FindLaw BlogsWest Publishing, founded in 1872 in St. Paul, Minnesota by John West, has been one of, if not the, most prominent legal publishers in the United States for over a century.

West established itself as the nationwide de facto standard used by all federal courts and most state courts for the reporting of legal decisions. The company published countless legal treatises authored by the leading legal scholars of our time. Black’s Law Dictionary published by West and the first law book I bought in law school, had a place in every courtroom and law office the entire time I practiced law.

But boy has West Publishing, now part of Thomson Reuters, fallen. West, under the FindLaw brand, is now publishing spam law blogs full of little more than mindless crap, all in the name of selling Internet marketing services to unknowing lawyers. Shameless.

West’s slide has come with the roll up of West into what’s now known as the global legal division of Toronto based Thomson Reuters. Thomson Reuters (then known as Thomson) purchased West in 1996 and consolidated West and a number of other law book companies into what became know as Thomson West. In 2001, Thomson West acquired FindLaw.com, a free legal information web portal, founded by Stacy Stern and Tim Stanley. Thomson Reuters – West – FindLaw, however they may be now branded, make up this global legal division of Thomson Reuters.

As way of background, spam blogs are blog sites with inauthentic text or or text merely stolen or paraphrased (blog scraping) from other websites. The purpose of such a blog is to get high google search results in order to sell ads on the spam blog or to link to other websites in an attempt to improve the search engine performance of the site being linked to so you may sell ads or services on this second site.

Spam blogs are the rage among two bit scheme artists out hustling a buck. Unfortunately West, under the FindLaw brand, has become one these two bit scheme artists.

Let’s look at one of FindLaw’s new law blogs, The New York Personal Injury Law Blog, and in particular a blog post about a fatal auto crash reported by WCBS News in New York. The blog post is authored by a Emily Grube, a writing specialist, not a lawyer. Grube also authors other spam blogs for FindLaw.

In this blog post FindLaw regurgitates the facts of a local accident, including listing the names of four people killed in the accident. The post goes on to strategically link keywords related to the law, injury, lawyer, and New York to web pages in the FindLaw Internet directory in which lawyers buy listings and ads.

Grube then has the gall to write if you’ve suffered a personal injury you can contact a New York personal injury lawyer, of course linking the text ‘personal injury lawyer’ to FindLaw’s directory. The post does not allow for comments, nor is there any attempt at creativity or analysis.

Imagine scraping the names of four of someone’s loved ones killed in an accident from a news website story for a blog post so you can use the term ‘wrongful death.’ Your goal being to link the term ‘wrongful death’ to a FindLaw website page where people may search for injury lawyers who pay to pay to be in the FindLaw directory. Ambulance chasing at its worst. But FindLaw did it.

Imagine scraping the names of four of someone’s loved ones killed in an accident from a news website story for a blog post so you can say ‘can still sue that man’s estate.’ Your goal being to link the phrase ‘can still sue that man’s estate’ (also done in the subject post) to a FindLaw website page where people may search for probate lawyers who pay to be in the FindLaw directory. Disgusting. But FindLaw did it.

There’s even more garbage in this FindLaw spam blog. Look in the about section in the right hand column where out of 97 words 37 words are keywords related to New York and injury law. It takes a real ‘writing specialist’ to write crap like this:

The New York Personal Injury Law Blog covers news and developments in the area of personal injury and tort law in New York state, and New York City specifically, and helps to connect people with New York injury lawyers. The New York Personal Injury Law Blog is intended to serve as a resource for people working through a personal injury issue in New York, or those who are interested in New York personal injury and tort law generally, including New York personal injury attorneys who wish to keep up with the latest news developments.

I’m not alone in my criticism of FindLaw. Leading New York Attorney Eric Turkewitz labels the blog publishers on spam blogs, and in this case FindLaw’s blogs, as dreck-bloggers. (dreck defined as “excrement; dung”)

[They] aren’t interested in creating good content, they simply regurgitate local accident or arrest stories and place a call-to-action link at the bottom. Posts are filled with buzzwords to game Google that, if coupled with the call-to-action for a recent event, places them firmly in the camp of Solicitation 2.0, a subject I dealt with two years ago. Put bluntly, many of these dung-blogs are electronically soliciting clients. E-chasing, for lack of a better word.

Widely respected blogger and New York Attorney, Scott Greenfield, commenting on FindLaw’s blogs:

These aren’t blogs, of course, in the sense that we understand them. There are mere names designed to trade in on search engine keywords, and capitalize on FindLaw’s SEO ability to get their scam blogs higher than yours on the search engine’s first page.

