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Lawyers buying another lawyer's name in Google adwords?

20130223-153749.jpg A couple years ago Wisconsin law firm, Cannon & Dunphy, started buying adwords (“Habush or “Rottier) from Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft.

Fellow Wisconsin law firm, Habush Habush & Rottier, responded by suing Cannon & Dunphy, on the grounds that Cannon’s purchase of “Habush” or “Rottier” in adwords was a violation of Wisconsin privacy law that barred advertisers from using “the name, portrait or picture of any living person” without consent.

The trial court dismissed the case on summary judgement a year or two ago and this week the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision on the grounds that the Wisconsin privacy law was not intended to cover such use of keywords.

Locating an advertisement or business near an established competitor to take advantage of the flow of potential customers or clients to the established business is not a practice the legislature intended to prohibit…….

Furthermore, we fail to discern a meaningful distinction between competitors simply selecting locations in proximity to each other and using a third party to obtain the same result.

Milwaukee lawyer J. Ric Gass, who represented Cannon & Dunphy, issued a statement saying the decision effectively brings attorney advertising in Wisconsin into the modern era.

Gass is a great lawyer, a fine person, and good friend of mine, but I am not sure I agree this result brings attorney advertising into the modern era. It’s probably the behavior, more than the law, which I disagree with.

I got a call from a reporter 6 or 7 years ago about an identical situation. One lawyer doing ethics work for lawyers in the state had bought another lawyers name in adwords. Key in the competing lawyers name and an ad for the other lawyers name came up in an ad.

Asked what I thought, I said I wouldn’t do it and that doing same seemed unseemly for lawyers. To me it was like a lawyer putting a sandwich board in front of another lawyer’s office door suggesting that a client may want to check out the lawyer down the hall.

Habush and Cannon are excellent trial law firms. I served as a fellow board member of Wisconsin’s trial lawyers association with lawyers from their firms when practicing in Wisconsin. Both firms do advertise a ton, but going this far just seems like too much.

In an effort get new work law firms can of course do whatever is legally and ethically permissible. But that doesn’t mean they have to.

Frankly, it’s this type of behavior that has driven me for the last 15 years to empower lawyers to network through the Internet. To help lawyers who get their best work by word of mouth and reputation use the Internet to engage their target audience in a real authentic way. And to help lawyers grow their practice in a way that improves the reputation on of our profession.

Stay tuned. Habush expects to seek review with the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Brett Lider.