Other attorneys have spoken far more eloquently than I about what a law blog should be (and should not be.) Attorney Antonin Pribetic of Toronto has coined the term “flawg” to describe, more or less, the mischaracterization of fluff and hype as a [fake] “law blog” by shaping that fluff and hype into the shape, but not the substance, of a blog about law. Among the purposes of such a flawg are to over-sell the attorney and to position the flawg highly within relevant search engines, but I leave you to Mr. Pribetic’s extensive taxonomy of the flawgosphere on his site.
There’s nothing wrong with saying something that is true, ethical and is what it appears to be. I am not a good family law lawyer, and so I don’t talk about family law here; it’s not what this practice does. Ditto with admiralty law. Not this Law Office’s wheelhouse. At a minimum, lawyers shouldn’t put out pure hype while pretending it isn’t hype.
I don’t feel like declaring war on another law firm in my area today, but I came across a site which basically uses SEO boilerplate headlines “____________ DUI Attorney” for blog posts and fills in the blank with the name of a local town, as if there were something called a (hypothetical) Parkville/Woodlawn/Silver Spring DUI, etc. Maryland does not have town-level courts; DUI are almost exclusively within the initial jurisdiction of the District Court, which sits for criminal/traffic cases in 1-3 locations per county and Baltimore City. There’s really no such thing as a “Highlandtown DUI” but it is a search term that works.
Beneath the headlines of each blog post, “updated daily” not with news or law or actual content but for SEO gaming, roughly the same information is posted again and again. There’s no value in reading what a Catonsville DUI is versus a Frederick DUI; it’s pretty much all the same info (which is logical, since it’s the same law and substantially the same policing environment.) It’s not a blog so much as a slow-motion informercial that’s light on the info.
Look, this is America and hype is what we do best. If we could find a way to burn hype rather than oil we’d dominate the planet for another 150 years. Complaining about hype in America is a little like complaining about grease on a Big Mac; you know what you are in for here. But the practice of law should be, at least ideally, a sign of contradiction to the hacktastic aspects of our culture. If you want to make hype, label it hype and don’t pretend it’s “updated daily.” Ron Popeil of Ronco didn’t pretend that his chicken rotisserie had daily news updates or that the Ginzu knives needed a “breaking news” siren or klaxon like what Matt Drudge uses.
The practice of law is a business but it isn’t just a business; we owe a fiduciary duty to deliver the news straight especially to clients but to the public at large. Sure, we can advertise (now, for better for worse) and nobody gets “access to justice” when “justice” is hiding under a camouflage-painted rock. While I don’t think that hacktastic flawging is or ought to be a black letter ethics violation for discipline in itself, it’s something that the Bar arguably should address in its periodic exhortations towards “professionalism.”