MUSKOGEE, Oklahoma (CN) - Reed Elsevier and a Texas-based internet marketing firm "trick" law firm website visitors by overlaying advertisements that illegally divert them to competing, lead-buying attorneys, four law offices claim in a federal class action.
Lead plaintiff Anthony L. Allen, with Allen & Wisner LLC in Muskogee, sued Plano-based Internet marketing firm IM Solutions LLC and publishing giant Reed Elsevier.
The plaintiffs claim the defendants' pop-up advertisements can be displayed even if pop-up blocking software is in place, because of a hidden browser plug-in.
"IM Solutions engages or affiliates with companies that display online advertisements by using adware or malware browser plug-ins surreptitiously downloaded to the computers of millions of consumers and activated with consumers' authorization," the 38-page complaint states. "IM Solutions' pop-ups are overlaid on and often partially obscure non-lead buying lawyers' web pages."
IMS and Reed Elsevier's use of the plaintiffs' websites and trademarks cause prospective clients to be "initially confused" because the pop-ups appear to be part of the underlying web page or related to the plaintiff's trademarks, the plaintiffs claim.
They claim the advertisements blend in with the content and area of practice of the underlying, non-lead-buying law firm website and may cover up key information from the website, including the firm name and contact information.
"The pop-up does not disclose that it originates elsewhere, and it invites a prospect to enter contact details and 'get legal advice,'" the complaint states. "When a prospective client submits information using the pop-up, IM Solutions immediately routs the prospect's information to defendant Reed Elsevier. Reed Elsevier promptly contacts the prospect to say that the prospect has been matched with the 'firm' of IM Solutions, which is not a law firm at all. Meanwhile, IM Solutions forwards the prospect's contact details to a lead-buying lawyer."
IMS claims to have more than 200 lead-buying lawyers in all 50 states, the plaintiffs say.
"Lead-buying lawyers pay per prospect, and some earn hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in fees from prospects raided by the defendants," the complaint states.
IMS and Reed Elsevier specifically target non-lead-buying attorneys because they do not display the advertisements to prospective clients visiting the websites of lead-buying attorneys, the complaint alleges.
IMS and Reed Elsevier did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday evening.
The plaintiffs seek class certification and actual and punitive damages for trademark infringement, tortious interference, civil conspiracy and violations of the Oklahoma Deceptive Trade Practices Act. They also seek an injunction preventing the defendants from using class members' websites and trademarks. The plaintiffs are represented by Lawrence Murphy with Richards Connor in Tulsa.
Two of the plaintiff law offices are from Oklahoma, two from Tennessee.