Ghostblawging OK?

Ed, whose LawBiz Blog I have been scouring for good practice management ideas, says it’s okay for a lawyer to have a ghostwriter write her blog. Here are a few of his reasons:

* Blogging of the nature under discussion is created for marketing purposes. If not, we wouldn’t be concerned about search engine placement.
* Blogging is done primarily to raise the level of one’s credibility for expertise in a given subject — in other words, blogging is done for business purposes.
* We do not attribute authorship to marketing copy used in the promotion of any product or service. While that may occur in limited circumstances, it is a negotiated event, not a matter of ethics.
* There are many very fine authors who earn a considerable income by writing for others without using their own name.
* Books are published daily with the name of the author listed — but who may in fact not be the person who wrote all (or, in some cases, even any) of the words.
* The person 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 bloggers even if the specific words are not.
* Since content is king in the blogging world, providing valid ideas that are practical and useful is far more important than being a great novelist. Getting help to enhance your communication skills so that the reader will better understand your ideas is an acceptable, in my opinion, strategy.

No, no, no!

Blogging is (at least in part) for marketing (or advertising) purposes, which is exactly why lawyers shouldn’t use ghostwriters to write their blogs. What’s being marketed or advertised is the lawyer.

Blogging is done to raise one’s credibility. The credibility to be raised is the lawyer’s. The expertise being sold is the lawyer’s. The communications skills being sold are the lawyer’s.

Blawgs are not ad copy. Unlike ad copy, a blog is something that the consumer has reason to believe is written by the person whose services are being sold. While we don’t attribute ad copy, we don’t falsely attribute it either.

We’re lawyers, not authors. Ghostwriting may be okay for authors (I’m not convinced it’s ethical in any situation for someone to claim authorship of something he didn’t write), but that doesn’t make it okay for lawyers. When people are hiring you for your communicative skills, it is unethical to claim someone else’s communicative skills as your own.

Blawgs are not books. Books are generally not created for marketing purposes. If they were, it would be improper for an author to claim to have written something he didn’t write in order to get people to hire him.

Having a ghostwriter write a blog is at least as deceptive as having someone play you in a TV ad. In fact, it’s more deceptive, because clients who read the lawyer’s blog think they’re seeing her actual thought processes, intellect, emotion, and communicative abilities.

As always, put yourself in the client’s shoes. Suppose you are looking for a lawyer. Nobody’s static website inspires you. But then you find a lawyer who blogs, and you like what he says and the way he says it. You hire him based in part on the strength of his blog, only to later learn that he pays someone to write his blog for him. Do you feel deceived? Of course you do. If a blog is an advertisement, a ghostwritten blog is a false advertisement.

Defending People will always be written either by me or by a guest blogger with clear attribution. No ghostblawgers here.

0 responses to “Ghostblawging OK?”

  1. Since I’m not an attorney, I don’t read your blawg to try to better my skills (nor am I a lay-blogger, looking to improve my blogging). I’m also not a prospective client, so I don’t use your blawg as a criterion for hiring you or not.

    But I AM a layperson who wants to get a better feel for the criminal defender (your “Day-in-the-Life”-style post a few months back is among my favorite posts of any blawg), and I would object to someone else secretly writing the blawg, even if such writing was done at your direction. If I found out that your “Day-in-the-Life”-style post was not a first-hand account of the action, but rather some second-hand interpretation of your ideas by some unknown ghostwriter, I’d reconsider your blawg’s place on my RSS reader.

    Even as a regular reader with nothing at stake but my own leisure time, I still object to ghostwriting, at least in this circumstance. Kudos for your commitment to authorship transparency.

  2. I must admit, I’m completely confused by this topic.

    Presumably, lawyers are subject matter experts. Also presumably, their advertising centers on demonstrating that expertise. Under those circumstances, how is it advantageous to rely on a non-expert to demonstrate expertise?

    To me, it seems like trying to make shooting yourself in the foot into an ethical question.

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