Marcus Arnold, p2

Marcus found his success exciting and he wanted more. He wanted more people to send him questions so he could get an even higher ranking. So he changed his profile. He said that he had had two years of formal training and — although he admitted he wasn’t a real lawyer — he said he had been ‘involved’ in trials. He also changed his online name to one he thought was more impressive — Justin Anthony Wyrick, Jr.

It worked. In two weeks, he got almost a thousand questions and answered ninety-nine percent of them. The only ones he didn’t answer were about traffic law — a subject he knew nothing about. By the middle of July, Marcus was ranked number three. Then people who were looking for legal advice on AskMe.com started writing to Marcus asking him how much he charged. Because of his very high ranking, they thought it might be a good idea to pay him to work on their case. They assumed that anyone who knew so much about the law must have professional qualifications.

When he started getting these letters, Marcus felt guilty. He had lied about his age and his qualifications but only because he wanted people to take him seriously, not because he’d wanted to make money. So he decided to be honest. He changed his profile so it said that he was a fifteen-year-old expert ‘intern’.

After Marcus told the truth about himself, his ranking went down quickly. He also started getting angry messages from real lawyers who were using AskMe.com as a way of finding clients. They said that Marcus had been competing with them unfairly and taking away their business. They told Marcus he didn’t really know anything about the law, and, to prove it, they asked him detailed legal questions he couldn’t answer. The messages upset Marcus. He wrote back asking the lawyers to stop abusing him and saying he just wanted to be friends with them.

Even though he now had a low ranking, Marcus kept offering advice. And soon the users of AskMe.com started to defend him against the lawyers’ attacks. They told the lawyers to leave him alone. Marcus’ ranking started going up again, and two weeks after he had dropped from number three, he had risen to number one.

Marcus couldn’t explain why, at such a young age, he knew enough about the law to give good answers to legal questions to people from all over the country. He did say his ability has something to do with watching TV shows like ‘Court TV’ and ‘Judge Judy’ and also with browsing legal websites. He said he had never read any books about the law because he didn’t like reading books.

- information from: New York Times, 01.07.15 (Michael Lewis); New York Times, 01.09.17 (Patricia Smith); Sunday Telegraph (UK), 01.07.22 (Geoffrey Owen)