make the lawsuits go away in the first place,” Cashman concludes