Marcus Arnold

In 2000, Marcus Arnold, his twin brother Marc, and his parents, Melvin and Priscilla, were living in Perris, California, about 120 kilometers to the east of Los Angeles. His father was working at a furniture store, two hours’ drive away. Melvin and Priscilla came to the US from Belize. After immigrating to the US, they had settled in Los Angeles and had raised their three sons there. A few years earlier, however, when the family was having a barbecue in the backyard, their oldest boy had been murdered. After that happened, the family didn’t want to live in LosAngeles any longer, so they bought a new house in Perris.

The person who killed Marcus’ brother was sent to jail. But Marcus felt his punishment was not severe enough. Melvin thought that it was because of the shock of the murder and the feeling that justice had not been done that his son became so interested in the law. In any case, by the time he was twelve, Marcus had decided he wanted to become a lawyer. And he was already learning a lot by watching television shows about the law.

Marcus was also serious about his school work.. He was spending six hours a day in school and around four hours every day doing homework. In June, 2000, he was studying for a biology exam and trying to answer a question by using an information-sharing site called ‘’. While he was visiting the site, he happened to notice several legal questions that he knew the answer to. He had an urge to answer the questions himself. Only ‘official experts’ were allowed to answer questions, but it was possible to become one simply by filling out a form. Marcus did this and became an ‘expert.’

In filling out the form, Marcus had to give a ‘profile’ of himself. He said he was twenty-five years old and he chose ‘LawGuy1975’ as his online name.. He lied because he felt no one would take his advice seriously if he admitted he was only fifteen. Then he started answering questions.

He answered the questions briefly and simply, using clear, well-written English. Many questions came from people who were already in trouble with the law or who had relatives who were. One, for example, came from a woman whose son was in jail and about to go on trial. Marcus wrote back to her, saying if the police had not told her son about his right to have a lawyer before being questioned, that he should not be in jail. And he told her that if she had any more questions, he would answer them.

On another occasion an old woman was so pleased with the advice Marcus gave her that she sent him large amounts of information about her case and then asked him to accompany her to court. Marcus was eager to go, but when he asked his mother to drive him there, she refused. Marcus’ mother was proud of what her son had accomplished, but she was afraid of what would happen when the lady found out he was only fifteen.

The experts on were ranked according to how often and how quickly they gave advice and how good their advice was in the opinion of the recipients. By the first of July, less than a month after he had begun, Marcus was ranked number 10 out of around 150 ‘experts’ in the website’s criminal law section.

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 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 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 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)