Update: The attorney responds in the comments.
Second Update: I've removed the attorney's name. See the end of the post for why.
Our friends and colleagues Mark Bennett of Defending People and Scott Greenfield of Simple Justice are tireless critics of crass legal marketing, which is a topic we also cover. Bennett repeats repeats this mantra over and over:
When you outsource your marketing, you outsource your ethics and your reputation.
Now, granted, I don't know if Mark is repeating it for emphasis or because, like my 92-year-old grandmother, he has forgotten that he already said it several times. But Mark is dead right. It remains an apt observation of which all attorneys should take note. All attorneys.
I'm looking at you, attorney in New York.
I learned of Attorney in New York because someone spammed us with a comment promoting him. Here is the comment:
New York’s [specialty] attorney has won millions of dollars in jury verdicts for [types of cases] and much more.
The comment, left by a commenter identifying itself as "[Specialty] Attorney New York", was accompanied by the attorney's web site url and purported email address [note: in comments, the attorney says that this is not his address], and left from IP address 22.214.171.124, which unless the IP was spoofed suggests it was left from Bangalore, India.
The comment was left on this post by Patrick, which ridiculed a plaintiff suing a bar for allowing him to ride a mechanical bull while drunk. Like this blog in general, that post is not calculated to promote personal injury suits, nor is it likely to be sought out and viewed by people hungry for positive comments about personal injury suits. I daresay that the comment left in the attorney's name is singularly unsuited for the post, rather like leaving spam for your porn site on an evangelical Christian blog.
I struggle to imagine a reader who, while perusing Popehat whilst harboring a need for an attorney of this specialty, would see that comment spam and say "Aha! This is just the attorney I need!" Similarly, I struggle to imagine someone searching for information about attorneys of that specialty, coming across that comment, seeing that someone has promoted this attorney on a snarky blog like this, and saying "Aha! This is just the attorney I need!"
In truth, such comment spam is probably not left — at least not by anyone who understands what they are doing — with the primary intent that people will read the comment and follow the link to the product or service and use it. Rather, it is calculated to create links back to the service or product, so that the service or product's web site will enjoy a more prominent listing when an internet user searches for terms used in the comment. Here, if I had approved the comment touting the attorney, the primary benefit to him would not have been Popehat users rushing to his door when their penis pump malfunctions or they swallow the TV remote again. Rather, the attorney's site would enjoy a marginally more prominent page rank when people searched for "[specialty] attorney from New York." If many sites approved similar spam comments, then the many resulting links might allow the attorney's site to enjoy a substantially improved page ranking in search engine results, bringing more business to the door.
Of course, that would come at the cost of someone leaving little turds of spam all over the internet. That would have a countervailing consequence for the attorney's reputation, and some might say, for his ethical stance.
Now, what are the possibilities here for how this comment spam in favor of this attorney came to be left on a hilariously inappropriate post on Popehat, and what does it say about the attorney's judgment? Let's see:
1. The attorney might have personally decided that this spam comment was well-placed on that particular post, and put it there himself. This seems unlikely. The attorney's picture on his web site betrays no gross signs of brain damage. Also, it seems unlikely he is posting from Bangalore.
2. The attorney may have downloaded and installed one of the many automatic comment programs that will automatically spam hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of sites with your comment spam, after you input your preferred search terms (which helps the program determine where to leave the spam) and the comment he wanted. If this is the case, the attorney is either (a) of extremely questionable judgment, if he set in motion a program to promote himself on the internet without a grasp of how it worked, and without understanding that it would annoy tens of thousands and clutter blogs by leaving impertinent comment spam, or (b) a major-league asshole, if he knew that was what it would do and did it anyway to promote himself. In either case, one ought to think twice before hiring the attorney. Having an attorney with poor judgment is dangerous. Having an attorney who is an intractable asshole (as opposed to one who is only an asshole for strategic purposes when it benefits your case) is also dangerous. This particular possibility strikes me as unlikely, given the Bangalore IP address, unless I misapprehend how such programs work.
3. The attorney may have outsourced his reputation, and ethics, by outsourcing his marketing to someone who did (1) or (2) — more likely (2). The Bangalore IP address makes me suspect that the attorney hired some slick-talking marketer, who outsources various work to people in Bangalore. That marketer had his outsourced guy in Bangalore run the automatic comment program, after instructing him on the search terms and comment content to use, probably based on the attorney's vaguely delivered preferences. It is possible that the attorney knew this is exactly what would happen, in which case he is a judgment-lacking asshole. Or it is possible that the attorney, unfamiliar with online marketing, hired an online marketer and set him loose without a clear idea of what he would do, in which case the attorney displays poor judgment. It is possible that the internet marketer promised to deliver better search hits without explaining to they attorney how he would do so, and the attorney failed to inquire vigorously and supervise effectively, displaying poor judgment. Or, I suppose, it is possible that the attorney inquired vigorously and supervised effectively, but the marketer defied his instructions and did this in secret — which raises the question of what judgment the attorney displayed in hiring the marketer in the first place. Remember — when the attorney outsourced his marketing, he outsourced his reputation and his ethics. There, I'm repeating myself like Bennett. Drooling and incontinence loom on the horizon. Shouting at kids to put down their talking music machines and get off my lawn, like Greenfield, await beyond that.
4. Or maybe some malicious person is sending comment spam to make New York Attorney look bad. It could happen. Do you have enemies, New York attorney?
[Note: in the comments below, the attorney asserts that he did not know that anyone was doing any internet marketing for him. Read his comments.]
Nobody — nobody — who runs a web site or reads web sites likes comment spam. It's irritating. It shows that marketers view the internet as their toilet. It shows that they are willing to clutter people's blogs with impertinent and unwelcome spam if it improves their clients' search rankings. That's why automatic comment programs are widely detested, and the people who write and market them and the marketers who use them are widely viewed as vermin. And that is why you would never want to hire an attorney who knowingly employs this method, and why you should be gravely concerned about the web-savvy (at the very least) and judgment of an attorney who outsources his marketing and as a result unknowingly employs them.
Update: the attorney responds, and offers his position, in the comments.
Further update: I've decided, after the dialogue with the attorney below, to remove his name and stuff that would make it very easy to identify him, both from the post and from the comments. That's not because I retract my comments above that failure to supervise marketers lacks judgment. It's also not because anyone has shown me that anything I said was inaccurate. It's because it's our site, and I can, and I felt like it. I leave the comments above to reflect my continued feelings on attorneys who use comment spam or fail to supervise adequately their minions or contractors who do.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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