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LPT: Maintaining Ethical Boundaries on the Gray Web of Marketing

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ABA’s Law Practice Today Webzine

Being super-active in the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Division means collaboration is a necessity. So in the November 2019 edition of Law Practice Today (LPT), I get to combine my role as Associate Editor of the webzine with my participation in the Ethics & Professionalism Committee to formulate our annual “Ethics Issue.”

Of course, that typically means I will need to contribute a feature as well, so I’ve authored “Maintaining Ethical Boundaries on the Gray Web of Marketing,” which discusses the difficulty many law firms are having today in determining how to effectively and ethically market themselves on the Internet without violating the Rules of Professional Conduct. Suffice it to say–easier said than done. And as the title suggests, it is far from black & white. There are issues of jurisdictional boundaries, fee-sharing, unauthorized practice of law and understanding where the RPC, ethics opinions and enforcement kick in (or don’t). I recently told a colleague that the sophistication level of aggressive online law marketers is well beyond the long arm of the (disciplinary) law. I used to put a ton of time and energy into making sure there was ethics compliance with a “standard” law firm website—text, disclaimers, bar admissions, etc. Today a typical website—regardless of the look & feel—is pretty ho-hum at the end of the day—office locations, bios, practices, industries, representative matters, blah, blah, blah…but it is in the realm of SEO, cookies, social media and all sorts of traffic drivers where the real issues lie below the surface of the World Wide Web. Have a read.

The Ethics Issue is chock full of substantive features, including “When the Rules Stagnate Innovation, Change the Rules,” by Jayne Reardon and Susan Letterman White. The article discusses how innovation in law practice is being hampered by rules that put up roadblocks. Cyber law expert Dave Ries writes on “Cybersecurity for Attorneys: Addressing the Legal and Ethical Duties,” which reinforces that neglecting your legal and ethical duties to protect client data carries profound risks. In “Keep Your Mouth Shut,” Dan Siegel reminds you why lawyers must avoid revealing confidential client information in an age of open mouths.

Outside of the ethics features, there is an always informative roundtable discussion by Nick Gaffney of Zumado Public Relations on “Discovery Practices Are Big Business.” Plus our recurring feature segments that hit the topics of Diversity & Inclusion, Attorney Well-Being, and Women Rainmakers. If you have an idea for an article, would like to contribute as an author, or simply have a comment, please give me a shout.

If you missed last year’s LPT Ethics Issue (September 2018), as our readers sometimes tell me when seeing something I authored way, way back…”it’s still good.”

Thanks to LPT chair Amy Drushal of Trenam Law in Tampa, Florida, and Ethics & Professionalism chair Dave Ries of Clark Hill in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for their help in putting the issue together. And as always, thanks to Lauren DeGroot in the “home office” at the ABA in Chicago, Illinois.