Yodle’s “Stellar Record”

Rique Bobbitt has “a stellar record as defense attorney” and passing familiarity with indefinite articles. So do Clark Adams and Edward Reddish. Richard Coleman has “a stellar record as personal injury attorney” and the same articulate deficit.

McNair Hawn Jackson have “a stellar record as elder and disability attorneys.” Dearfield, Kruer and Co., LLC have “a stellar record as bankruptcy attorney” but a weak grasp of number.

Richard Darden has “a stellar record as a criminal defense attorney,” as does Blair Jones.

How do we know these people have stellar records? Because they tell us so! These lawyers, as well as Edward Vaisman, James P. Peterson, Furlong & Drewniak, Allie Booker (representing Houston!), Robert Tunnicliff, and many more are paying Yodle to tout them on the web. Yodle is using the same language to describe each of them:

In addition to having a stellar record as [type of law] attorney, [name] has [number] years of experience, giving him the intricate understanding of legal procedures necessary to develop a winning strategy for your case.

Our commitment to you is to go the extra mile to win your case, and we take that pledge very seriously. So when you [describe legal need], choose an attorney that not only knows your rights, but will do everything in [his/her] power to protect them. Choose [name].

There’s a little variability: one first-year lawyer doesn’t have “[number] years of experience,” but only “the intricate understanding” yadda yadda.

That particular baby lawyer claims, but doesn’t have, a “stellar record.” Aside from the fact that nobody has a “stellar record” after only 11 months of practicing law, court records show her as counsel of record on no cases. So at least sometimes (probably, those of us who have actually practiced law know, most of the time) this claim to a “stellar record” on these cookie-cutter sites is a lie. It’s deceptive.

If this were mere marketing, deceptively claiming a “stellar record” might be legally defensible as “mere puffery.” But we are lawyers, and different rules apply to us. This is why lawyers need to understand the formula OM = OE and its corollary OM = OR, and need to hold marketers like Yodle under short rein: we have to play by the rules of legal ethics; they don’t. The rules that work just fine for people trying to sell used cars or Ginsu knives on the web will get lawyers into ethical and reputational morasses from which they can never recover.

Making deceptive claims about yourself in your advertising is a violation of the disciplinary rules, of ethics, of morals, and of the law. Do you think the first-year lawyer who pays Yodle to market her “stellar record” cares? Well, no, probably not—she’s 27 years old, has been practicing for 11 months, and is still a fool, but she should.

Do the rest of us care about Yodle lying on behalf of the lawyers it markets? Generally, I think, not—the predominant ethic in the blawgosphere at the moment seems to be, “if you don’t interfere with my touting myself, I won’t interfere with your touting yourself” (and besides, “Policing the blawgosphere and calling out specific lawyers on what are still debatable ethical issues seems . . . paternalistic and futile“).

Should we care?

There has been some rending of clothing and gnashing of teeth among marketing lawyers and those who would sell them marketing about the ABA’s announcement that it is considering regulation of online advertising. This should (as I suggested nine months ago) not be a surprise. Where, as in online legal marketing, there is an ethical vacuum, someone is going to step in with regulations. Which, as Scott Greenfield says, is a reason we should care. Should have; it’s probably too late.

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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