“Like” To Win a Prize!

Early last decade, Kevin Ryan and I traveled around Vermont doing a presentation on legal ethics & social media.  Here’s a hypo we used:

  • Lawyer creates Facebook page for Firm.  Lawyer offers $25 to the first 25 friends who “like” or “share” the Firm’s page.  Discuss.

Now, given that it was early last decade, many in our audiences wondered why we were discussing something that would never happen in real life.

Alas . . . Kev, we told ’em so!

Late last decade, the North Carolina State Bar adopted 2019 Formal Ethics Opinion 6: Offering Incentive To Engage With Law Practice’s Social Networking Sites.  

(I didn’t notice the opinion until Sunday.  That’s when the Professional Responsibility Blog linked to the Louisiana Legal Ethics Blog’s post Top Ten Legal Ethics Developments in 2019.  Thank you Professors Bernabe & Ciolino!)

Anyhow, the NC opinion is straightforward.  A lawyer asked whether he could offer entries into a prize raffle to anyone who connected with his firm’s social media platforms.  The NC State Bar answered:

  • “No. If a social media platform will broadcast or display a user’s connection or interaction with Lawyer’s law practice social media account to other users of the platform, Lawyer may not offer prize chances in exchange for activity on or with his social media accounts.”

Per the opinion, the incentive program would violate Rules 7.2(b) and 7.1(a).

Rule 7.2(b) prohibits a lawyer from giving anything of value to someone to recommend the lawyer’s services.  Per the NC Opinion, free entry into a prize raffle is something of value, and a public “follow” or “like” is a recommendation.  By rule, the former cannot be given in exchange for the latter.

Rule 7.1(a) prohibits a lawyer from making a false or misleading communication about the lawyer’s services.  On this issue, the opinion says:

  • “The purpose behind Rule 7.2(b)’s prohibition on offering something of value in exchange for recommending services is to ensure that recommendations for a lawyer’s services are based upon actual experiences or legitimate opinions of the lawyer’s service, rather than financial incentive. The displayed “like” of a law practice may indicate some prior experience with the law practice or the personnel associated with the practice upon which the user’s “liking” of the practice is based. Similarly, the credibility attributed to a particular social media account could be influenced by the number of account followers or subscribers. When the “like” or follow of a law practice’s social media account is based upon the user’s interest in a prize giveaway, the incentivized “like,” follow, or other interaction received by Lawyer and displayed on social media is misleading in violation of Rule 7.1(a).”

Vermont’s versions of Rule 7.1(a) and 7.2(b) are identical to North Carolina’s.

I don’t know how I feel about the opinion.

On one hand, I get it: the lawyer’s plan violates the rules as they are written.

On the other, like many of you, I use “likes” (and tools like Yelp & Amazon reviews) ALL THE TIME when trying to find a product or service provider. Am I influenced by “follows,” “likes,” and positive reviews?  Yes.

But I’m also aware that many of us “like” pages for no other reason than someone we know asked us to “like” their page.  Or maybe even to become eligible to get something for free.  That is, I’m not under any illusion that all my friends who like another friend’s business have hired that friend and received satisfactory service.

In my mind, the important question isn’t whether someone hired a service provider based on the provider’s likes or endorsements.  No, the important question is, once hired, did the client receive competent service at a reasonable price?

There you have it.  As always, be careful out there.

Image result for facebook likes"

Ghost Posts. Or are yours real?

To borrow a phrase from Larry David and Teri Hatcher, my blog posts are real and they’re spectacular!  Apparently not all law blogs can truthfully say the former.

Last month, the ABA Journal posted Ghostwriting for law blogs? Ethics are murkyIt’s a topic that’s new to me, one not raised in any of the ethics inquiries or formal disciplinary complaints that I’ve responded to and reviewed over the years.  The ABA Journal post includes insight from some of the more well-known voices on both professional responsibility and tech ethics.

But let’s back up for a moment.  You might be asking your self: “self, what is Mike even talking about?”  Good question.

The ABA’s post references this article that Kailee Goold posted to Ohio + Legal Ethics in June 2014. In it, Attorney Goold wrote:

  • “What are We Talking About?

    The ghost-blogging I’m talking about is when an attorney pays someone else (a non-attorney) to write articles published under the attorney’s name on the attorney or law firm’s website. As a result, the world thinks the attorney wrote it when the attorney had little to no part in its creation.”

Again, not an issue I’ve encountered.  But, an issue that raises ethics concerns.

