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Lawyer blogs exempt from attorney advertising regulations : A must read

A must read article from Julie Hilden that lawyer blogs should be exempt from rules regulating attorney advertising. I may be carrying a printed copy of this one around in my pocket.

It would be a grave mistake… for bars to begin equating blogs with advertisements, and treating them the same. Rules regulating attorney advertising are pernicious and elitist to begin with; they shouldn’t be expanded. And characterizing blogs as merely advertising for the attorney who writes them is so reductive as to be absurd.

It’s true that blogs written under law firm auspices may function to promote the writer and his firm, but they function in many other ways as well – and their myriad functions ought to take them out of the First Amendment category of “commercial speech,” for which regulation is more liberally allowed.

Julie’s detailed arguments are compelling, well founded on US Supreme Court rulings, and definitely required reading by every lawyer publishing a blog. After reading the article, I’m with Ernie and Cathy Kirkman, who did not view lawyer blogs as advertising in a National Law Journal article (though my clients may still treat them as such).

And read what Julie has to say about the importance of lawyer blogs for the marketing of a lawyer’s services.

With most people still stuck relying on personal referrals to find a lawyer, states should be welcoming – not threatening to crack down on – lawyer blogs.

Before blogs, all one could glean about a lawyer – beyond information from informal gossip networks and personal recommendations – would typically be which schools the lawyer attended, which clerkships he had, and the like. (I’m still waiting to see a site pop up on the Internet that compiles comments by clients on particular lawyers. Though such a site doubtless would draw numerous suits, they’d be easy to defend: The defamation immunity of the Communications Decency Act, which I discussed in a prior column, would offer strong protection.)

Blogs allow a potential client to, in effect, listen to his potential lawyer think legal issues out. It’s hard to conceive of a more substantive, less elitist way to choose an attorney than this: Not on credentials or connections, but on sheer merit in one of the skills that matters most.

For clients to actually, in a sense, overhear lawyers think provides them with an invaluable opportunity. Indeed, for those who still cling to the idea that law is somehow “above trade,” it shows off the only aspect of the profession that really does, arguably, make it special: The law’s ideal is to let the best thinkers, and the best arguments, win.

If we want the best arguments to win in court, why shouldn’t we let the best bloggers win clients, too? State bars should affirmatively encourage legal blogs, rather than chilling them by regulating them as if they were no more significant than a banner on the back of a bus.

Julie, now beginning a career in screenwriting, is no light weight. She was an associate at the law firm of Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C., where she worked on First Amendment, criminal defense, appellate, and other issues. Her legal commentary on First Amendment and other issues may be found collected on her webpage at FindLaw.com. Her columns frequently also appear in CNN’s Law Center. Julie has been a legal commentator on Good Morning America, Court TV, CNN, and NPR, as well as local television and radio stations.

As I said in an email to Julie tonight, I would love to have been as eloquent and compelling on this point. But I was one of those kids that got out of law school by the skin of their teeth, not by their brains.

Source on post: Jonathan Stein

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