Five years ago, self-employed graphic designer Rick Kordowski instructed a solicitor to intervene on his behalf over a dispute with a local council who owed him money.
Despite a protracted legal saga, he never recovered what he was owed and became infuriated with the firm he had employed to fight his case, who seemed to be ignoring him by refusing to answer their phones.
He called in the regulators, who found in his favour and awarded him £500. The solicitors, Moss and Coleman of Hornchurch, Essex, soon became the first listing on solicitorsfromhell.net, a website that Mr Kordowski designed himself.
Visitors are confronted by a picture of a demon wearing a suit, and a statement describing the website's aim: to "expose these shameless, corrupt, money-grabbing, incompetent specimens of humanity".
"It quickly became clear that there were many other unhappy clients, not just with this firm but with many others," Mr Kordowski said. "Most people had been through the formal complaint routes, as I did, and got nowhere.
"After they've exhausted all other avenues of complaint they come across my website, have a rant, and get it off their chests. It makes people feel good."
He receives up to 20 tip-offs a day from the 15,000 unique visitors to his website each week. But he admitted: "I have to delete most of them. Only listings that have merit or contain useful public information get posted."
More than 800 legal firms are now listed on the website, which Mr Kordowski runs from his home in suburban Essex. Through it he encourages disgruntled clients, under the veil of anonymity, to "name and shame" the solicitors and barristers who have let them down.
One recent listing states: "Avoid this firm of solicitors at all costs and if you do have appointments with [these] solicitors take a hidden tape recorder with you to tape everything because they lie ... to cover up there [sic] lies and illegal acts."
Many would consider it foolhardy to willingly pick a fight with Britain's legal community, and Mr Kordowski's crusade has brought him his fair share of judicial strife. Lawyer Scott Eason recently pursued him for damages after two users posted comments questioning his ethics.
The dispute was settled last month after Mr Kordowski agreed to remove the "false and defamatory" allegations from the website and not to publish them again.
"At least once a week a legal firm will get in touch and threaten me with libel or defamation," Mr Kordowski said. "My answer is always the same. The best course of action for the solicitor is to contact the complainant – they can usually work out who they are by the details of their complaint – sort out their differences, apologise and ask the complainant to instruct me to remove the listing.
"But it seems that the preferred course for many is to send me abusive emails and intimidating letters. This all adds to my determination to expose the rogues in the legal profession."
Along with the complaints, Mr Kordowski says he receives just as many testimonials from grateful visitors who have been warned away from a particular firm.
Many people claim that mentioning the website tends to make firms more attentive to their needs. He has since established another site, solicitorsfromheaven.com, to allow people to leave positive feedback.
Several internet service providers have been unwilling to host solicitorsfromhell.com. "It's not a problem," Mr Kordowski said. "There's plenty out there. You just move on."
He has also received several threats from specialist media law firms hired by those criticised on his website, refuting the claims and imposing 24-hour deadlines for their removal, backed up by the threat of legal action.
But Mr Kordowski does not sound like a man under threat. "In five years I've only had one situation where I've posted allegations that turned out to be completely false, and I took it down straightaway," he said. "Normally they just take it on the nose and threaten me with legal action."
There is, however, another solution. "Lawyers can ring up and pay to have their listings removed," he says, the first sign that he may not be Essex's answer to Erin Brockovich. "I charge between £99 and £299. It doesn't happen very often, though – maybe once a month."
But the worst offenders are unlikely to be able to get a post removed. "Listing a complaint is free. But if a client feels strongly enough they can pay £25 and have the firm added as a 'premium player'.
"In that case, a solicitor or firm cannot pay to have their posting removed. Some have tried, but they simply receive their money back," he said.
It is not a very lucrative business, though. "It probably brings in about £100 a month," Mr Kordowski said. "I have to make a little bit to keep the site going. It's not much revenue, but there's a lot of satisfaction."Reuse content