A recent article on FindLaw Selling Pre-SEO’d Websites has the Legal Marketers Extraordinaire group on Facebook debating: Is this ethical? Or just disgusting.

In short, Findlaw will “sell” (rent) you a website with pre-written content, which they will then update and attribute to the attorney, in an attempt to game the SEO and boost search results:

And now Eric Zentz owns rents the domain that Kajioka and Bloomfield presumably paid to have FindLaw build and optimize for them – including all of the legacy blog content and . . . links. Yup – despite the fact that Zentz started on the domain just this year, “his” blog posts stretch back well into the first quarter of last year and have the exact same content from the Kajioka era. Explains how he’s been able to rank #1 for a super competitive term in less than 3 months. And not to miss a black hat beat, FindLaw made sure to establish authorship for Eric . . . for pre-existing blog posts written long before he was their client. Note the date below . . .

Is this ethical? Rule 7.1 of the ABA’s Rules of Professional Conduct’s says:

A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer’s 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.

(ht Jaimie Field for the site)

First of all, I would like to stress to the community at large, and especially to our distracters, this is NOT legal marketing.

Our job, as legal marketers, is to bring out the best in the lawyers and firms we represent; to teach them how to identify what differentiates them from the competition, and how to communicate that outside their offices (when we can pry them out of there).

Our jobs are to bring best practices in business, client service, project management, communication, education, and more, to the forefront of an attorney’s legal practice, not to remain hidden away as an afterthought.

Legal marketers are not there to “game” the system, or break the rules of professional ethics and conduct provided by the various bar associations. We have to consistently and diligently blend best business practices with the “profession” of law.

The process outlined in this article does not fulfill any of these objectives, and therefore it is NOT legal marketing. It is a misleading communication, and therefore unethical, per my lawyer colleagues.  And I find it disgusting.

(Slightly edited on 7/24 for clarity, not context)

  • Yeah, I read that post on your Facebook group. I thought it was a good piece of robust blogging and reporting by Conrad Saam, the former Avvo guy. I don’t think it’s disgusting – that’s too strong. This is marketing after all – human nature is such that people will always look to game the system and find a shortcut. It’s just a bit lame – that was my view. Although, to be fair to FindLaw, they could argue that in a free market, if there’s demand…I don’t know enough about the technical side of SEO to make an informed comment, but I keep reading that all this cat-and-mouse nonsense with Google was being eradicated with all these updates, but these vendors always seem to stay one step ahead.

    • I find it disgusting because of the knowing breach of legal ethics. To attribute blog posts to whomever is renting the site at the moment, and to switch “authors” as the wind blows might be fine if you are selling widgets, but we are not.

      As these companies are targeting small and solo firms, who do not have in-house legal marketers, and who mainly represent consumers, is predatory, in my opinion. And the parent company here, which KNOWS better, should DO better by these people.

      If I ever go out on my own I would want to represent small and solo firms. They need true legal marketing services. Not this stuff.

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