Rule 7.02 Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services
(a) A lawyer shall not make or sponsor a false or misleading communication about the qualifications or the services of any lawyer or firm. A communication is false or misleading if it:
(1) contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading;
It offends me when people steal the work of people who write for a living. Nobody could possibly think that taking newspaper articles and posting them to a blog attributed not to the newspaper or the author but to you is anything other than plagiarism. No competent lawyer could possibly think that doing so is anything other than unethical.
When I discovered, serendipitously, that Austin lawyer Chris Dorbandt was plagiarizing newspaper stories for his criminal defense “blog,” I tried a new approach. Instead of immediately gutting him here, I tried to leave a comment on the blog, suggesting that attribution (the first plagiarized post I saw contained a Houston Chronicle story by Brian Rogers) would be appropriate.
The comment never posted.
I emailed Dorbandt (kinder, gentler Mark, remember):
Claiming credit for other people’s writing is plagiarism. It’s theft. It’s a violation of the DRs, and reflects poorly on your character and fitness to practice law.
Every post on your blog is stolen. I emailed you about this yesterday; you must not have received the email. I suggest that you delete what you’ve posted so far, familiarize yourself with the legal blogosphere and start over fresh.
It’s for your own good.
To this he responded:
I was out of the office most of the day, yesterday. Have you blogged to me or the firm before?
Clearly he has no idea what blogs are. I replied (yes, this is me being kind and gentle):
Clearly you have no idea what blogs are.
Before his first response, I had sent him another email:
There are lots of great criminal defense blogs, with high page rank. A really really good way to get on the bad side of the people who write these blogs, so that they write uncomplimentary things about you that potential clients will find when they google your name (exhibit 1: Andy Nolen) is to plagiarize other people’s work and call it a blog.
In answer to your first email, I have not written any uncomplimentary things that I know of. I will check with my staff…
It’s not uncomplimentary, it’s theft. As a result, you’re likely to become the subject of some very bad publicity.
Here’s what I suspect has happened: knowing nothing about blogs, you’ve paid someone to create a blog for you. You’ve ceded control over your name and your reputation to that person. Unbeknownst to you, that person is stealing content from newspapers and publishing it under your name.
How’m I doing so far?
Unfortunately, “I didn’t know” is not a defense. There’s a saying in the blawgosphere: Outsource your marketing = outsource your ethics and your reputation.
What you should do: take down every plagiarized post on your blog, and fire whoever put your reputation and your license in jeopardy by stealing in your name. Thank me for helping you dodge a bullet.
He asked me, densely, to explain it to him. I wrote (beginning to run short on patience):
It’s really not complicated:
- Taking someone else’s writing and claiming it as your own is theft.
- Theft is wrong.
- You are responsible for the wrongs others do on your behalf.
Take down the plagiarized content, then we’ll talk about how to start a real blog.
I’ve seen no indication that Dorbandt is competent to start a real blog, but there’s no harm in talking about it.
Apparently confused about what blog I was talking about, he wrote:
Which blog are you talking about???
I’ve been in and out of several courts today and in two different counties. I’m headed out again in 40 minutes. But I will be back to address this … point me in the right direction on the blog and I will ensure that it is taken down immediately.
All of your blogs that I’ve seen.
If I were you, I’d be on the phone right now with Catalyst telling them to take down every blog they’ve put up for you.
Dorbandt had a criminal defense blog and a personal injury blog, both of which were almost (we’ll get to that) entirely plagiarized content. Catalyst Designs is his web designer.
Then for two hours Dorbandt emailed about taking the blogs down, with no apparent success. As of now, the criminal defense blog is down but cached (PDF). After all the time I wasted trying to set Dorbandt on the strait and narrow, the personal injury dreckblog is still up, with content stolen from the Austin American-Statesman published as “by Chris Dorbandt” (PDF). (Aside: I won’t waste my time next time; instead I’ll proceed directly to the disembowelment.)
Worst of all, Dorbandt includes brief “Personal comments” in some of the posts. For example:
Personal comment: It will be interesting to see if the homeowner’s insurance pays the claim or takes a stand and fights it based upon it being a criminal act and therefore, unforeseeable.
Personal comment: The family has probably been trying to settle the issue with the City and police department and had to file suit to preserve the claim and it is not not necessarily adversarial. Negligence on the part of City is probably disputed. If the officer had not been trained, why was he riding the motorcycle in full uniform?
That’s the sum of the non-plagiarized material in Dorbandt’s blog. I say it’s worst of all because it shows that Dorbandt (or someone with legal training acting on his behalf) added comments knowing that he wasn’t writing the posts attributed to him.
I was overly generous in suggesting that the content theft was not known to Dorbandt. This isn’t an instance of outsource marketing = outsource ethics. If that were all this was, or if Dorbandt had taken down the personal injury plagiarism blog, this post would be about the evils of Catalyst Designs, and why lawyers should on no account trust Catalyst Designs with their online marketing.
The comments, though, suggest that Dorbandt is a direct participant in the plagiarism.
Plagiarism reflects unfavorably on Dorbandt’s judgment, his ethics, and otherwise on his fitness to practice law.
None of that will be news to anyone but him. Here, though, is a new question:
How stupid does a lawyer have to be to plagiarize the courthouse reporters in his local paper?