In yesterday’s Legal Blog Watch Alert, Carol Elefant notes that the Seattle Times is reporting that lawyer Shakespear Feyissa has demanded his alma mater’s college newspaper expunge a unflattering ten-year old story from their online archives, which they have refused to do. There is complex question of journalistic ethics and decorum involved, and I don’t see an easy answer given the proclivity of the internet to only get deeper and deeper with information. Perhaps the paper owes the lawyer a duty to at least post a follow up, even though it is 10 years later. That seems fair to me.

This dispute did make me aware, again, that the reputation of an attorney is somewhat under his or her control, and somewhat not. When the personal computer and personal digital assistant has access to virtually the entire world and publishers are racing to get their content on their Web sites for free access, or subscription, any and all reporting of an attorney’s activities become part of the reputation foundation.

The implication, it seems to me, is that attorneys need to be generating as much positive notice for themselves as possible, not just in the public relations sense, but also through participation in public forums, blogs, and knowledge demonstration that produces a Web archive. Law firms with strong Web presences are therefore, IMHO, responsible for broadening the amount of attention allotted to each attorney. We also should be willing to devote resources to researching the appearance of our attorney’s among the repositories on the Web, and, to the extent possible, offering some scrubbing services or counterbalance to the negative posts and stories for the benefit of both the attorney and the firm. The broad brush of public opinion paints each with a similar dark color when negative content appears.

In the June issue of the Strategies journal of the Legal Marketing Association, Rich Klein of Beckerman Public Relations wrote knowledgably about combating negative blogs, one component of online reputation that is increasingly accessible to a disgruntled client or muck-raking reporter. His ten tips should be standard procedure in every legal marketing department. The key to effectiveness is recognizing the negative postings and that requires constant vigilance.

Who in your firm is checking your online reputation?