lawyer ethics internet marketingScott Greenfield (@scottgreenfield) writing on a law firm’s gaming Yelp ratings of the firm’s lawyers touched on a much bigger issue. That being the willingness of lawyers to breach their ethical obligations when it comes to Internet marketing.

Of course, the internet has long been considered by many to be an ethics free zone, where the lawyers abandon all shame in the hope of making a buck. Often, less than a buck. Times are tough out there, you know, and lawyers have a finely honed rationalization bone in their head which allows them to manufacture a litany of excuses to avoid their ethical obligations.

I keep running into lawyers who think nothing of deceiving the public by holding out blog posts as their own when they have never written them.

Forget the “what’s the difference between someone else writing a brief or a letter for another lawyer’s signature analogy.” That only shows your ignorance of the ethical cannons that cover lawyer advertising.

I was speaking to a legal marketing professional a couple weeks ago whose company writes blog posts that go up in a lawyer’s name. I asked how that was ethical. “We got a lawyer’s opinion that if the lawyer reviewed the post before it went live, that’s okay.”

Say what? You mean if I review a chapter in a book or a news article as a lawyer I can post it to the net in my name? Forget the copyright issues for now. It’s still ethical?

Rather than submit the question to the Internet marketing company’s lawyer, why not get an advisory opinion from the state bar association? Every state has a vehicle to get such opinions.

Getting squeamish thinking of getting such an opinion? That may be a telling sign.

The public does not look at blogs as ethically challenged lawyers and their Internet marketers may. They don’t see them as tools with words used to game ratings on Google and garner traffic to a law firm website.

A reasonable person would probably fall in line with Webster’s definition of a blog. “A Web site on which someone writes about personal opinions, activities, and experiences.”

A reasonable person would presume a blog written by a newspaper columnist was written by the columnist.

And a reasonable person would presume that a blog presented as written by lawyer was written by the lawyer.

State bar associations and supreme courts do not not need new rules governing Internet marketing. Just enforce the rules we have.

If a lawyer is posting another’s blog post as their own as part of communications about the lawyer’s services (blog inside website certainly is; independent blog arguably is), the content omits a fact necessary to make the statement not misleading. The fact being that someone else wrote my blog post. In which case the lawyer is breaching their state’s ethical cannons and the lawyer ought to be disciplined.

I apologize to my readers who wonder why I still blog about this subject. Many of you reecently let me know that ghost blogging is of course unethical and that everyone knows it. The problem is that there is a growing number of lawyers and legal marketers who see otherwise.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Michel Hubacek.