A few weeks ago, this website got hacked. Some malicious person [note: much editing had to be done here to choose a non-offensive term, on account of the terrible headache – and expense – that resulted from this episode] dropped some malware into the site and caused all the search result traffic to redirect to a pharmaceutical website. So if you plugged a search term into Google that would otherwise brought up a link to one of my blog entries, when you clicked on the link, it took you instead to a website where you could purchase any number of controlled substances online.
I want you to hang with me here. I’m not just telling you the story about the time I got hacked. I’m going to bring this back around to why it matters to us as lawyers.
I got hacked!
I noticed something was amiss on Saturday, when only 13 people landed on my site from search results. But I was willing to let it go as an anomaly. Weird traffic days happen. But they rarely happen on back-to-back days. So on Sunday when I only got 3 referrals from search engines, I knew something was wrong. Early Monday morning, I did some investigating and discovered the hack and where all my traffic was going. I freaked out! I went through the five stages of grief in a matter of minutes.
Then I got some bad advice!
I contacted the company that (formerly) hosted my website. They sent me through some steps and promised it would resolve the problem in 24-48 hours. But I was really skeptical about everything they’d told me. So I went to LawyerSmack and asked some lawyers who know more about this than me. Meanwhile, I’m still freaking out. I had just launched a partnership with ISI (see the banner ad to your right?), who provides professional liability insurance, and was afraid this catastrophe could derail that relationship. Not to mention all the people who were researching topics I had answers for here, and were winding up on a site where they could buy Valium, Xanax, and whatever else one might need to settle down. Come to think of it, maybe I should have placed an order to settle myself a bit.
It turns out the advice my (former) host gave me was terrible. Not only was it bad advice that would have other potentially adverse consequences, but it wasn’t going to solve my existing problem. Not knowing what else to do, I reached back out to the host and got some different advice. They referred me to a company they had an affiliate relationship with who could fix my problem for $300 and a subscription to their security service for $100/mo. No, thanks! I don’t have that kind of money. And this blog doesn’t make the kind of money to support that.
Then I got the help I needed.
When I went back to LawyerSmack, an answer was awaiting me. BigLaw Investor told me to reach out to iMark Interactive – he highly recommended them. My desperation was mounting. Not only had it become clear to me this hacking episode was going to pull some money from my pocket, but it had eaten a couple of hours out of my workday, which was less than ideal. iMark Interactive was a life saver. They set my site aright at half the fee of the other company and could provide my site security at $10/month. But not only did they fix that problem, I reached out since then and they spent a couple hours helping me resolve a different problem that didn’t fall within the parameters of our monthly arrangement. iMark Interactive provided one of those rare instances of a company going out of its way to help a customer.
Now I’m more sympathetic to my clients.
This brings me to my point. My experience of my website getting hacked isn’t altogether different from when one of our clients gets sued. When they get served with a Complaint and Summons, they panic (like I did). They reach out to a friend to figure out what they need to do (like I did). Not infrequently, they get terrible advice (like I did). How many times has a defendant whose case has gone into default told you someone just told them to “Just ignore it, it’ll be fine”? After figuring out the first advice maybe wasn’t quite right, they do some searching around and get a referral (like I did). And that’s how they end up in your office. Still in a tizzy. Just wanting you to fix the problem. And suddenly realizing this is going to cost them some money.
At this point, you have a couple of roles to fill: listener and explainer. Your potential client is going to have a lot to get off their chest. Their telling may take the form of anger or sadness. And most of what they tell you will be true … or at the very least, the truth as they see it. They need someone to hear them out, because they’ve been through an ordeal.
At the end of their telling, it’s your job to tell them their ordeal has only just begun. Very rarely do you get to impart good news at this point, because even if there’s no real liability and the claims against them are frivolous, it’s still going to cost money to get the case dismissed. But you owe them the truth. This is no time to try to upsell or hide the ball. It is a time for setting expectations, signing a contract for representation, getting paid, and setting about resolving your client’s problem.
Photo by Bryan Jones