Type ethically: you are what you blog

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Published on 9/3/07

The CEO of a major food retailer recently unleashed a firestorm when it was revealed that for years he had blogged under a pseudonym about his company and competitors.

He contends that he was merely expressing personal opinions; the SEC may conclude that his words directly affected the stock prices and proposed merger of both companies. No matter what, both the CEO and his company suffered blows to the reputation they had built for honesty and ethical behavior.

Where does that leave lawyers, who are specifically trained to be "wordsmiths" in their profession, in writing legal blogs?

I have occasionally stirred up controversy with my assertion that it is perfectly acceptable for busy lawyers to get help starting and maintaining their blogs. Blogging in this instance is neither a news piece nor a school term paper, where one is "graded" and receives personal credit for the submission. The writing in this case is done primarily to raise the level of one's credibility for expertise in a given subject - in other words, for business purposes.

There is no more need to attribute authorship here than for any other marketing copy used in the promotion of a product or service. The lawyer whose blog it is, though not the author, still sets the tone of the content, still oversees the ideas to be discussed, and, most likely, lays out the entire strategy to be highlighted in the blog. In other words, the concept is the blogger's even if the specific words are not.

Quite a different issue arises when companies such as PayPerPost, ReviewMe, Loud Launch and SponsoredReviews.com pay bloggers from $5 to $20, and sometimes up to $1,000 per blog review of products.

I had no problem with this - caveat emptor seems to be the governing principle here - until the article referred to a law firm that told paid bloggers to "get creative, have fun with your post, and help spread the word" - the "word" being that "the [birth control] patch was killing and injuring young women."

It does seem unethical for a law firm to get involved promoting the interests of a political perspective (or client) in this fashion. Perhaps, I'm old-fashioned, but I do hold lawyers to a higher standard.

Too often, a lawyer's reputation crosses the line between strong advocacy and honesty. It's one thing to be the voice of the client; it's another to knowingly falsify commentary or break the rules just because you can get away with it.

The blogging world may foster further breaches of proper conduct ... because it's so easy and because it's so fast. Blogging is an outstanding method of communicating with our audience (target clients and other stakeholders); it provides us with the opportunity to convey our ideas to a broader spectrum of folks than we would otherwise have access to. But, we must use the medium judiciously, carefully and with honest decorum.

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