Check Here: You May Be Violating State Bar Ethics Rules with Law Firm Recommendations on Google Places or LinkedIn

With everyone so excited about the impact of Google Places on law firm web sites positioning in search results, one thing that law firms and attorneys need to remember -- because that internet marketing company may not know, or may not care to bring up -- is that recommendations may be prohibited in their state.

Google Places' new HotPot recommendation service and LinkedIn recommendations may sound good to some lawyers, particularly those in the personal injury and criminal defense practice areas, but beware. Your local solitication rules may apply, forbidding recommendations of legal services online in this manner.

American Bar Association Model Rule 7.1

Lawyers know that every state bar ethical code has its origins in the model originating with the American Bar Association. Each state tweaks the ABA's prototype to serve its own jurisdiction; accordingly, what may be acceptable in Texas may not be okay in Indiana.

We attorneys know this: national marketers and internet search engines may not. Lawyers are responsible for adhering to their own ethical rules or risk sanctioning for failure to do so - it's not the marketing service provider's duty to know these things. It's ours.

Here is the text of ABA Model Rule 7.1:

Information About Legal Services
Rule 7.1 Communications Concerning A Lawyer's Services

A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer's services. A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.

Each State's Adaptation of Model Rule 7.1 - Review Those That Apply to Your Practice

If you practice in Florida, then check out Rule 4-7.2(c)(1)(J), which prohibits attorney testimonials in any kind of advertising. Ditto for those practicing in Indiana: read your state's Rule 7.2(d)(3). Here in Texas, things aren't quite as strict: testimonials can exist, within certain limitations. You need to check what state bar rules apply for every jurisdiction that applies to your law firm.

Online List of State Bar Rules Regarding Testimonials

The ABA has a webpage with links to each state's individual set of ethical rules.  Visit this online resource to find the ethical rules that apply to your situation.  

The ABA also provides a litany of examples on permeations of its Model Rule, gleaned from a Louisiana lawsuit's filed briefing, which includes in part:

  • Prohibition on Using False, Misleading or Nonverifiable Communications about Lawyer’s Services (Ohio)

  • Prohibition on Testimonials or Endorsements (Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Wyoming)

  • Restrictions on Testimonials or Endorsements (California, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia, Wisconsin)

  • Prohibition on Statements that Cannot be Substantiated or Verified (District of Columbia, Florida, Ohio, Oregon)

  • Restrictions on Statements Regarding Past Success (Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, New York,South Dakota, Texas, Virginia)

  • Prohibition on Statements that Promise Results (Florida, Louisiana)

  • Prohibition or Restriction on Comparing Quality of Lawyer’s Services or Describing Quality of Services (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming)
  • 11/21/10

    Google Places: What Attorneys and Law Firms Need to Know - and Beware the Scams!

    Google Places is a big deal for lawyers.  How big is Google Places for law firms and attorneys on the web?  Remains to be seen. 

    The Onslaught of Cold Calls to Law Firms Pushing Google Places SEO Services - Beware of Scams!

    I'd just had a week of clients (and fellow lawyers) contacting me in a panic after hanging up with hard-sell marketing cold calls pushing them to drop everything and deal with the purported game-changer of Google Places.  It's amazing what these internet marketing specialists are offering to attorneys who are too busy or too disinterested to investigate this new Google tactic for themselves.  Buyer beware, my friends.

    Caveat: I'm a legal writer - not a SEO expert.  I do write optimized content, but I don't provide the usual panorama of search engine optimization services: no pay-per-click, etc.  I'm not interested in providing Google Place services, but I am concerned that scams concerning Google Places don't succeed.  And they are out there, and they're growing.

    What is Google Places?

    Google Places is a new service provided by Google that some may recognize as "place search."  It's a big deal because Google search results look different now, as a result of Google Places.  Now, for example, when you search for "injury law firm Houston" the first page of Google Search Results is filled with Google Place Results.

    You sign up for free at Google Places.  You pay for "tags."  Your business gets reviewed by whomever wants to take the time to do so, and until recently, the business owner couldn't control negative reviews.  That's apparently been changed recently by Google.

    Here's the Reason for the Brouhaha: Google Place sites get priority in search results. Your optmized web site is bumped down below the Place listings.

