Ethical for Virginia Lawyers to Have a Ghost Writer for their Blogs?
Despite all the lawyer jokes (and I've told my share), lawyers are held to the highest of ethical standards. If we post a case result on our website, we must have a disclaimer. If we send a letter to a potential client, we must note on the envelope that it lawyer advertising. The Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct describe in detail the ethical obligations of a lawyer. As a past chair of the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association's Legal Ethics Committee, I can tell you the rules are constantly changing to keep up with the times. Ethics gurus have struggled to keep up with new technology like blogs.
Many lawyers like myself maintain a website blog. We use the blog to tell the public about our services, to educate the public about developments in the law, and yes we hope our blog will generate new clients. The Virginia State Bar considers most blogs to be subject to lawyer marketing restrictions which most importantly state that they can not be misleading. So at a recent conference, the Virginia State Bar president started a firestorm by suggesting it is unethical for a lawyer to hire someone else to ghost write their blog posts.
Before we get to why it may be unethical, let's discuss why it created a "firestorm." The public does not realize many legal blogs are not even written by lawyers. It takes time to prepare a blog post. So lawyers often hire non-lawyers to prepare and post their blogs. Sometimes the blogs are posted without the lawyer even reviewing them for legal accuracy. So it caused a "firestorm," because it hit a nerve of many lawyers.
Now why is it arguably unethical? A ghost written legal blog is misleading. It appears to be the thought process and writings of the lawyer. when it is not. Why should anyone care? Let's assume you are looking for a personal injury lawyer after suffering injuries due to a drunk driving auto accident in Richmond. You desperately need a skillful and experienced lawyer to represent you. You carefully search for the best lawyer in Richmond and you come across a blog post that impresses you. It is well-written and very insightful, so you meet with the lawyer and hire him or her. Now the foundation of the attorney-client relationship was a blog post that the lawyer had nothing to do with. You have been misled.
Lastly, let me comment on how the Silverman Law Firm's blog works. Almost exclusively, the blog posts are written by me (which may explain the typos). They are typically based on something I've read in a legal publication that I think is worth sharing and I will include the link to the article. (By the way this post was sparked by a blog post from Virginia Lawyers Weekly http://valawyersweekly.com/vlwblog/2013/08/08/lawyers-cautioned-no-hiding-behind-ghost-bloggers/ ). At times, I will invite a colleague to be a guest blogger on my website, but it will be conspicuously noted as a guest blog post.
If you have any questions or comments about this blog post or any other posts on my website, please do not hesitate to contact me.