I recently heard of law firms posting job opportunities at law school placement offices for law students to pen blog posts for their law firm.

As with legal marketing companies selling ghostwritten blog posts to law firms, the law student would presumably get paid per post, with the firm running the posts in a lawyer’s name.

The problem with such a scenario is that it’s misleading. And the type of law blogs being run like this fall within the definition of advertising in virtually every states legal ethics rules. Advertising rules that proscribe saying or doing anything that’s misleading in your advertising. 

What’s misleading? That you as a lawyer or law firm are holding out that you wrote the blog post. 

Ask anyone who they think wrote a blog post listing the author blogger when it’s posted on the New York Times, Harvard Business Review or ESPN? They’ll look at you kind of strange wondering why you’re asking and say the person in the byline, of course.

For whatever reason, lawyers who should be leaders when it comes to ethical behavior, think they get a pass when being ethical would take time.

“For it’s money I have, and time I don’t, so I go to marketing folks selling me stuff who tell me its cool, everyone is doing so.”

Sure, there will be marketing agencies, ghost blog writers and some lawyers responding that ghostwritten blogs are okay or that they are like having someone help with a brief.

They’re not. This has been argued out more than once, and lawyers, including ethics leaders, have made clear that holding out something as yours, in the case of a blog post, without a full disclosure, is unethical. I shared a some of their views years back.

The problem for law students comes when applying for admission to the bar. Applicants are reviewed for fitness, character, lack of candor, criminal behavior, mental health, substance abuse and fiscal responsibility, among other things. 

I’d hazard a guess participating in legally unethical conduct in conjunction with a law firm in a job which my law school’s placement office helped me get – and knew what I’d be doing, would cause problems all around. 

The law firm (and its lawyer) and the law school may get in some trouble and pick up some bad press, but they’d move on. The law student may not get a license to practice law – or have their license delayed a few years.

Law students need to pause before taking the money for this job. Starbucks may not be as glamorous, but you can still get a license afterwards,

Law schools, who are often wrongfully telling their students that blogging and social media can get you in trouble, ought to educate themselves and not place their students in jobs requiring unethical conduct. 

  • I was so shocked when I learned about how these ghost written posts work. I found out because I was hired to write legal blog posts, but not told how the scenario would play out. I was writing for the legal division of an extremely well known news organization, not a law firm. I was told that I would not have a byline, which I didn’t really like, but figured I would try it. I had assumed (silly me) that the articles I wrote would not credit any individual with writing it. After I wrote my first article, I learned that the reason I wouldn’t have a byline, was because another attorney or attorneys who worked for the organization would get credit. Their bio(s) would be at the end of the article I had written. My research and writing would be used to sell their services! When I learned this I quit. It was so misleading! I was told that it happened all the time and I should be fine with it. But I wasn’t fine with it. Oh well. We live and learn.

  • Wendy

    It’s not just blogging. Many legal publications would publish work only with a partner’s byline, even though everyone knew an associate had written it. Some partners wished to share byline credit (“Written by X Partner with Y Associate”); some wanted to acknowledge the associate in a footnote (“Busy Partner gratefully acknowledges the help of Associate Who Did All the Work”); and others just wanted the partner byline alone. Different publications, online and off, had different policies. At one magazine I worked for, no associate name was allowed on the byline. “People aren’t paying to read associate work,” the publisher growled. But of course–people WERE paying to read associate work.

  • Peter Heise

    “For it’s money I have and time I don’t”. That pretty much explains the motive. I don’t see why they couldn’t publish the article without mentioning an author. All sorts of lawyers need this sort of service. Why not, allow them to hire people like this and then ask the lawyer to approve of it before publishing. We do that with political campaigns.

    • They can do what you are suggesting, it’s just unethical. People develop an intimate relationship of trust with people who personally engage them in a real and authentic way – that’s blogging by definition. So doing what you say is like a lawyer saying fooled you, I never wrote those posts by which you began to trust you – but now that you you’re here, I’ll be your lawyer.
      BTW, putting links to other sites with anchor text in comments is unseemly and beneath what a good lawyer would do. Also doesn’t get you SEO nor clients.