“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” the philosopher George Santayana once remarked.

With its launch today, will Shpoonkle, the latest reverse-auction site for legal services, find itself suffering the same fate as its forerunners? Or is the time finally right for such a site?

Shpoonkle’s shtick is to provide a forum where potential clients can post requests for legal work and lawyers can bid against each other to get the work. The site is being launched by a New York Law School student, Robert Grant Niznik.

Niznik has retained a high-tech PR consultant to position Shpoonkle as the next new thing. “Shpoonkle.com is the brainchild of a 21 year old New York Law School student about to graduate who is on a mission to make justice affordable,” wrote the PR consultant in a recent e-mail.

If it were, in fact, the next new thing, then it is not one that bodes well for the future of the legal profession, at least judging by the comments of other legal bloggers. “Here you have a race to the bottom,” writes Susan Cartier Liebel, “as lawyers bid against one another to pay the lowest fee to anonymous clients with legal problems.” “The concept is a perfectly reasonable next step to the de-professionalism of legal services, where the purchase of legal services is no different than buying a widget at the big box store for the lowest available price,” says Scott Greenfield.

The Next New Thing – Not!

The fact of the matter, however, is that the reverse-auction sites for legal services is not Niznik’s brainchild. Several such sites have been launched in the past. If we have forgotten them, it is because they failed.

Way back in 2006, I wrote a post here about the launch of just such a site. Called Tip-Mart, it promised that its reverse-auction system “eliminates extraordinary market inefficiencies, drives down prices, increases sales, and provides new value to both buyers and sellers.” Coincidentally, it too was created by a college student who believed he had the next new thing. Today, the site no longer exists.

Another such site went by the name LawyerQuotesFast.com (and also by the name LawyersForLess.com). This one, too, is no longer to be found.

As a matter of fact, there was even once a law review article written about reverse-auction sites for legal services. At the time, the author noted that there were six such sites when she finished her first draft of the article, but that two had already shut down by the time the article was ready for publication and a third had abandoned its auction component.

Will Shpoonkle prove itself to be successful where its predecessors could not? Is the time finally right for a reverse-auction site such as this?

At the outset of this post, I quoted Santayana. Perhaps the appropriate quote to close with is one from writer Kurt Vonnegut, “In this world, you get what you pay for.”

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.