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Legal ethics : Are blogs governed by advertising rules?

February 1, 2014


Attorneys Richard Raysman and Peter Brown write in the New York Law Journal that online advertising, a $20 billion industry for just half of 2013, raises a number of ethical challenges for lawyers.

Topping the list of online advertising was the blog, which Raysman and Brown believe could be the “most useful tool in one’s online arsenal to advertise an area of expertise in the law and to solicit prospective clients.”

The article goes on to discuss lawyers using Groupon, buying online leads, and advertising on Facebook.

Raysman and Brown do a nice job summarizing court decisions and bar rulings that have addressed lawyers use of the net, if that was there goal. But why throw blogs in with things that are closer to buying billboards and television ads?

Am the only one who sees blogging as a form of networking? Networking not unlike that done by lawyers before the Internet. Networking that really has nothing to do with advertising.

Sure, if you want to use the Hunter case in Virginia as an example of lawyer advertising, do so. But don’t use the case as guidance on ethic’s rules applying to blogs.

Hunter was a situation where a lawyer called some pages on his website a blog and bragged about his prowess and results, soliciting you to give him a call. Nothing could be further from a blog than what Hunter was doing.

Raysman and Brown, though finding blogs effective for business development, see hurdles for lawyers in blogging.

This practice has already run into obstacles, as courts and bar associations have confronted whether this practice comports with the notions of ethics and propriety that purportedly undergird the practice of law.

Hunter and a New York case, also cited in the article, raising the question whether blogs should be retained under retention of records rules hardly create hurdles for lawyers looking to blog.

But more importantly, lawyers discussing advertising rules and blogs need to get to the art of the issue. True blogging may not advertising at all. Sure other ethics’ rules, as they apply to any activity, apply to blogs. But not advertising rules.

If I listen to a conversation at a networking function and then engage others, is that advertising? True bloggers ‘listen’ to what is being written and then engage by referencing the conversation. It’s networking through the Internet.

If I write a law journal article or a book, to advance knowledge, is that advertising? Hardly, even if I do so to further enhance my reputation as a trusted and reliable authority in my field.

Sure, there will be lawyers involved in content marketing and getting content onto something they call a blog, whether they write it or not, in hope of garnering web traffic. As something closer to a billboard, that’s advertising.

Raysman and Brown acknowledge that in both cases they addressed the governing body ruled in favor of lawyers utilizing blogs.

That’s great. But let’s get to the heart of the matter. Blogs are a means of networking, and networking is not regulated as advertising by courts or bar associations.

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