    Google Place is being stuck atop the usual Google search results, and you can identify the Place sites by the little alphabetized red flag (A gets the highest rank, etc.) that is predominantly displayed next to the individual result description.  The flags correspond to the map that is shown in the right sidebar. 

    So, no matter how much you paid some web marketing firm to optimize your site so you get in the top search results for your areas of practice or locality, you will be bumped by those Google Place listings to page 2 or 3 of the search results. 

    What Can You - the Busy Attorney or Law Firm - Do About Google Places?

    First, you can recognize that this is impacting web sites - not blogs.  Your blogs, established as a seperate domain name, will continue getting Google search results based upon the posts you are writing, etc.  Law firm blogs, or "blawgs," are safe. 

    Second, you can do several things for yourself, for free and without much complication.  These include:

    1. Go to Google Places and list your law firm.  Put in the same info that you see on your business card.  Do not be creative here.  Resist the urge to do multiple listings: AttorneySync, for example, warns that this can result in Google penalizing your site as violating its quality guidelines.
    2. Take advantage of the free service, GetListed.org, and make sure that your firm appears in Bing, Yahoo, etc.  Why? Google is known to cross-reference these sites to make sure your Place information is accurate.  (In SEO lingo, these third party references are "citations.")  Your firm information (address, phone number, email address) needs to be exactly the same in all the citations for Google Place purposes.
    3. Access your web site and insure that it is filled with images, links, etc. that are local in nature.  Garrett French has already accumulated a list of forty-four (44) query tips to help you do this. 
    Do you need to hire someone to do this?  From what I've read online, experts do not agree on this.  Should you decide to hire someone for Google Place services, then be sure that they are indeed an expert in this area -- and check what they're charging.  It's amazing the scamming going on out there -- and by some very, very "reputable" firms (for instance, charging for duplicate Place submissions despite the fact that Google may well penalize the duplication in the future).

    What's Really Going On Here?  More Money for Google

    Google is focusing upon providing localized search results not just because it's considered to be more convenient for the Google user -- Dustin Ruge explains that Google expects Google Places to make it lots of money.  According to Ruge:
    Local search is one of the fastest growing categories online and Google now claims that 20% of their search queries are local in nature. Furthering this is the rapid growth in mobile search where Google now claims that over 100 million people conduct maps searches from their mobile devices each month. By 2013, mobile device searches are expected to exceed PC based searches. But Google makes money off the their paid advertising and when local online advertising is expected to grow at 18% compared to only 11% for all online advertising by 2011, it is little mystery why Google is looking to profit from it.
    What's the Real Result?

    Too soon to tell, I think.  Personally, the Place results bug me so much, that I'll switch over to Bing or Yahoo rather than deal with them.  Google Places feels manipulative to me as a user, I don't like it.

    Second, law firms may need to avoid Google Places as it implements and encourages its review feature.  Recently, Google announced the addition of the HotPot recommendation service to Google Places.  In many states, bar ethic rules prohibit this sort of recommendation service for law firms

    There's probably more fall out.  And, here's the thing:  Google Places isn't really helpful in finding the best lawyer for the client - because the best attorney for the particular matter isn't necessarily the law office that's closest in proximity. 

    The real answer for attorneys to Google Places is to find a way to educate the public on this key issue (to the extent that the public doesn't recognize this simple fact already).  For me, that answer online is easy: blog. 


    Update on Mass Vegas Copyright Litigation from Winston & Strawn

    Winston & Strawn has been monitoring a Las Vegas company I wrote about a couple of months back -- the corporation that bought copyrights from various Nevada news media and began suing websites and blogs, personal and commercial, who had cut and pasted copy from the news articles into their own sites.  Suing in federal court for violations of the Copyright Act. 

    The company -- Righthaven -- got lots of media attention as it filed suit after suit, oftentimes against nonprofits and such.  Political affiliations and hidden agendas were questioned.  Biggest issue: Righthaven was doing this without bothering to first send a cease and desist.  (Rambo lives.)

    Winston is now reporting that Righthaven's days may be numbered.  One judge has decided, according to Winston's "special alert" that fair use applies.  Righthaven loses, although the winning defendant may have had to pay lotsa legal fees to defend itself and may find the victory bittersweet. 
    For more, check out what Winston has for you.