Lawyers Use Competitors Names to Drive Traffic to Paid Ads; Court Says It’s “Ok”

This is not the first time I have seen this. A law firm in Milwaukee, Cannon & Dunphy, took out  pay per click ads with the name of their biggest competitor town, Habush, Habush & Rottier.

The purpose was so that people who were searching for Habush, Habush & Rottier, a well-known and highly advertised law firm would see paid ads in the search results that when clicked on, would take them to the Cannon & Dunphy law firm.

So what happened here?

Big well-known law firm, Habush, Habush & Rottier got wind of it at some point. They were rightfully upset that another law firm was using their name to try and gain Web traffic to their website and divert attention from this well-known law firm in Milwaukee.  Habush, Habush & Rottier decided to sue.

The circuit court judge decided that the smaller firm, Cannon & Dunphy, did in fact invade the Habush’s firms’ privacy. However, the judge likened this to having one law firm ad in the Yellow Pages next to the other one. Accordingly, the circuit  Judge felt that the invasion of privacy was “not unreasonable.”

NOT UNREASONABLE TO USE YOUR COMPETITORS NAMES IN YOUR PAID ADS

To say the least, the Habush law firm was not pleased with the decision. “It’s now open season for other lawyers to exploit the reputations of any lawyer they want,” Habush told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after losing the circuit court case last year.

COMMENTARY

Aside from ethical issues about using your competitors names in your own paid advertising, the question raised by one commentator was “Why did the smaller firm feel the need to ride coattails on the bigger firms’ reputation?”

That’s a great question. Ideally, you would want to market yourself using your own ideals that set yourself apart from all of your competitors.

WHAT PROBABLY HAPPENED

In all likelihood, someone on their marketing team with a knowledge of pay per click ads probably suggested using their competitors names to drive traffic to their website and to their law firm.

No matter what your ethical rules are in your state, you never want to give the appearance that you are deceiving a potential consumer or potential client. It’s almost like a bait and switch tactic by getting a consumer who is searching for a particular lawyer to believe that by clicking on your ad, they are going to reach the law firm they are looking for. Not only is that a poor way to start a potential new relationship but from a reputation standpoint, deceit will never help you under any circumstance.

Although the circuit judge in Milwaukee felt that the invasion of privacy was not unreasonable, this could potentially open up the doors to all lawyers picking the biggest competitors in town and then using their names in their paid ads so viewers who get confused with then click over to their own websites for more information.

OUR ETHICAL OBLIGATIONS

As attorneys, we have ethical obligations and are required to market ourselves with the highest integrity and ethical considerations.

Lawyers who participate in my Total Done-For-You Video Success Program are advised from the very beginning that they are never to create video that is questionable or steps over the boundaries of what is appropriate. Instead, you comply with all ethical rules and if there is even a question of whether or not something should be said, then the answer is “No.”

BEST PRACTICES RECOMMENDATION

As lawyers, our reputations must speak for themselves. If you are in any way encouraged by this Milwaukee circuit court decision, I caution you not to follow it. Regardless of the outcome of the appeal, my best practices recommendation is not to use this tactic to market your firm.

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2 Responses to Lawyers Use Competitors Names to Drive Traffic to Paid Ads; Court Says It’s “Ok”

  • Gerry,

    I agree with you 100%. There is a lawyer in town that dovetails off me. Besides the Supreme Court in their jurisdiction may still overturn this and other states may find this unethical as well. I commend you for your ethical knowledge in this area in regards to lawyer video advertising.

  • Thanks Tony. It’s important for attorneys to realize that just because they’re marketing themselves using different media does not mean they can ignore their ethical obligations. Besides, what does it say about a law firm that has to ride someone else’s coattails and is unable to market themselves effectively on their own?

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Testimonials

Gerry, I've read your book and watched at least 100 of your videos, and follow your blog, so "I feel like I know you already!".

I wanted to introduce myself, I work for an attorney, David Aylor, in the Charleston, SC area. I do all his in house marketing, and most recently have focused on video marketing, using your approach.

We started exploring the strategy last July, started filming by September, and published the first video to YouTube Nov. 1. I am now publishing 2 videos per week and the response had been great.

I want to share with you how we have be utilizing the material on Facebook, to build a community of "friends" of the law firm. These are previous clients, referral sources, friends of the staff, other attorneys, new media (radio, TV, and print) as well as other prominent folks in the community.

I really was against the idea of Facebook marketing at first (because I think there's alot of hacks and snake oil salesmen in the "social media/SEO marketing" world). But I was very wrong, the content we are creating is being liked, shared, and commented on, and Facebook's strong community platform (and it's EdgeRank algorithm) is giving us a great way to keep our "inner circle" close to the office, and relevant in the minds of them and their friends.

This was the first video we posted to Facebook-
"Can My Facebook Profile Be Used As Evidence In Court?"
95 likes, 25 comments, 27 shares
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151129347056196&set=vb.183306715043094&type=3

The local NBC anchor actually saw it in his Facebook feed from a friend sharing it, and interviewed David Aylor for a 6 o'clock news story on Social Media and Privacy in the legal system. (you can see here if you'd like http://bit.ly/VyALj4)

I would love to show you more about how I'm strategizing these videos for YouTube use as well as Facebook now. I think there are definitely some areas of practice and law firms that it wouldn't work for, but I'm sure there are a bunch that would benefit from it.

Thanks for all you do, and I hope I get the pleasure of meeting you soon!

David Haskins