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Will California law blogs be moving outside of websites?

blog inside wesbite advertising
January 16, 2015

It sure looks like it upon reading the recent State Bar of California Ethics Opinion on blogging.

Locating law blogs on an independent site separate and apart from your website is common sense if you are looking to enhance your reputation as a lawyer and grow your influence online.

Now lawyers are getting an ethical shove to get their blogs off their websites. Blogs inside of websites will be construed as advertising in California.

From attorney and author, Carolyn Elefant (@carolynelefant) writing “California Bar Offers A Reason to Keep Your Website and Blog Separate.”

…[A]recent California ethics decision offers yet another reason for lawyers to maintain their blog’s independence. The California decision addresses whether blogs constitute advertising, and analyzes a couple of different fact patterns. The California bar concludes that a freestanding blog offering informational or educational materials that is free standing, intended to enhance the lawyer’s education in the community and doesn’t include any “call us now for help” solicitations is not subject to bar advertising rules. By contrast, that same blog, if included as part of a law firm website would be deemed advertising essentially be association and subject to the same regulations as the parent site.

The Bar acknowledges that “Most attorney blogs are maintained at least in part to enhance the authoring attorney’s professional reputation and visibility, with an eye to increasing the attorney’s business.”

But “…[T]he fact that a blog is economically motivated does not, in and of itself, mean that it is “commercial speech” subject to regulation by the State Bar as advertising.”

The Bar clearly differentiates between what it describes as a “Stand-Alone Blog” and a “Blog Included on a Professional Website.” A stand-alone blog on which a lawyer shares insight, commentary, and helpful info will not be governed as advertising so long as the lawyer is not giving a call to action that people contact the lawyer in their blog posts. While a blog in a website with comparable posts will be looked at as advertising.

As a I told a reporter when they called me about the opinion, I have always told lawyers to be safe with their blogs. Consider them advertising.

But lawyers who penned good stand-alone blogs routinely disagreed. They did not see their blogs as commercial speech and subject to advertising restrictions. Looks like these lawyers were right — at least in California.

Read the Bar’s opinion. They’re far ahead of other states when it comes to their understanding of good law blogging. I wouldn’t be surprised to see other states take California’s lead.

In any case, you have another reason to not place your blogs in your law firm website.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Randy Heinitz