Ben Cowgill's Legal Ethics Newsletter posted some jewels about internet journalism, Law-related blogs: following in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson:
If Thomas Jefferson were alive today, there can be little doubt that he would have a law-related blog. He loved to write. He loved to share information and ideas with other people. He once said that he would rather have a country with newspapers and no government than a country with government and no newspapers. He would be thrilled to live at a time when he could share information with interested people throughout the world, simply by sitting down at his desk and writing at a keyboard.
'The legal profession has a great tradition of writing and speaking about the law. Law-related blogs are merely a new example of that great tradition. Until the Internet came along, lawyers had to find other ways to share information about the law: by writing books, articles and op-ed pieces; by making presentations at legal conferences; and by speaking to church groups, civic clubs and the like. All of those activities are valuable because they all spread information about the American legal system to the American people. Now, with the Internet and "blogging software," it's possible for lawyers to continue that tradition in another way, and so it is not surprising that many lawyers are choosing to do so. They are following in the footsteps of other lawyers who have been writing and speaking about the law throughout American history." ...
"There are all sorts of "blogs," just as there are all sorts of print publications. To call something is a "blog" doesn't tell you any more about its content than calling something a "magazine." One must look to the content of a blog to see what kind of publication it really is. In other words, the term "blog" merely identifies the technology that is used to create an online publication. It tells you nothing about the content of the publication, the quality of that content, or the reasons why it is presented."
Because of the negative connotation of many blogs, Ben and I have avoided the use of the work in the name of our online publications. His post, however, should go a long way in clarifying that a blog is just a medium and not a message.
Ben also had this to say about the ethics of internet publishing:
"There are no more "ethics issues" regarding blogs than there are regarding other aspects of what lawyers do.In fact, there are many more ethical issues that need to be considered in launching a law firm web site. Those issues include: the accuracy of information about the terms of employment; the handling of e-mail inquiries from prospective clients in a manner that avoids conflicts of interest or "accidental" attorney-client relationships; the need for a disclaimers regarding legal advice and the jurisdictions in which the firm practices. That doesn't mean that law firm web sites are wrong or unethical; rather, it only means that good lawyers are always careful about the ethical aspects of their public communications.
"Advertising" is a subset of "marketing." All advertising is marketing, but not all marketing is advertising. A law firm web site is clearly an advertisement for legal services and a marketing activity. On the other hand, a lecture at a CLE seminar is a marketing activity but not an advertisement for legal services. The Rules of Professional Conduct (and attorney advertising regulations) address the advertisement of legal services. They do so because the relationship between a lawyer and a prospective client is only one step away from the relationship between lawyer and client. For that reason, the Rules are especially concerned with representations about the lawyer's services, including (for example) the lawyer's level of success in other cases and the client's responsibility for costs and fees. In each of those those respects, the Rules reflect a basic concern that the advertisement should not create unreasonable expectations about the legal services that will be performed, in the event the advertisement actually results in an attorney-client relationship. Those issues do not arise in connection with a typical law-related blog, because blogs do not contain representations about the legal services that will be performed if the reader becomes a client of the lawyer.It has always been true that good lawyers provide legal information to the public (and each other), free of charge. They do so because they care about the law, because they enjoy writing about the law, and because they enjoy sharing information with other people. They are "information junkies," just like Thomas Jefferson. They also realize that those activities help them stay current in the law, and may even enhance their reputations. That doesn't mean that a lawyer is doing anything improper when he or she writes a book, gives a lecture or publishes an online journal about the law. In short, it's a "win-win" situation for everyone involved -- the lawyer, the legal profession and the public at large -- when a lawyer chooses to write or speak about the law in a helpful way."
Ben's online newsletter is a "must read" for attorney ethics issues across the U.S. I urge lawyers to subscribe to tis RSS feed or to email updates to the newsletter.