SEO Noooo! (Or, what’s my ad doing with that mug shot?)

If you’re advertising online, search-engine optimization is an art, a science, a necessity — and a trap waiting to spring on the unsuspecting. If you doubt it, just ask attorney Thomas Lewis Edwards of Gainesville, Fla., or better yet, try Googling his name.

Think the top result will be his law firm’s website? No; if he has one, it’s not making the top 10 results tonight. His Avvo listing, maybe? No, though that one did come in second – not bad, except that it’s sandwiched between two items that tell the tale of how his law firm’s online ad wound up next to his mugshot after he was charged with DUI over the weekend.

Rather than rely on the likes of Reddit or Gawker, we checked out the story on the ABA Journal, which notes that an organization called Mugshots Gainesville Florida posted the list of six charges, along with Edwards’ mugshot – and lo and behold, his ad popped up right next to that posting. In response to an ABAJ inquiry, Edwards issued a statement reminding us that, “under the American criminal justice system all individuals are presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

True enough, but under the rules of the Web, that doesn’t matter one bit. The ad wasn’t showing up when I checked Mugshots Gainesville just now, but the Internet is forever.

Edwards may be able to hide it; there are reputation-cleaning services that manipulate search results to push the bad stuff down to page 3. Or, he may have just scored the biggest coup of his online marketing career. As the ABAJ notes, Edwards’ practice “focuses on drunken-driving cases and other criminal matters.”  With all his newfound online notoriety, he may have just sewn up the title of “drunk driving lawyer.”

Law blog roundup

Welcome to the first Monday in a month of madness. Here are some news items to get your week started.

– Wrongful foreclosures on military members exceed estimates.

– Do the opponents of Proposition 8, which would ban same-sex marriage in California, have standing?

– Red-light camera company faces storm of corruption allegations in the Windy City.

– Michelob maker mounts media campaign amid lawsuits alleging the company waters down its beer.

Surveying the lay of the land at the Consumer Electronics Show

2013 CESFor the third consecutive year, Frank Gorman of Gorman & Williams has graciously offered to write a few blog posts while he is in Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show

The weather is beautiful in Las Vegas as nearly 150,000 registered attendees flock to the 2013 Consumer Electronic Show. Products and services are displayed over 1.8 million square-feet of floor space at three primary venues: the sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center; the Las Vegas Hotel next door (formerly the Hilton); and The Venetian about a mile down the Strip. The show runs through Friday.

Smartphones, tablets, and large TVs dominate 2013 CES. The iPhone remains the standard against which all smartphones are compared. Manufacturers exhibiting at CES are showing thinner and larger smartphones. Tablets are incorporated into ultrabooks and hybrid PCs, with some designs using hinges and others with tablets that snap on and fold over a keyboard. There are cinema-quality flat screens TVs that can be controlled by voice commands and gestures. Manufacturers are still promoting 3D TVs and the high-picture-quality OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TVs.

2013 Consumer Electronics ShowSamsung is the most prominent exhibitor this year. As the Apple-fighter, Samsung seems to have extra panache this year setting it apart. The Galaxy Note tablet and Galaxy Note II smartphone are attracting lots of attention.

If anyone at CES is missing Apple and Microsoft as exhibitors, I have not noticed. The iLounge area of the show contains hundreds of accessory products for the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, demonstrating Apple’s huge impact on the industry.

Microsoft, incidentally, is absent from CES for the first time in 14 years. Its software operates many of the products on display here but its own hardware products, such as the Surface tablet, are not a factor at CES.

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Rewriting the rules on online marketing, lead generation — and competence

When it comes to creating a potential attorney-client relationship, “Discussion” is out; “Consultation” is in.

That change, designed to put online communications on par with actual conversations, was adopted Monday by the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates as a result of the work of the Commission on Ethics 20/20.

