FindLaw SEOThere’s little question in my mind that FindLaw’s selling links to law firms in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines was a big mistake.

Not only may FindLaw be liable to law firms for the millions of dollars paid by law firms to FindLaw for these spam links, but FindLaw and its parent company, Thomson Reuters, has damaged its reputation and brand in the eyes of lawyers and the search community, including Google, for years to come.

Dad always said there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle everything. FindLaw needs to do the right thing and to do it now.

Here’s the right thing to do:

  1. Acknowledge immediately to your lawyer customers who bought the spam links and the legal community as a whole that ‘FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters business,’ acted wrongly and in violation of Google’s webmaster rules.
  2. Apologize immediately to the law firms and the legal community for FindLaw’s course of conduct.
  3. Announce immediately that FindLaw will refund within 30 days all the money paid by the law firms for these links.
  4. Perform an immediate accounting of all monies paid for the links by the respective law firms. (Appears to be in the hundreds, possibly thousands of law firms and for all I know could be $3 to $5 million).
  5. Report the results of the accounting publicly.
  6. Hold the FindLaw people who authorized the sale of links, who had to know it was improper, personally responsible. That includes senior management who very likely knew.
  7. Establish an in-house ethics review committee and ethical standards protocol to prevent future improper conduct.

Tuesday will be the 7th day since the news of FindLaw’s selling links was reported on the net as well as 7 days from when Google’s Matt Cutts became aware of the violation. And at least the 4th day since FindLaw was penalized by having its website PageRank dropped from a 7 to a 5.

FindLaw has chosen not to respond – to the public, to its customers, or to bloggers. This is rather surprising in these days of corporate damage control and where word spreads like wildfire on the net.

I worked as a VP of Business Development for LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell – lawyers.com, FindLaw’s largest competitor, following the acquisition of my prior company. I may never have agreed with everything Martindale did, and God knows I am a vocal critic of Martindale here, but Martindale always looked at itself as having a reputation to uphold because of its history and its role in the legal community as a whole.

I can’t believe Martindale senior management would have ever allowed this sort of thing, no matter the pressure for incremental revenue. But if Martindale did get itself in trouble, I have to believe it would have held itself accountable to its lawyer customers and the legal profession.

FindLaw needs to act accordingly if it wants to seriously compete with Martindale and lawyers.com, reduce the damage to the Thomson Reuters FindLaw name, and to attempt to reestablish itself as a respected member of our legal community.

The legal community looks forward to FindLaw’s response in the next day or two.

Update: Based on an inquiry from a sales rep I want to make myself clear. In no way did I mean to imply that Martindale ever sold spam links – Martindale, to my knowledge, has not ever sold links like FindLaw did. My point was that the Martindale senior management I knew while serving as a VP of Martindale would never have even thought of doing something like FindLaw did. Related posts: