Differentiating Attorney Advertising and Blogging – The California Bar Thinks People Are Too Stupid to Use the Internet

DISCLAIMER: CLOVER THE CAT THINKS YOU SHOULD HIRE ME. THIS MAY OR MAY NOT BE ATTORNEY ADVERTISING.

DISCLAIMER: CLOVER THE CAT THINKS YOU SHOULD HIRE ME FOR ALL YOUR CAT NEEDS. THIS MAY OR MAY NOT BE ATTORNEY ADVERTISING.

I’m an attorney. I have a blog. What do I write about? Whatever I feel like writing about. Sometimes I write about cats. Sometimes I write about cheesesteaks. Sometimes I write about law stuff. I don’t wake up in the morning and say “I should write an article about such and such topic because it will generate more clients.”

Do I get clients from writing this blog? Indirectly. I get very few calls that go like this:

“Hey, I read that post about cheesesteaks on Philly Law Blog.”
“Oh yeah? Did you like it?”
“Yeah, it was great! By the way, my son got sick from a cheesesteak and we need someone to represent us. Clearly, you are a cheesesteak lawyer and an expert in your field. I also hear you like cats. Can you help us?”

I do get calls that go like this:

“Hey, my name is Mike Smith. You don’t know me. I practice in Center City and do securities litigation. I’m a big fan of your blog. I have this smaller case that my firm can’t take on. Can I get a few minutes of your time to see if you’d be able to take it?”

This blog is a hobby, like Crossfit. Just like any hobby, sometimes it results in a call or a client. But that’s not the aim of the blog. I just have the need to sit at a typewriter and bleed sometimes.

On the other hand, my buddy Adam Green, a personal injury and securities lawyer, also writes a blog. It’s called “Broker Misconduct.” What does he write about? Happenings in the FINRA and broker world. If you’re the victim of broker misconduct, you would probably read Adam’s blog and (rightfully so) say “This guy knows the FINRA world inside and out. I should definitely give him a call about my problem.” Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. If I needed a FINRA lawyer, I would hire Adam. He uses his blog to educate potential clients about what’s going on in that world. Now they know who to hire.

With that said, any moron in a hurry can tell the difference between an attorney who has a blog, and an attorney using a blog for marketing purposes.

If it walks like a duck and quacks, it’s a duck.

So of course, the California State Bar Association has actually come up with a balancing test. Because apparently they believe that anyone without a law degree is too stupid to differentiate attorneys who use blogs for fun, from attorneys who use them for advertising.

Seriously.

Here is what I want to know. Can the California State Bar cite to any instances where a potential client was somehow confused or mislead by whether a blog was attorney advertising or simply a blog post? Has this conversation ever happened?

“Hello, is this the California Bar Association?”
“I would like to make a complaint!”
“Sure. What’s the problem?”
“Well, I read this blog called Philly Law Blog. It had legal stuff on it. Well sort of. It also hat cats and cheesesteaks on it. So I was super confused whether Mr. Rushie was trying to get me to hire him, or whether he just felt like writing something. I was so scared.”

What exactly is their concern here?

This is the real problem. I used Adam’s blog as an example. Adam is a very experienced FINRA and broker misconduct lawyer. Adam writes his own blog posts.

However, I think it would be unethical for an attorney to say “Hey! I want to be a personal injury attorney! I have no idea about how personal injury works or how to get clients, so I’ll just hire a law student to write lots of blog posts about personal injury stuff! I’ll get lots of clients and hopefully won’t mess up their cases!”

I could see a call going down like this:

“Hi, I would like to lodge a call with the bar association. This guy has this blog and made it out like he is some type of big time criminal defense attorney, and it turns out he has no idea what he’s doing. He messed up the case, and my son ended up doing 10 years in prison because of it.”

That’s a problem. A common problem.

I could also see it being a problem if an attorney put a bunch of stupid on the internet to get business, and a potential client relied on it.

“I didn’t file suit within the statute of limitations because attorney Jones’s blog said I had four years!”
“Oh, we made a mistake. Some law student wrote that blog post.”

That could also be a problem. People relying on blog posts for legal advice because they were purportedly made by someone who is (or should be) an authority on a topic.

What the bar really should be concerned about is attorneys misrepresenting their experience, outsourcing their ethics, and soliciting potential clients in practice areas they are not competent to handle. Consumers are smart enough to differentiate advertising from blogging. What they may not be savvy enough to figure out is how to vet the lawyer they ultimately decide to hire, or that just because a lawyer says something on the internet doesn’t mean it’s advice they can rely on.

Because don’t forget what Scott Greenfield always says…

Internet_dog

8 Responses to Differentiating Attorney Advertising and Blogging – The California Bar Thinks People Are Too Stupid to Use the Internet

  1. shg says:

    Much as I admire your mad skillz as a cheesestake lawyer, there is one detail that is problematic: how does the potential client distinguish between the lawyer who has real expertise with the lawyer who feigns expertise for marketing?

    While Adam may be the real deal, the flip side, as Adrian Fischetti remarked long ago, is “you are what Google says you are.” Sure, lawyers may be able to distinguish good from bad, but can potential clients distinguish expertise from fluff? I’m not so sure they can.

    • I think that is exactly the question the bar should be addressing. Not “how can we differentiate attorney marketing from legal blogs.”

      The best answer very well might be that attorney advertising is banned, but I’m not sure that would be constitutional. However, now we are left with state bar associations trying to put policies in place that are neither helpful to the public or necessary.

      Any member of the public can easily figure out whether what you’re reading is opinion commentary or a flawg.

      It also dilutes the purpose of a disclaimer. Every lawyer with a blog will just throw up that language to protect themselves, and it will become meaningless. I put up New Jersey’s ethical language on here just in case.

  2. Marc-André says:

    I like the cat! My blog is only about cats and we feature cats of the Internet on tummy rub Tuesday😉

  3. colleenzmail says:

    I wish to share information with the Legal Profession, especially students, but not sure what media to use.
    I am Mary Erp of Florida Case Law
    Erp v. Erp 2Do5-3144 2Do6-1934 I have all of the documentation regarding how the case was handled. I intend to publish as I have just discovered the interpretation by Brian Vertz ESQ of Pittsburgh.
    Mr. Vertz interpretation identifies “shareholder oppression” This was never indicated to me by my Attorneys as being an issue with the court as the Attorneys (Wm Haverfield & Robert Donald) never approached the subject.
    http://www.familylawyerspittsburgh.com/florida-court-declines-to-adopt-fair-value-in-erp/
    There was issue with “shareholder oppression” from the beginning of the case but Attorney for the Wife insisted that Judge Hugh Starnes did not want to hear about abuse.
    I am learning to use the Internet and have much information to share. Please let me know if there is a venue that would reach Law students and Abuse victims.
    Thank you
    Mary Erp, Orlando Florida colleenzmail@aol.com 239 707 3726

  4. maun10 says:

    Thanks For Sharing that.............

  5. Erp v. Erp 2Do5-3144 2Do6-1934 I have all of the documentation regarding how the case was handled. I intend to publish as I have just discovered the interpretation by Brian Vertz ESQ of Pittsburgh.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: