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Are Ghostwritten Blog Posts Really Ethical?
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Are Ghostwritten Blog Posts Really Ethical?

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To build a successful law firm website, you need lots of high quality content that engages your potential clients and referral sources. The content must do more than advertise, it must fill a knowledge gap if it’s going to get preference in the search engines and respect from your colleagues and clients.

But is writing for the web always the best use of an attorney’s time?

At LawLytics, we encourage our attorney-customers to write for their own websites and blogs. After all, nobody knows the attorney’s practice better than the attorney himself or herself. We see attorneys succeed who add to the collective online knowledge by writing thoughtful articles and blog posts. In fact, as I said in a recent podcast, blogging is the most effective method of marketing a law firm. That’s why every site that LawLytics builds has a built in blog.

But what happens when an attorney writes his or her way into a wildly successful practice? What happens when the choice needs to be made whether to take time away from working on cases, or billing hours, to continue to blog? Don’t work on the cases, and your clients suffer. Don’t bill, and your business suffers. Don’t blog or create other content for your firm’s website, and other attorneys who are doing it will gain ground on you, and the long term prospects of success dwindle.

One obvious solution is to have another person write content for your site. But does this come with ethics implications?

As attorneys, most of us have been both a ghostwriter and the credited author of ghostwriting. For example, as a law clerk and young attorney I drafted motions and briefs for other attorneys. They signed their name to my work and filed it as their own. As an attorney, I employed law clerks and associate attorneys to do much of my writing. I signed my name. It happens every day. By signing my name, I adopted the writing as my own, and the veracity of the content and the accuracy of the citations became my responsibility.

Ghostwriting is defined as:

“A ghostwriter is a writer who authors books, manuscripts, screenplays, scripts, articles, blog posts, stories, reports, whitepapers, or other texts that are officially credited to another person.”

Is having somebody else write for your blog unethical? What if you put your name on it and publish it as your own?

Some lawyers think that ghostwritten attorney blogs are unethical.

See some of the arguments and counterarguments here:

Discussions about ghostwriting and rule 7.1, while perfectly understandable, ignore the fact that these rules don’t take into account the reality of online attorney advertising. Yes, ghostwritten blogs posts are not written by the attorney. But forget the arguments and counterarguments, the rules have to adapt. The practice isn’t going anywhere, so it’s time to discuss how states can give realistic direction on ghostwriting.

Does a ghostwritten blog post have the ability to mislead a vulnerable potential client? I believe the answer is yes if the blog post conveys knowledge or skills that the attorney who is taking credit for the blog post lacks. But are all ghostwritten blog posts misleading per se? In my opinion, no.

Ultimately, blogging is another form of marketing, regardless of what attorney blogging purists (snobs) may say to the contrary. Few lawyers blog exclusively for pleasure, although blogging can be pleasurable and addictive. Part of that pleasure and addiction comes from the rewards cycle that becomes apparent with creating good content for the web. The content gets created. The content gets read. The content gets shared. The content gets indexed and ranked by search engines. The content results in media opportunities, speaking engagements, referrals and new clients.

As marketing, I believe a blog should be held to the same standard that all other attorney advertising should be held to. Like it or not, ghostwriting is not going away, so I think the more constructive conversation to have is what standards ghostwritten content should be held to.

Disclaimer: My company, LawLytics, which provides an online marketing platform for lawyers that empowers lawyers to easily publish content on the web, also provides ghostwriting services for attorneys who grow too busy to have time to produce their own.

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Dan Jaffe
Dan Jaffe
Dan Jaffe is an attorney, and is the CEO of LawLytics, a technology company that provides advanced marketing services to lawyers. Dan built and sold two successful law practices over 10 years before going into technology full-time. He has tried more than 100 cases to verdict, and enjoys teaching lawyers how to build their law practices into appreciating assets using the internet.

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