An email from New York this morning to Kevin McKeown, also a lawyer and LexBlog’s VP of Client Development, reminded me what lawyers are looking for in a legal marketing strategic partner. And Kevin is the first to remind each prospective client not to look at LexBlog as a vendor, but as a strategic partner.

The email thanked Kevin for the time he took talking with them, and read in part, ‘…[Y]ou truly are an upstanding professional in a field where such traits are essential.’ Full disclosure, the professional services firm decided to go in another direction than LexBlog in their communications strategy, but we made a friend and a business relationship, things that last a lifetime.

Yesterday Mark Meranda, President of Smart Marketing which provides marketing for law firms and financial professionals, explained his company’s dilemna when finding itself in competitive selling situations with FindLaw, a company owned by the huge Thompson Reuters conglomerate (2007 revenues: 12.4 billion).

After hearing us tell [potential clients] how you build search engine ranking with a quality website and by adding significant content over time, potential clients will come back at us with: “FindLaw says they can get me to number one on Google in two weeks!”

Mark then goes to explain one of the reasons FindLaw was able to make such a claim, FindLaw was selling links from FindLaw’s website to law firm websites.

Each link is a “vote” that your site is interesting and valuable. Buying or selling links, like buying or selling votes, is a big no-no. FindLaw is apparently offering to do exactly that, selling links to other law sites for $1,000 a month.

Mark wouldn’t get involved in such a scheme of buying links or advise his clients to do so. It’s wrong, gets you penalized by Google, and is considered unethical in the SEO industry. The reputation of Mark and his company, is their life blood. How could Mark expect someone in the legal profession to trust him if Mark was doing something that was wrong?

I can remember starting LexBlog out of my garage (literally) 5 years ago. I had faith law blogs would work for lawyers looking to enhance that reputation. But when you’re getting one lead every 2 weeks and doing 7 blogs in the first year, you can feel like the farmer with a horse and plow doing one furrow at a time. Your faith in yourself and your service gets shaken every now and again.

Tim Stanley, the co-founder of FindLaw and who sold FindLaw to Thomson 7 years ago and who’s now the CEO of Justia, told me to hang in there. Tim said we’re different than the big boys like Thomson FindLaw and LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell. ‘We care,’ Tim said, ‘That makes a big difference in the long run. Lawyers want to work with people who really care about the service being provided to them, and the lawyers themselves.’

Tim’s the same as Mark. Same as a lot of companies whose leaders I have come to know. They do the best they can in helping lawyers and law firms, but are not going to step across the line and do something that’s questionable.

In deciding what’s stepping over the line, my guess is employees at good companies are guided by these types of questions:

  • Have I considered and identified other options or alternatives?
  • Is the action ethical?
  • How will my decision affect others, including our customers, shareholders, employees and the community?
  • How will my decision look to others?
  • How would I feel if my decision were made public?
  • Could the decision be honestly explained and defended?
  • Would I be happy if my conduct were described on the front page of my hometown newspaper or online news source?

Want to know the irony here? Those questions were pulled from ‘Thomson Reuter’s Code of Business Conduct and Ethics.’ (pdf) Yes, Thomson Reuters, the parent company of Findlaw, who pulled a rock by gaming Google and failing to disclose same to their lawyer customers.

‘When you’re faced with a decision or situation and you’re not clear as to what action you should take, ask yourself the following questions,’ the Thomson Reuters code says.

You can almost hear CEO of Thomson Reuters, Tom Glocer, saying that after reading his intro to the Code in which he says, ‘As our reputation is critical to our success, Thomson Reuters will maintain the highest ethical standards in our relationships with customers, suppliers, each other and the communities in which we do business.’

I speak at a lot of conferences and am invited to do a lot of presentations on Internet legal marketing. As much as I have been impressed with Tom Glocer through his blog and his ideas on new media, it will be a long time before I could pull myself to use reputable business practices and Findlaw in the same sentence.

That’s especially true with FindLaw ducking their selling links fiacso for over a week in the face of growing criticism from bloggers and lawyers across the net. Maybe that’s because Findlaw knows their conduct cannot be ‘honestly explained and defended.’

That’s a shame when lawyers and law firms selecting a legal marketing strategic partner are looking for people who care and whom will act with integrity at moments of choice.

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