Chris Dorbandt and Catalyst Design: Partners in Crime


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):

Chris,

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.

Mark

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:

Chris,

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.

Mark (DefendingPeople.com)

He responded:

In answer to your first email, I have not written any uncomplimentary things that I know of.  I will check with my staff…

I replied:

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:

  1. Taking someone else’s writing and claiming it as your own is theft.
  2. Theft is wrong.
  3. 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.

My response:

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?


0 responses to “Chris Dorbandt and Catalyst Design: Partners in Crime”

  1. “Plagiarism reflects unfavorably on Dorbandt’s judgment, his ethics, and otherwise on his fitness to practice law.”

    Mark, when you first broke this story on Twitter, I assumed this was an “outsource marketing = outsource ethics” scenario. What is astonishing is his cavalier attitude and blithe replies to your emails regarding his duplicitous plagiarism. This is not simply an oversight or failure to provide source attribution under Fair Use copyright doctrine. It is outright literary theft and the fact that it is so plainly obvious that the post is written in a news reporting style begs the question: does Dorbandt delegate his brief writing to Catalyst Designs, as well?

    In response to your rhetorical query:: “How stupid does a lawyer have to be to plagiarize the courthouse reporters in his local paper?” Really.

  2. It seems to be that this lawyer actually had no idea on how to use the blog.
    Question: did you try calling his office or really try finding out exactly what was going on?
    The exchange of emails don’t give enough information to know why they let the blogs post. It does however show that you have a lot of time in your hands to call this busy lawyer out. How immature.. really! I would like to think that the lawyer community would try and help each other out (guess…because I’m going to be a lawyer as well).

    What needs to be done is someone needs to teach that lawyer how to share these articles through facebook or something.. that way it publishes and links from the actual source.
    TO GIVE you know….THE REAL PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTS CREDIT!! !!

    Blogging.. what a waste of time and SPACE!

    LJ

    Have a great time blogging ATTORNEY Bennett.

    • Really? There might have been a good reason that they “let the blogs post”? Other than the obvious SEO?

      Fascinating.

      Lots of luck with your legal career.

  3. It seems the blogs have been taken down. I think that a link to the original source is all that is needed to correct the situation with the name of author. I understood the blog to be just a compilation of articles with a few personal comments. Would be a better blog with more personal comments.

    I am an attorney in Austin. I don’t work with Chris Dorbrandt, but I do know him and the lawyers in his firm. They are good people. I am sure they will attribute correctly in the future. Thank you blog police.

  4. Lawyers with a little knowledge of technology are dangerous – to themselves. I used to sell and support WordPerfect to law firms, and had a hard time getting some of them to understand why buying one copy for a firm with 30 users was bad from both an ethical and a legal perspective. Many of them could not have cared less about the violation of copyright law, as long as they saved the purchase price of the “extra” copies. I am getting the same feeling about some of the less than stellar blawgs.

      • It’s funny because when I read through what you posted, he seemed to be very sincere in trying get to the bottom of whatever you were claiming. Then, you put (kinder, gentler Mark) which is funny because that sounds like something my 8 year old would say when she is trying to persuade her father or myself to her side about something. I really can see your point and your frustration about the situation. I am 30 and about middle school is when the internet came in. I am pretty familiar with it but I am still not a pro by any means with things like blogs, etc. I do know (only from taking a class in college) that you must cite the source. The blog I was able to click on from what you posted sounded more like a news article. Do you blog about the news? I can see how he may have hired that company, Catalyst Designs, TRUSTING in them because they are a business. Maybe he should have looked into it more I don’t know but my point on this is more or less how you approached it. You sounded like a jerk from the beginning (and why you felt the need to say kind and gentler Mark) because it sounded anything BUT that. He sounded very willing and concerned, after what sounded like a very long day , to really hear what you were saying but you kept on with your GETTING IRRITATED voice or whatever you put (which is bs because you sounded pissed and wanting conflict from the start ). He did and acted a hell of a lot more than what or how I would have done. The blog had facts stated only about what had happened. Before he commented, he stated PERSONAL COMMENT.

        Also, I want to add in, he is a real person and actually not just a good attorney, he is an honest one at that. Maybe you should have done YOUR research ?

        There are some people that just want drama, or to complain and bitch about stuff and then there are people who when offended really want to address the issue out of a pure stand point. You are definitely the first kind of person (in this situation anyway). Maybe you should try a different approach at times. Just food for thought.

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