Misleading ads? Inside ‘Strong Arm’ Frank Azar’s Legal Standoff With Alabama Law Firm Buying Google Search Terms

A Frank Azar billboard hangs over a second-hand parking lot along South Broadway in Denver on Wednesday. (photo Thomas Gounley)

This story first ran on the Denver Post, a press partner of BusinessDen.

Lawyer Frank Azar has flooded the airways, back roads and highways of Colorado with ads for his personal injury law firm for three decades – but now the self-proclaimed ‘Strong Arm’ alleges a competitor of out-of-state leverages this prolific publicity to poach its customers.

In a lawsuit filed in Pueblo District Court last month, Azar claims the Alabama-based law firm Slocumb is creating deceptive ads on Google that trick customers into thinking they are calling Franklin D. Azar & Associates when they actually call the exit. -of-state law firm, which is headed by the Alabama attorney Michael Slocumb and has only one attorney in Colorado.

Slocumb’s company buys Google advertising keywords and uses metadata to ensure its ads show up when users search for Frank Azar or his ubiquitous tagline, “The strong arm“, the lawsuit alleges. Slocumb’s ads then direct users to a call center where operators fail to correct callers’ misconception that they have reached Azar’s Aurora-based company, according to the trial.

Slocumb was accused of using similar tactics to target high-profile personal injury attorneys in multiple states, court records show. For the past four years, he has been sued by personal injury attorney Jim Adler, known as “The Texas Hammer“, Alabama attorney Matt Abbot, known as “the outlaw“, and Louisiana attorney Morris Bart, who uses the tagline “One call is allfor similar complaints.

“The money at stake here is absolutely amazing,” Azar said in an interview. “They’re getting into the core business, using my reputation with the community, my ability to advertise and go after the public.”

Slocumb denied any wrongdoing in an interview Wednesday and said his law firm has stopped using Azar’s keywords in its advertisements.

“Frank is going to lose the case,” he said. “…There is nothing improper about the practice of bidding on a name through Google AdWords, nothing improper about it.”

In a motion to dismiss Azar’s lawsuit filed Tuesday, Slocumb’s lawyers argued that the tactics the company uses – paying for its ads to appear when users search for other lawyers’ names or slogans – have been upheld by courts across the country.

“The mere act of purchasing keywords – whether those keywords are trademarked, patented, or protected from commercial use by another – to display a separate and distinct advertisement for the searched term on Google is not all simply not contrary to any Colorado (or federal) law or illegal in any way,” attorney Miranda Yancey wrote, repeating almost verbatim arguments made by another Slocumb attorney in the Louisiana lawsuit.

The practice of using a competitor’s keywords to display another company’s advertisement online is “very common” and not generally considered copyright infringement, Thomas Howard said. Denver intellectual and commercial litigation attorney who is not involved in any of the lawsuits against Slocomb.

But it is illegal to purposely confuse and mislead consumers, he said, which Azar also alleges in his lawsuit. Azar claims that Slocumb’s advertisements direct users to a call center operated by The Injury Solution LLC, which then directs customers to Slocumb’s business.

When an Azar investigator called the number listed in Slocumb’s ad, call center operators repeatedly failed to explain that the call center was not Slocumb’s law firm. ‘Azar, says the complaint.

“The investigator asked, ‘Is this the Azar company?’ The matter was ignored and the telephone company inquired about the accident,” the complaint read. “Again, the investigator asked if they spoke with the Azar company. In some cases, this second request for clarification was ignored. In other cases, The Injury Solution said Mr Azar was “not available”.

Azar said his company discovered the practices when a woman who believed she had hired Azar’s company several weeks earlier called for an update on her case to find that she had in fact hired the company. by Slocumb.

“They know these people clicked wrong,” Azar said.

Asked about these practices, Slocumb denied deliberately misleading consumers and said his employees clearly identify the law firm when answering the phone.

“I am not the solution to injuries. You realize that, don’t you? he said, then answered follow-up questions repeatedly repeating “I’m not the solution to injuries.”

Slocumb declined to say what its business relationship is with The Injury Solution, which has two phone numbers on its website answered on Wednesday by operators who said, “Slocumb Law Firm.”

The Injury Solution is registered as a limited liability company in Florida in the name of Jason Berger, according to business records. In 2012, Slocumb and a man of the same name were both members of the same Alabama limited liability company, Casa Fuega 1 LLC, and the company was registered with Slocumb’s law offices in Auburn, according to the Alabama business records.

Azar’s lawsuit says Berger is the chief operating officer of the law firm Slocumb. A message left for Berger on Wednesday was not returned.

Howard called advertising on Google with another company’s keywords “sleazy” and “devious”, but said Azar faces an uphill battle in the court case because it will be difficult to prove that his business suffered actual damage.

“It’s a very difficult argument,” Howard said. ” It is not easy. Seems to be, but it’s not, because (Slocumb) will say they barely made any money from it, ads almost never run, searches for him almost never get done , they run thousands of different ads, they have thousands of different AdWords and his is just one of them and his almost never shows up. »

Azar estimated that he was losing between 50 and 80 potential customers per month because of Slocumb’s advertising program, which could represent millions of dollars in settlements; Slocumb said the approach was “never effective” and declined to elaborate.

Slocumb settled the lawsuit brought against him by Adler, “The Texas Hammer,” last year, according to court records. Abbot, “The Outlawyer,” who accused Slocumb of conning him by dressing like a cowboy in a TV commercial, voluntarily dismissed his lawsuit in 2019. Louisiana’s case with Bart is ongoing.

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