Spanish-language Web site links lawyers to clients

A Web site is directing Spanish speakers to attorneys across Florida, capitalizing on a growing market online, creators say. Launched weeks ago, www.buscabogados.com, operates completely in Spanish, referring users to lawyers in their neighborhoods and in turn opening attorneys up to the expanding community. "What we're doing is filling the gap for them," said Julio Stieffel, site director. "It's not an opportunity to let go." Stieffel and his team estimate there are 44 million Hispanic consumers nationwide, with 20 million making up the Hispanic market online. The site is accessible free of charge for consumers and prices for attorneys start at about $20. "This is a unique tool for the attorneys and perhaps they don't even think about it," he said. "They, unfortunately, omit this market niche." Creators say they have yet to see a comparable service, and eventually want to roll it out in other large Hispanic markets, including California, Texas, Illinois and New York. First, they are working to market the site in South Florida. However, they plan to expand to the Gulf Coast and the in Orlando area. Stieffel said a demand for counsel would fuel the Web site. "It's a country of litigation compared to other countries," he said. "You can proactively use an attorney for all kids of issues and situations." Bradenton attorney Steve Santiago, who speaks Spanish, said there is a market to be captured. He has found many of his non-English speaking clients find his office because of their Internet-savvy children, who often serve as interpreters. "It will open the doors to more people, especially those who don't know any Hispanic attorneys at all," he said. "Some people will meet me and say, 'Wow, I didn't know there were any Spanish-speaking attorneys (in Manatee County).’ ” But the site in practice could only end up serving Spanish-speaking attorneys, said Bradenton attorney Chris Pratt. Pratt doesn't speak the language; neither does his secretary. And at a time when most Americans are tightening purse strings, paying for the online service or hiring a bilingual employee to compete with bilingual attorneys just isn't feasible, he said. "I think it would be a great service for Spanish-only speakers in Florida," Pratt said. "However, since I don't speak Spanish and the persons advertising would be speaking Spanish, I don't think I'd get any business.”