The vote in favor of Resolution 105B amends several of the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct to provide more guidance on online marketing and lead-generation. As Debra Cassens Weiss writes for the ABA Journal, 105B addresses such questions as:

When do online discussions give rise to duties to prospective clients? May a lawyer generate leads through Groupon? What type of online communications are impermissible solicitations?

The changes include replacing “discussion” with “consultation” in Model Rule 1.18, which deals with duties to prospective clients. Lawyers with their own smartphone apps may want to pay close attention here: “According to new commentary,” Cassens Weiss writes, “duties may arise if a lawyer invites the prospective client to submit information about possible representation without sufficient warnings or cautionary statements.”

Resolution 105B also amends Model Rule 7.3 to deal with online client solicitations. And it adds a new comment to Model Rule 7.2 to address marketing methods like Total Attorneys, Martindale-Hubbell’s and even, yes, Groupon. The new comment says it’s OK to pay for “lead generation” services, provided the generator doesn’t vouch for the lawyer’s credentials or abilities, or create the impression that it has chosen the lawyer by analyzing the potential client’s legal problems, or pretend that the recommendation is being made gratis.

Finally, if you’re the kind of lawyer who thinks none of this applies to you because your social network is more about your crowd than The Cloud, well, think again. The House of Delegates also approved Resolution 105A on Monday. Under a new comment, 105A adds to Model Rule 1.1, the duty to provide competent representation now requires not only that you keep up with changes in the law, but also with the risks and benefits associated with new technology.

Those were just two of the resolutions adopted at the ABA’s Annual Meeting in Chicago, which wraps up on Tuesday. For more information on the delegates’ votes and other reports from the meeting, click here.

Client control: How not to pick a loser

This week’s ABA podcast sounds so promising: “Picking a winner: How to identify great contingency cases.” Or, as moderator Stephanie Francis Ward puts it, “If you do plaintiff work, sometime in your life that million-dollar case will come in your door. But how do you know it’s the one?”

Alas, we never do find out. But the participants  — Paul R. Kiesel, of Kiesel Boucher & Larson in Beverly Hills, Calif., and Kerry M. Wisser, of Weinstein & Wisser in West Hartford, Conn. — do have a lots of advice about how not to pick a loser.

Among the red flags: Clients who come in with expectations that their case is worth a certain amount, clients who are less than forthcoming about their checkered pasts and “a client who’s had a couple of different lawyers… for the same matter.”

On that last point, Wisser was wary, saying he would investigate what happened but “would certainly think hard and fast about” taking such a client, especially if there were more than one lawyer before him.

Kiesel was even less forgiving. But then, he has his reasons:

Paul Kiesel: “If it’s more than Lawyer Number One, I don’t care how good the case is, I run away from it. It’s not worth the effort of taking that case. I would say what kills you is not the cases that you pass on, it’s the case that you made the mistake in taking in the first place.

Stephanie Francis Ward: And was this a lesson you learned personally? How did you reach that decision?…

Paul Kiesel: … Yes, I learned that lesson personally on a case. It was a case you could barely not take. It was the third lawyer–who will remain nameless… The client was walking away from a $7 million offer. Came to me, I took the case. I ultimately reached an $11 million resolution only to be sued for legal malpractice, having gotten more money than had ever been achieved in a similar case in the country. And ultimately it was dismissed but … after years of agony. And my antenna went up at the beginning and I learned I’ll never go there again.

There’s plenty more, including advice for “making sure your guy is not lying to you” — and turning the flaw into a feature when it turns out your guy was, in fact, doing just that.

Best of all, you can choose whether to listen to the 27-minute podcast, download it, or read the transcript.


Legal disptach from the Consumer Electronics Show

Frank Gorman of Gorman & Williams is in Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show. It’s Gorman’s first time at CES since 2007, although he attended for most of the Aughts.

The Baltimore lawyer says he goes “to see and keep up with technology,” which helps in his intellectual property practice. He is also an enthusiastic advocate of courtroom technology.

