I was recently contacted by a law firm who wanted to hire me to work with them on web accessibility lawsuits. They wanted to hire me to “…[perform] an initial, more economical review of the site for purposes of us confirming the violations and including within our demand letters”.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I feel that Drive-by demand letters and lawsuit threats to not help advance accessibility. That said, I do believe that legal channels can be used to help drive accessibility in cases where some companies resist going the right thing. Accessibility is a civil right and while I admit that ignorance is pervasive in IT, there’s no good excuse not to take accessibility seriously once you’re aware of the issue.
I realize these are opinions that contradict one another. One thing is for sure: I’m OK with suing companies who are violating a person’s civil right to access, but not if doing so enriches lawyers and does not help improve the accessibility of the website/ product discussed in the complaint. In short: do you want to use the law to help persuade a company to make their stuff more accessible? Awesome, let’s do it. Do you want to just get a quick payday? Count me out.
Here is the response I sent over
The below is what I would consider the minimum requirements to engage my services for this type of lawsuit and this is what I will send from here on out when approached by lawyers who make similar requests.
I’d be happy to help your firm vet and verify the veracity of the plaintiff’s complaints. I believe that legal channels are a good way to apply pressure for companies to do the right thing.
I’d like to be up front regarding my criteria for involvement:
As I mentioned during our call, my hourly rate is $xxx per hour. I require a minimum purchase of xxx hours. You can use them as you need them (they must be used within 6 months) and when they run out, you can have an option to do another bucket of hours.
Naturally, I’m happy to sell more hours up front. 😉
I do not want to be involved in “drive-by” lawsuits. Some lawyers are out there asking for settlement amounts of $15k or even $4k. In my opinion that’s not ethical or useful to the cause of accessibility, because most defendants can just pay the settlement and move on without actually fixing anything.
Your client should have made at least one documented attempt at contacting the defendant to resolve their complaint.
You need to be asking for a substantial initial settlement offer and that the settlement not just be for legal fees but that they also must commit funding to their sites’ remediation, etc..
Your other settlement requirements should require that they remediate their sites and that they take other steps to address accessibility for the long term.
I was impressed by Scott Dinin’s complaint against Winn-Dixie and wrote about the requirements here, which should be used as a basis for what to require: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/anatomy-accessibility-program-karl-groves
You will not recommend my product or services to the defendants. That would be a conflict of interest. You will recommend that they engage a mutually agreeable 3rd party consultant to perform their evaluation.
I will be on hand to provide you with clear, factual, unbiased guidance to guide your cases.
If the above is agreeable to you, let’s get started.
This stuff matters
I sent the above message to the original law firm 5 days ago. So far I’ve gotten no response, despite having had a small handful of contacts in quick succession prior to this. This indicates that the law firm that contacted me wasn’t interested in working with me after I outlined my requirements. That’s OK by me, because I probably did us both a favor.
This stuff matters to me. Ethics matter. Ultimately, what I’m concerned about is improving access. The legal channel is just another means toward that end. I will prioritize my own involvement based upon the likelihood of my actions making a positive impact on others. If a law-firm is only interested in pursuing accessibility because they see easy wins, then we don’t need to work together. The converse is also true: If any firms reading this really want to use the law to fight the good fight for PWDs, then let’s go kick some asses.