Hungry for BP Litigants, Law Firms Flood the Web with Phony Sites

Last Updated Jun 16, 2010 2:06 PM EDT

Law firms around the nation are hungry to get in on the $20 billion fund BP created today to pay for claims relating to its oil rig disaster. The hard part is finding clients. So many firms are employing a clever web trick, creating a torrent of boilerplate news sites to fool search engines and drive potential litigants their way.

Take a website like BPlawsuit.net. The site has the look and feel of a news blog, with regular updates and short articles. It has links to professional organizations like CNN (TWX) and widgets embedded on the site for measuring the spill. BPlawsuit.net has information about shrimpers who want to recover lost wages next to a post for vacationers who want their hotel deposits back.

But look a little closer, and it turns out the site is a feeder for a multi-state team of trial lawyers looking to drum up business. The contact button on the site takes users to Gulfcoastoildisaster.com, a more slickly produced mega-site built with individual tabs for lawyers from Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida. That same site is also fed by BPOilSpillLawer.net, GulfSpillLawyer.com and a Facebook page for Gulf Coast Oil Disaster.

This kind of digital ambulance chasing employs a strategy familiar to online marketing departments: users respond better to results that they come across while performing a search, as opposed to paid advertisements. By posting fresh news on a regular basis the firms can keep these sites appearing in common searches.

For some firms the tactic is paying off. Bigspills.com, oilspillclaims.com and oil-rig-explosions.com, all of which seem at first to be news hubs related to the disaster, are actually the creations of NY based Parker Waichman Alonso LLP. According to the WSJ, more than 1,000 people have now completed the forms on their websites. This has allowed the firm, which is relatively small at just 23 lawyers, to file over a dozen lawsuits against BP already.

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  • Ben Popper

    Ben Popper writes at the intersection of culture and technology. His work has been published in the NY Times, Washington Post, Fast Company, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic and many others. He lives at www.benpopper.com.