Is it unethical for lawyers to use ghostwritten blog posts?


Kevin O’Keefe says that ghostwritten blog posts are unethical for lawyers. Unlike legal briefs or other work a lawyer may have penned by others, blogs are considered a form of advertising. If you say you wrote the piece but you didn’t, you are guilty of misrepresentation.

O’Keefe says that clients rely on blog posts to choose attorneys. “The ghost-written post may be better written, funnier, or just plain different than the attorney’s own work product. Even worse, the post may have a completely different perspective or contain better ideas than what the attorney is capable of.”

Basically, clients might hire you because you made them believe you are a better lawyer than you really are.

I have a question. What if you’re a great writer but a mediocre lawyer? Don’t your blog posts misrepresent your abilities? Should we tell average lawyers who write well to dumb down their writing, lest they entice unsuspecting clients to hire them under false pretenses?

How about lawyers who are better at public speaking than they are in the courtroom. Doesn’t their speaking ability give people a false impression of their lawyering skills?

While we’re at it, should we also charge lawyers with misrepresentation if they wear a hairpiece, makeup, or an expensive suit? Won’t prospective clients think they are better looking (and thus more effective) or more successful than they really are?

Just out of law school? Better not have nice office furniture. Clients may think you have more experience than you do.

Are clients so stupid and helpless that we have to protect them against every possible harm? By attempting to do so, don’t we make it more likely that someone will get hurt because people rely on the government to protect them and stop thinking for themselves?

I realize lawyers are held to a higher standard, but what part of arms length transaction is unclear? When did caveat emptor become bad advice?

Anyway, if people who can take away our licenses say we mustn’t say we wrote blog posts we didn’t write, we probably shouldn’t ignore it.

Are there any loopholes?

Can you use ghostwritten material without any byline? If you add the name of the ghostwriter to the byline will that do the trick? How about a disclaimer that the article wasn’t written by you but is posted with your approval?

I don’t know if any of this will suffice to stave off the wolves, but I have another idea.

See, I don’t recommend using “canned” articles or hiring a ghostwriter to write you blog, but not because they may cause harm. I’m against them because they aren’t very good.

Canned articles are usually generic and simplistic. Lifeless and boring. They don’t reflect the real life experiences or opinions of the attorney, and thus, aren’t effective at connecting with readers or persuading them to choose the lawyer who posts them over anyone else.

All this huffing and puffing about how ghostwritten articles get clients to hire lawyers under false pretenses is much ado about nothing. If anything, they usually do the opposite.

Ironic, isn’t it? You post canned articles, thinking clients will be impressed and choose you, but they yawn and look elsewhere instead.

The system polices itself. Imagine that.

On the other hand, ghostwritten material may still be useful by giving  you a place to start.

Re-write the ghostwritten article. Put it in your own words and add your own examples and stories.

Problem solved. The final piece will be more interesting and engaging than the original, and you can honestly say that you wrote it.

Just make sure it’s not too good, or that your head shot isn’t too flattering. The bar police are watching.

Want to get better at writing blog posts? This is what you need.


Should you buy a “canned” newsletter?


If you write a newsletter or a blog (and you should) you need content. But it takes time to write something worth reading and attorneys have precious little time to spare. There are services now that sell articles you can use, copyright free. You pay your money and you can print them under your name.

It’s a new twist on an old idea.

Canned newsletter for professionals have been around for years. My state bar sells pamphlets lawyers can send to their clients with their name stamped on the back. Of course you can hire a ghost writer, or assign someone in your office to write material for you. There are plenty of ways to get content that you don’t originate. The question is, should you?

In my opinion, you should not. Canned materials are never a good substitute for creating your own newsletter, articles and reports. They are better than nothing, but not much.

One reason is that far fewer people will read it. These articles and newsletters are very general and very bland. And a lot of people will know you didn’t write them. I toss my insurance agents newsletter in the trash, unopened, because I know it comes from a staff writer in New York and has little value to me. There is nothing personal or interesting in it. My dentist writes a personal newsletter, but it is terribly boring. I open and glance at it, in case there might be something that pertains to me in it (e.g., a change in his office personnel or procedure) but I don’t read it.

(Here’s a clue that it’s canned: there are no stories in them. Facts tell, but stories sell, and if what you write doesn’t have stories in them, either, you’re missing the boat.)

Now, there is some value in your clients getting something from you with your name on it, even if they don’t open the envelope or email. They are at least reminded that you still exist. But you’re missing the opportunity to build a relationship with them, and that’s costing you more than you can imagine.

The purpose of newsletters and reports and blogs is to (a) stay in touch, reminding people that you still exist, (b) demonstrate your expertise, your ability to deliver the benefits they seek, and (c) create a dialog with the reader that supports your relationship with them. With canned material, you can only stay in touch, and poorly, at best.

You want people to read your words, and "hear" your voice. You want them to believe you are writing just to them. You want them to read and appreciate your special news or offer. And you want them to see that you care enough about them to take a couple of hours once or twice a month to write something "just for them".

The time you invest in this process will not only be "worth it," it is the single most profitable thing you could do to build your practice.

Seriously. The people who know, like, and trust you will hire you again and again and they will efer people to you, too. There is no cost to acquire these clients, other than printing/mailing costs if you do that (and you should) and your time.

Now, don’t panic. Once you get the hand of it, it doesn’t take as long as you think.

Start by producing some "evergreen" materials, reports, for example, that once written, you can use over and over again for years to come. You have expertise in your field and you can write a report in two hours. Here’s your assignment for your first one: Take the five or ten questions you are asked the most by prospective or new clients, and answer them. There, you have a report.

A newsletter or blog require continual replenishment of material, but this is worth it, too. You don’t need as much as you think. A monthly newsletter could be two pages. A postcard, if that’s all you can do. Far more important than quantity is that they hear from a real person, sharing a story, a thought, a piece of your mind.

For a blog, three to five paragraphs, one to three times a week can be enough. What’s important is that it be your voice, your opinion, a glimpse into your world. Your clients and prospects (and referral sources) need to feel they are a part of your life and you a part of theirs. You want them to "know, like, and trust" you, and to do that, your material needs to be your own.

I’ve told attorneys in the past to order the canned newsletter or articles if they feel they must, but to make them their own. "Rewrite them, add your commentary, offer examples and advice that are specific to your practice. What do you agree with? Disagree with? What else does the reader need to know?"

Today you can pretty much do that without paying a service. Just go online, find something someone else has written, and use it as an outline or idea starter for your own material.