Many law blogs are part of a lawyer’s website.  Websites communicate information about the services that the lawyer provides. Per V.R.Pr.C. 7.1,

  • “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 as a whole not materially misleading.”

The final sentence of Comment [1] is “whatever means are used to make known a lawyer’s services, statements about them must be truthful.”

Also, V.R.Pr.C. 8.4(c) prohibits a lawyer from engaging in conduct that involves “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”

So, let’s say that a firm focuses on Practice Area.  And let’s say that the firm’s website includes a blog dedicated to Practice Area.  Does the firm violate the rules by paying a content developer to ghostwrite the posts and then posting them under the “byline” of one of the firm’s lawyers?

My gut reaction was “is it really THAT misleading?” But then I paused.  Because whenever we start asking whether something “is really THAT misleading,” we’ve established that it is, in fact, misleading.

In that it never arises, I don’t want to belabor the issue.  Suffice to say, if your website or blog includes posts that you paid someone else to ghostwrite, check out the articles referenced above.

Finally, I proof read by reading aloud.  Reading this blog about law blogs aloud reminded me of two things.

First, it reminded me of Elizabeth Kruska & Wesley Lawrence, perennial members of the #fiveforfriday Honor Roll in Legal Ethics.

Why them?

Because, like me, I know they’re fans of the second thing that reading today’s post aloud reminded me of: the world’s greatest law blog – The Bob Loblaw Law Blog.

See the source image


Specializing in Anonymity

Our nation’s long national nightmare is over: I’ve returned from my blogging hiatus.

Welcome to Monday!  I hope your summer is going well.  And, for those of you who followed the World Cup, let’s not forget that Scott Mapes predicted 3 of the final four.  Now that’s competence!

Today I’m going to discuss an oft misunderstood rule: Rule 7.4.

By way of background, last week, someone sent me copies of several pages from the “Lawyers” section of the Yellow Pages.  I’m not going to tell you the geographic area.  The sender chose to remain anonymous: no return address, no cover letter, no sticky note with a name.  The sender used a highlighter to call my attention to a few ads that indicate that various lawyer “specialize in” certain areas of law.

I assume the sender thinks the highlighted ads violate the rules.  Absent a cover letter, I don’t know.

I’m not a fan of anonymous complaints.  If you think another lawyer’s ad violates the rules, make a complaint or an inquiry and we’ll let you know.

Back to Rule 7.4.  The rule does not ban any & all use of “specializes” or its variants.  Here’s what the relevant sub-part says:

  • “(d) a lawyer shall not state of imply that a lawyer is certified as a specialist in a particular field of law, unless:
    • (1) the lawyer has been certified as a specialist by a named organization, provided that the communication clearly states that there is no procedure in Vermont for approving certifying organizations, unless the named organization has been accredited by the American Bar Association to certify lawyers as specialists in a particular field of law; and
    • (2) the name of the certifying organization is clearly identified in the communication.”

Comment [1] is instructive.  Per the Comment,

  • “[a] lawyer is generally permitted to state that the lawyer is a ‘specialist,’ practices a ‘speciality,’ or ‘specializes in’ particular fields of law, but such communications are subject to the ‘false and misleading’ standard applied in Rule 7.1 to communications concerning a lawyer’s services.”

In other words, if it’s true, Vermont’s rule appears to allow a lawyer to advertise that the lawyer specializes in a particular area of law.

Image result for saul goodman advertisement


Monday Morning Answers: #108

Good morning.  Friday’s questions are here.  The answers follow today’s honor roll.

As usual, I greatly appreciate the thoughts & stories that readers shared in response to the Friday intro.  Remember: people care, help is available.  If you (or someone you know) needs help, you can make a confidential inquiry of me, or, you can call the Vermont Lawyers Assistance Program.

Also, please remember this:  when it comes to helping someone else, don’t think of it as whether you have a professional obligation to make a report.  Think of it as helping another human being.  As I blogged last March

  • “In my experience, lawyers are in position to recognize signs of substance abuse and mental health issues exhibited by another lawyer, whether a co-worker, colleague, or opposing counsel.  Some lawyers wonder whether there is a duty to report substance abuse and mental health issues.  Maybe.  Rule 8.3, the reporting rule, is HERE.But how about this? How about coming it at from the perspective of helping another human being instead of analyzing whether another’s struggles trigger your duty to report? If a colleague, co-worker, or opposing counsel needs help, why not help them?