Gorman has graciously offered to write a few dispatches from Vegas. Today is an overview of CES; Monday he’ll have a look at some of the cool gadgets that are the hallmark of the event.

Gadgets aside, the big-picture story at CES 2011 is the increasing competition among the major players in the industry as they use existing technologies to create new products and services.

CES 2011 is big and sprawling, as in previous years. There are more than 2,700 exhibitors with booths in the Las Vegas Convention Center touting an incredible variety of consumer electronic products and services. There is a full array of conferences, presentations, and keynote speakers. There are thousands of registered attendees. Lots of deals will be made. In short, the excitement in Las Vegas this week is the event itself.

CES this year, however, is not a showcase for breakthrough technologies that permit consumers to do things they could not do before. In previous years, the excitement came from dramatic changes: broadband replaces dial-up; streaming digital content from its source eliminates the need for CDs and DVDs; Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) ends the monopoly of keyboarding and permits consumers to communicate over the Internet by voice; wireless frees consumers from cords.

Instead, CES 2011 is the arena for the competing products that have resulted from high-level market competition in the industry. Software giants Google, Microsoft, Apple are each innovating and maneuvering to gain dominance in markets previously dominated by the others.

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Hon Inc. and ‘pulling a Danny’

Judging by the reader responses to news that the word “Hon” has been trademarked, some Baltimoreans might have a new name for Cafe Hon owner Denise Whiting: Atilla.

The great John McIntyre explains why this touches a nerve:

What leads to the raised voices is the question of ownership of language. And with that question come all the overtones of social class, local history and culture, and personal likes and dislikes that crowd in on discussions of language and ensure that such discussions will never be neutral or unemotional.

Coincidentally, The New York Times had a story yesterday about athletes trademarking their catchphrases. I did not know that Nike owns the right to the name “LeBron.”

The lesson? I better call a lawyer now about the legal rights for “pulling a Danny.”

A legal longshot and a spot-a-pot

Two items of interest from the November Issue of the ABA Journal (at least to me):

  • The cover story is about how a 33-year-old solo practitioner in Cleveland named David Mills will be arguing his first case before the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 1. The story provides a blueprint of sorts for building an appellate law practice. To say Mills was a longshot is putting it kindly:
  • “His law office is located in a spare bedroom in his apartment. He has no staff, except for his part-time paralegal, Elisabeth, who goes by another title: Mom. His client, for payment, offered him the title of her Jeep and made him an afghan.”

  • Some people aspire to have buildings named after them. Me, I’d rather follow the lead of Bruce Freitag, who had a portable toilet named after him. Freitag served as longtime counsel for Porta-John Industries; the Freitag Comfort Station has hardwood floors, a skylight, working sink and ceramic toilet that flushes. The company’s CEO said they named it after the “classiest guy” they knew.

Law blog roundup: Patent geeks rejoice

Paul Allen

Happy Monday! While Danielle tries not to be a hurricane, finding those delicious legal tidbits is up to me. Here we go:

Law blog round-up

Uh oh, sounds like somebody’s got a case of the Mondays!!! Hopefully our law links provide the antidote. (Note: Loyal readers recall Caryn Tamber writing last week that Danielle Ulman would take over the blog round-up. Danielle will, but today she is getting situated in her new business-of-law chair, so you’re stuck with me.)

“Is there a legal angle to the WikiLeaks story?” The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog asks — and answers that it’s unlikely the government can successfully prosecute anyone connected to the leak.

  • Who knew pomegranate juice had so much bite? A D.C. judge prevents the National Law Journal from publishing details from documents it legally obtained in a lawsuit involving Hogan Lovells and POM Wonderful.  (HT: ABA Law Journal)
  • Above the Law wishes good luck to everyone taking the Bar Exam this week. (As do we. But really, shouldn’t you be studying?)
  • Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the best ways to recruit clients, and here’s a study that proves it. (HT: LawMarketing Blog)
  • First Mel Gibson. Now Oliver Stone? Oy!