San Diego Attorney Marc Randazza asked ‘FindLaw, are you really that douchetastic?’

They hired a milquetoast writer to author a milquetoast blawg for the sole purpose of selling ad space to sh*tty lawyers who can’t develop a reputation on their own.

FindLaw’s conduct is beneath everything we have the right to expect from companies serving the legal profession. Rather than conduct itself in a way that improves the image of lawyers and upholds the dignity of our profession, FindLaw gets down in the gutter so it can sell marketing services to lawyers who have not a clue what FindLaw is doing to trash our profession. A profession in which West Publishing once played a proud role.

Boy has a first class legal publishing company once held in esteem by lawyers, judges, and law schools fallen. All in the name of greed.

  • Kevin, as usual you are right on. Great post. I appreciate all of the research that went into this.

  • aoeu

    Check out this law firm blog: http://www.habush.com/blog/
    talk about poor taste…

  • Chris McGeehan

    Great post.
    You left out a key event in Findlaw’s slide: its partnership with LegalZoom, which has deceptive marketing problems of its own, not mention the recurrent issue of whether LZ is engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

  • Funny thing about taking a bet. Sometimes you lose.
    FindLaw makes pretty calculated decisions about these types of things. In this case, I’d guess they assumed that nobody really cares about blogs, and figured if we can crank one out to generate a little page rank, what’s the harm in that?
    Furthermore, I can’t see any real reason why we wouldn’t just snatch up someone else’s name. I mean after all, it’s not like Eric Turkewitz has some magical communication device where he can just air out his grievances, right? ….right?
    Oops.
    Kevin did a great job of laying out the brief West history, but there is a point that I feel should not be lost here. The company that owns more legal content than anyone else in the history of the world is publishing the names of dead kids for personal injury link juice? I’m sure you all know who we’re talking about…they have a credit in Law and Order because they stand in front of WALLS FULL OF BOOKS, which probably represent less than .001% of the total legal content that West owns. They have published enough guides, handbooks and pamphlets to fill an ocean with paper, but when it comes to what to blog about, they grab the names of kids who died in a car accident.
    Great article Kevin.

  • This kind of approach to SEO and link building drives me nuts generally, but for anyone associated with a profession it just seems insane.
    I blogged last year about some of the more tasteless Twitter marketing and SEO campaigns I had seen in the UK:-
    http://peninsulawyer.wordpress.com/2009/10/29/twitter-seo-campaign-anatomy/
    I still think that adopting this kind of approach smacks of the “tail wagging the dog”. You may get some link juice and improve your SEO, but at what cost to your reputation?

  • Another great post about the depths FindLaw will plunge in order to fabricate some sort of false value for the astronomical prices they charge.
    As a former FindLaw employee (9 years) I can speak first hand about this. I tried like hell to drink Kool-Aid dolled out by this organization, and in looking back I recall that I was constantly struggling with how and why we could charge so much and provide so little. It got exceedingly difficult to always tap dance around legitimate concerns from customers but never really be able to “fix” the real problem…the Price. Creative “value fluffing” was inevitable and these shameless spamblogs are not the first attempt FindLaw has made to justify is business model (Kevin, you yourself broke the ” FindLaw linkgate” scandal back in 2008) and most likely will not be the last. What else are they going to do? Try to make someone believe that a “website” should actually cost $15K to 20K per year…every year! Give me a break.
    Hope is not lost however. It’s blogs like this that expose the true underbelly of what some so-called “Professional Legal Marketing Companies” will sell and then call it SEO or client development solutions. This type of information is important because it better educates attorneys about exactly where NOT to spend their money. Thankfully there are reputable marketing business out there that know how to help law firms get good results, but will never over promise, or over charge. Let’s face it, marketing for law firms is not going away, and the Internet is the best possible medium to communicate with and educate potential clients. Let’s just all hope the smarmy, rule bending, stoop to anything companies quickly become a thing of the past. We can then all collectively exhale a sigh of relief because what will be left will be the smart, ethical marketers that truly care about the legal profession, doing things the right way, and charging a fair price.

  • Great article Kevin.
    Time and time again I see personal injury lawyers (or this case a company trying to sell ads to PI lawyers) engaging in some of the worst use of social media.
    You’ve previously called out others for scraping local news stories and publishing this crap for SEO purposes http://kevin.lexblog.com/2008/09/articles/social-networking-1/worst-use-of-twitter-by-a-lawyer/
    This is unfortunately something we will see more and more of with social media becoming a staple in lawyer marketing. These shortcuts to SEO rankings bring down the reputation of the legal profession in general. Thanks for calling these folks out Kevin.

