When law blogging was new, a lot of lawyers were afraid that they could lose their licenses if they posted the wrong thing online. The plethora of well-maintained blogs have set those fears to rest for the most part. But once in a while a story comes up that reignites the panic.
This time, an Illinois patent lawyer’s license may be suspended for 3 years because of her blog about a Cook County probate matter. But rather than a warning against this well-established form of web marketing, this is a cautionary tale against making complaints personal and making misrepresentations online.
After her application to represent an elderly woman’s daughter in a guardianship matter, lawyer JoAnne Marie Denison decided to voice her dissatisfaction on a blog that included a “table of torts.” The blog alleged “TEN PAGES of questionable behavior, corruption, misfeasance, malfeasance, perpetration of misdemeanors and felonies.”
A disclaimer on the blog warned readers to do their own investigation regarding the facts. But elsewhere on the blog, Denison suggested that the allegations were true, even though investigators determined they were unfounded. The hearing board found:
“From our perspective, it appears respondent has genuine concern for senior citizens and perceives the senior population as vulnerable, especially to financial exploitation. This concern, as a general matter, is a legitimate one, even though respondent had no reasonable basis for believing the judges or attorneys in [the specific] case were corrupt.”
The hearing board also warned against “inappropriately personaliz[ing] matters.”
A license suspension may be one of the scariest threats to a practicing attorney. So stories like this one could scare some lawyers into web silence. But the lesson to be learned from Denison’s cases isn’t silence, it is diligence.
Your law firm’s blog must be professional, first and foremost. Just like any other form of advertising, you can’t make allegations without doing any research to back them up. Best practices suggest linking or citing to any external sources. Building in these kinds of links can provide credibility as well as improve the SEO of your blog.
That is not to say that a legal blog can’t take controversial positions or be critical of court opinions or legislative actions. But if you decide to take a position on your blog, be certain you can back up your factual allegations and cite to your sources.
Writing a law blog doesn’t need to make you panic. As long as you follow the same rules you would for any other kind of advertising, you should not have to worry about licensing sanctions*. To help you create a professional and informative law blog, contact ghostwriter Lisa J. Schmidt at Legal Linguist to examine your options.* Lisa Schmidt is not an expert in attorney discipline proceedings, and your state’s advertising requirements may place more restrictions on your blog than are represented here.