Sometime soon Washington personal injury attorney Kirk Bernard, or Susan L. Sipe of SLS Consulting, who claims responsibility for Bernard’s internet marketing,
Others followed, including Patrick at Popehat and Mike at Crime and Federalism who, after first expanding on the theme “Kirk Bernard is a Slime Ball”, dug into some of Bernard’s posts and found three posts borrowing substantially from media accounts without attribution.
Mike calls it plagiarism; it looks like plagiarism to me too. Yet I’m willing to bet that Kirk Bernard didn’t commit plagiarism.
Why? Because odds are that Bernard has somebody (Susan L. Sipe of SLS Consulting?) writing “his” blog posts for him. Sure, it’s got his name at the bottom of it, but did he write it? Unlikely. Did he know that it was plagiarized? Who knows. Maybe he’ll tell us here or at Crime & Federalism. (Would he care if he knew? Different question entirely.)
So if Kirk Bernard might not be a thief, he might also be a kind, sensitive, honest, humble human being who would never traffic in the misfortune of others. So it’s not fair to call him an asshat for the same conduct, is it?
Sure it is. He is ultimately responsible for his marketing, and if he doesn’t write his own blog posts, he’s even more of an asshat for paying someone to make him appear to be an asshat.
Lawyers have caught on slowly to the internet. They too often think of it as a surrogate for the Yellow Pages, in which the name of the game is to get yourself the biggest ad you can (i.e. as many websites as you can) as near the front of the book as possible (i.e. as high in Google searches as possible).
Marketers looking for lawyers’ money encourage lawyers to think of the web this way because visibility is easy to manipulate, with multiple interlinking URLs and SEO. With his “blog” republishing news accounts of accidents (keyword-rich by nature), Kirk Bernard is playing the visibility game.
But the correct way for lawyers to think of the internet is as a surrogate for the Real World, in which the objective is to do the best job you can and hope that volunteers spread your good reputation. People selling marketing services to
suckerslawyers aren’t, by and large, interested in encouraging them to thing of the web as a world in which reputation matters because reputation is difficult and dangerous to manipulate.
Look at how a web-savvy potential client will look for a lawyer. First she’ll google the kind of lawyer she’s looking for (“Houston criminal lawyer”, for example, or—in Kirk Bernard’s case—“Washington personal injury attorney”). She’ll get some names. Recognizing, however, that lawyers’ websites are advertisements (and seeing that many of them are blatantly self-aggrandizing, Yellow Pages ads writ large), she’ll google those lawyers’ names and see what other people are saying about them. Even if she heard a name offline from a friend (“So-and-so did a great job for my cousin”), she’ll google so-and-so before even making the call.
If you’re marketing yourself on the internet, getting found in the first place is less than half the battle. If your online reputation is poor, you’re not going to get most of the potential clients who found you online, and you’re also going to lose those potential clients who found you offline but researched you online before signing up.
I’ve written before about how lawyers risk falling afoul of the ethical rules when they outsource marketing decisions. This weekend we’ve seen how quickly a marketing move can turn into an online reputational catastrophe. The sudden shock to Kirk Bernard’s online reputation should serve as a
cautionary tale to lawyers who market themselves online, especially
those who hire others to look after the details.