  • Alex

    I’m new to the profession, and new to blogging (I always considered it a luxury, but I came from journalism). I’m interested in doing it, but would like to know if it is useful/worth the time it takes away from my practice.
    Also, although terms like “douchetastic” may be hipsterish and clever, do they really add to the high esteem that the legal profession enjoyed before Findlaw came along? Moreover I am sure that there are some very good lawyers who are busy practicing law rather than managing their reputations who would be surprised to hear they are of the scatalogical variety. Glad to see the dialogue elevated. It certainly does not do anything to “unembarrass” the legal profession to spout off like that.
    One last question: why do all you blawgers blog? Is it not to reach clients? Is it not marketing? Just curious, because it I am considerig doing it as a way to build my practice, but I certainly do not want be a sh1tty douchetastc lawyer. Any thoughts on where to start?

  • Like Alex, I am new to blogging. Unlike Alex, I am not new to the profession. I was admitted to practice in 1981 and did some solo general practice, then some legal services regarding prison inmates, and immigration law at the INS. But since I also had a tech background, I became more interested in the tech side of law practice and eventually moved into IT full time, doing network infrastructures, security, and project management. I was not involved very much in web work, except for browsing tech support sites in support of my network admin efforts.
    I am now trying to get back into legal practice, and am amazed at all of the online marketing techniques that are being touted as necessary. The last time I was in practice, advertising of any kind was frowned upon, if not banned completely. I did join LinkedIn, and have also approached a longtime friend of mine (www.webheds.com) to build me a website after deciding, as Tom mentioned, that the $12K/yr FindLaw wanted was nuts.
    I am still contemplating the blog scene. I am not sure that I would have enough to say to justify one of my own, but I’ll find some good ones that focus on areas of interest to me, mostly criminal and cyberlaw, and post comments for now.
    Can Twitter be far behind? :-)
    Kevin – thanks for the article, and for the whole platform you have organized. This is my first time out of the barn, and I look forward to spending more time here.
    Peter

  • Stephanie Sammons

    Unfortunately because findlaw lacks the ability to innovate, they are resorting to black hat tactics. The big loser in all of this is the consumer, which is a shame. Also, there are far too many lawyers who pay findlaw significant fees and have no idea what goes on behind the scenes.
    @stephsammons

  • Perhaps most unfortunate is that this technique (regurgitating local accident report info and creating keyword-rich anchor text linking back to pages within the website) is working. Case in point, an earlier comment reported on http://www.habush.com/blog/. The Habush site (a non-Findlaw site) appears at the top of most Wisconsin accident law-related searches, surrounded by Findlaw sites. Until the major search engines decide to deter these techniques without punishing legitimate blawgs, then be prepared for many, many more douchetastic blogs. BTW did Google actually do anything about the FindLaw “linkgate” scandal? I didn’t notice any decline in any of Findlaw’s local customer’s organic search engine rankings.

  • Kevin
    Let me assure you I am no fan of Thomson-West. But I’m confused by your post and noticed that those making comments agree with you while they ignore some obvious points.
    First, Findlaw and Lexblog both sell blogs. To me it looks like you are talking up LexBlog by talking down Findlaw. So okay, that’s business. But you’re not a hero.
    Second, until recently blogs were considered distasteful and equated to the unauthorized practice of law by various state bars. You have taken advantage of that ethical grey area for 10 years. From now on will you be the one deciding what is acceptable?
    Third, Findlaw’s tactics are slimy but so is the majority of content online. Lawyer marketing is not a sanitary business and you know it. Shouldn’t we let the market decide?
    Look, I walked away from my Thomson-Findlaw site 8 years ago and ceased using all Thomson-West products soon after. I got it, and so will everybody else who deals with Thomson-West, even without your ethics lessons.
    Thanks for listening.
    PH

  • Thanks for all the comments guys, most appreciated.
    Alex and Peter, as to blogging it’s a far cry from all the advertsing and marketing lawyers are doing now. Blogging is much more of what was done to get legal work when Peter and I were admitted in 1981 and 1982, respectively.
    Blogging by a lawyer is done to engage your target audience of clients, propspective clients, and referral sources as well as the parties who influence your target audience. By doing so a lawyer develops a reputation as a reliable and trusted authority in particular niches. As a result work comes by word of mouth.
    It’s unfortunate here when FindLaw should be a leader in teaching lawyers how to blog and providing lawyers effective solutions to do so that FindLaw uses blogs as part of a scheme to achieve higher search rankings.

