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Law firms, law firm marketing and racketeering? Sad.

20130729-230216.jpg Scott Greenfield (@scottgreenfield) reported Monday that a Michigan law firm had brought a RICO action against a legal marketing company for failing to perform as promised.

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) is a federal law that provides for criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of ongoing criminal activity. RICO focuses specifically on racketeering, and it allows the leaders of a syndicate to be charged with crimes which they ordered others to do. This closed a perceived loophole that allowed, for example, someone who told a man to murder someone to be exempt from the trial because he did not actually commit the crime.

No murder here, but RICO also enables private parties “damaged in his business or property” to sue racketeers for a pattern of racketeering. RICO is particularly attractive to plaintiffs bringing civil law suits because you can recover three times your loss (treble damages) and your attorneys fees.

I also suspect it feels good to say we’re bring a RICO action – “the defendant did or is doing some particularly bad stuff.” Public perception, and the hammer it brings, can often bring about a settlement.

The “racketeering” activity in this case was allegedly collecting $49,000 from the plaintiff on an alleged assurance that the plaintiff law firm would rank high in the search engines, particularly Google. The plaintiff further alleged that the legal marketing company’s practices violated Google guidelines. The alleged result being that the law firm’s website took a noise dive in the rankings.

Geez, a federal RICO action as a result of a law firm trying to get higher search results by paying their way to the top rather than the lawyers in the firm sharing their insight, commentary, expertise, and passion in valuable content and authentic online engagement.

We lacked the passion to act like real lawyers and avail ourselves of the golden opportunities the Internet presents to help people and help ourselves. We were not concerned about using the Internet to build a strong word of mouth reputation and relationships, the lynchpins of business development success for any type of lawyer – business or consumer, plaintiff’s or defense.

We wanted to buy our way to business development success rather than act in a fashion befitting a real lawyer. And this merits a lawsuit when it didn’t work?

The defendant law firm marketing company ought to take no great joy in promoting “buy your way to the top” to lawyers. Especially to the tune of $49,000.

Lawyers deserve better from legal marketing companies. I am not sure marketing is even the apt word to describe someone or some company who is really looking to help good lawyers use the Internet to further enhance their reputation and build relationships. I’d call them something closer to a partner to the lawyer or firm who’s integral to lawyer/firm’s business development success.

That partner is not going to be focused on SEO tactics to game Google. SEO is fine, but it comes as a result of offering valuable insight and commentary. Bring it in an engaging style and you won’t be able to keep high search engine rankings away with a stick.

I don’t blog with the Intent of achieving high search engine rankings. Nor do the 8,000 lawyers on our network. But as a result of delivering passion, expertise, and care in an engaging fashion we achieve high Google rankings. Without paying $49,000.

This whole thing is very sad. It’s a black eye on our legal profession.

You’d think lawyers would act a little more professionally, and the same for companies “serving’ law firms. They don’t though, and you can bet that if this lawsuit lasts another month, we’ll see the defendant marketing company file a counterclaim alleging this is a frivolous lawsuit and demanding their attorney’s fees.

All over trying to buy attention, rather than earn it.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Phil Dowsing.