    Yes, I get it, we are reluctant to get involved.  Some of these might sound familiar:

    • It’s not my business.
    • I don’t know for sure, could’ve been she was having a bad day.
    • It helps my client that he isn’t doing his job.
    • The firm doesn’t need the bad publicity.”

When we’re dealing with a number like 108, those reasons for reluctance don’t cut it.

Honor Roll


Question 1

Which is different from the others?

  • A.  A contingent fee agreement
  • B.  An hourly fee agreement.   The rules do not require an hourly fee agreement to be in writing.  However, I’d encourage you to reduce it to a writing.
  • C.  A former client’s consent to a conflict
  • D.  Concurrent clients’ consent to a conflict

Question 2

There phrase “persons of limited means” appears four times in a single rule.

What’s the topic of the rule?

Voluntary Pro Bono Services – Rule 6.1

Question 3

There’s a rule that prohibits a lawyer from counseling or assisting a client to engage in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent.  In 2016, a the Supreme Court adopted a Comment to the rule.  The Comment makes it clear that lawyers may:

  • A.   accept cash to represent people charged with financial crimes
  • B.   not accept cash to represent people charged with financial crimes
  • C.   not disclose a client’s immigration status absent the client’s informed consent
  • D.   advise & assist clients on matters related to Vermont’s marijuana laws & regulations.

Rule 1.2(d).  The order adopting the Comment is here.

Question 4

There’s a rule that prohibits a lawyer from doing something, unless it’s:

  • to another lawyer; or,
  • to someone with whom the lawyer has a family relationship, close personal relationship, or prior professional relationship.

What’s the “something?”

Solicit employment by in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic contact.   Rule 7.3(a).

Question 5

Vincenzo Leoncavallo was an attorney and judge in Italy.  In 1865, he presided over a murder trial that involved a love triangle: the victim was stabbed to death by a romantic rival.  The victim was Judge Leoncavallo’s son’s babysitter.

Fast forward to 1910.  It was then, 108 years ago,  that the first public radio broadcast took place.  The broadcast was of 2 operas.

One of the operas had been composed by Judge Leoncavallo’s son.  It involved a love triangle in which Silvio was stabbed to death by Canio, a jealous romantic rival.

Name the opera.

Bonus: name the character for whom Silvio and Canio shared dueling affections.

The opera: Pagliacci

The character: Nedda.



$1 Billion

Update: March 28 at 3:43 PM.  Avvo’s Josh King was nice enough to let me know that the $1 billion is only on tv ads.  Josh indicates that the amount spent on all attorney advertising is between $4 and $5 billion.

This year, it’s estimated that U.S. lawyers and law firms will spend over $1 billion on advertising.

$1 Billion.

You read that correctly.

The ABA Journal has the story here: Legal Advertising Blows Past $1 Billion And Goes Viral.

By comparison, in FY 2015, the Legal Services Corporation’s budget was $375 million.  (Editorializing? Maybe.  But, also, fact.)

Some of the lawyers/firms highlighted in the ABA Journal’s article:

  • an all-female firm that uses the catchphrase “Ever Argue with a Woman?
  • an attorney whose ads made him such a celebrity that a mother threw a birthday party for her 2-year-old in which the theme was…..the attorney.
  • a lawyer whose alter ego is the Texas Law Hawk.
  • the lawyer who originated the campaign “If you are injured in a car accident, call us immediately” and whose firm now spends between $30 and $40 million per year on advertising.

The article also includes an interesting recap of the history of lawyer advertising.  From the days when the ABA’s Canons of Professional Ethics banned nearly all advertising and, referring to lawyer advertising, included the ominous statement that “[t]he future of the republic, to a great extent, depends upon our maintenance of justice, pure and unsullied,” to the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizonato today’s landscape.

I’ve worked in the Professional Responsibility Program since 1999.  We’ve not received many advertising complaints. Maybe 5 or 6 in 18 years.

Vermont’s advertising rules are in Rules 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4, and 7.5.   It’s a violation to advertise a firm as being “injury experts” and “the experts” in particular areas of law.  It’s also impermissible to advertise as a “County’s Premier Criminal Defense Firm.”

I’ve never been a huge fan of the advertising rules.  I’m not against them, just not a fan.

The Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers recommended that the ABA streamline its Model Rules on advertising.  The comment period closed on March 1.  I’m curious to see how the ABA responds.

$1 Billion.  On ads.

jimmy mcgill