  • Thanks for the comment Mazhar. I am sorry you feel the way you do.
    I wanted to be a lawyer since I was a little kid. I hold the legal profession in high regard. When I see a company doing things like FindLaw did here to disparage our profession I am going to call them on it. I wish more lawyers would do the same, the profession would be the better for it.
    I have absolutely no idea where you are coming from in saying “until recently blogs were considered distasteful and equated to the unauthorized practice of law by various state bars.” I am not aware of one state bar association that considered blogs distasteful and lawyer blogging to be an unauthorized practice of law. Saying that I have “taken advantage of that ethical grey area for 10 years” is unfounded and a cheap shot. Heck, I didn’t even know what a blog was until 6 years ago.
    Sure, let the market decide who to partner with when it comes to the marketing of legal services. And just like in any market, less than reputable conduct should be brought to light so that people, lawyers in this case, can decide who to partner with.
    I’m not giving any ethics lessons. What I am saying is that the leadership of Thomson-West-FindLaw should realize what their employees are doing and put a stop to it. Citing deceased people’s names on spam blogs so FindLaw can sell directory listings to unknowing lawyers is an embarrassment to our profession and ought to be stopped.
    I have made some mistakes during the almost 30 years I’ve been a lawyer. When I did, I tried to own up to it and correct my course of conduct. FindLaw owes the legal profession as much.

  • I am cracking up reading this!
    We shouldnt be surprised, these corporations seem to be good at producing mass quantities of low quality products…
    FindLaw is not alone either, their competitors are doing almost the same exact things and hopefully they all will start producing more quality blogs as the line between blogging and spamming becomes more clear to them. If it ever becomes clear to them.
    But I can see the local bar associations having to jump in as they do with other marketing practices. So I guess its only a matter of time. I wish big Pharma would ever crack down on all the Vi@gra and Ci@lis spam.

  • Randy – you can check out Googles reaction to the FindLaw linkgate scandle here – http://blog.larrybodine.com/2008/09/articles/current-affairs/google-slaps-findlaw-in-effort-to-crack-down-on-link-juice/

  • Randy – you can check out Google’s reaction to the FindLaw linkgate scandal here: http://blog.larrybodine.com/2008/09/articles/current-affairs/google-slaps-findlaw-in-effort-to-crack-down-on-link-juice/

  • Mike

    Interesting debate, thank you for the forum. Hope no one steals “Real Lawyers Have Blogs” from you.
    @Steph Sammons–I thought “Black Hat” was a term of art. Most purveyors of black hat tactics achieve a short-term gain, then Google kicks them off of Google’s index so they do not appear at all, right? If that is true, how is it that companies like FindLaw manage to keep attain and maintain their high page ranks over time? It’s like saying “murderer” when you mean “alleged murderer.” I suppose Google is the one constant in all of this–they’re the judge, jury and executioner, and they will find the bad actors. All Hail Google!
    Anyway, how do you choose an SEO company or a website company? If it is not on the results you can achieve, what factors go into it? It seems like high page ranking, maintained over time, would be a good thing.
    Thanks!

  • FindLaw has been building crappy websites for lawyers for years now. They tap into lawyer angst about the web and sell this crap for $10K/year, when most lawyers could get a better website from a local programmer for $1K. Or start blogging for free on blogger or other free sites.
    The real secret for lawyers to succeed in blogging is simple. Write! Think about the conversations you have with clients. What do clients ask you? How do you answer them? Write that, using your own voice.
    One of the biggest problems with the FindLaw approach is you end up with something written in someone else’s voice. And that same person is writing content for 20 other lawyers, in that same voice.
    When you write in your own voice, you create unique content. When you let others write for you, you end up with duplicate content and content that doesn’t represent you well.
    As for the FindLaw spam blogs, the real question is whether Google will do anything about it. Or will Google allow its “partner” relationship with FindLaw affect its search engine algorithms.

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  • Anonymous

    I used to work as a writer at FindLaw – not blogs, more just churning out the firmsite stuff. As such I just want to say, don’t be too hard on Emily Grube.
    FindLaw hires people who have only vague notions about the law, then tells them “write like this, it might make you feel like a shithead but trust us, it’s okay.”
    Grube was just following orders. Don’t blame her, don’t shit on her life just because FindLaw put her in the position of offending the wrong people.