I recently blogged about a South Carolina lawyer who got into trouble for using keyword advertising. In that instance, the South Carolina court found the particular way the lawyer used the method was deceptive.
But in North Carolina, lawyers are banned from using the method entirely. According to the North Carolina State Bar Association: “The intentional purchase of the recognition associated with one lawyer’s name to direct consumers to a competing lawyer's website is neither fair nor straightforward. Therefore, it is a violation of Rule 8.4(c) for a lawyer to select another lawyer’s name to be used in his own keyword advertising.”
That seems a bit extreme to me. When you think about it, online keyword advertising is just a slightly more advanced method of the Yellow Pages (I felt compelled to link to Wikipedia here because I’m afraid younger readers won’t know what the Yellow Pages are). With the Yellow Pages, you looked a keyword, i.e. “lawyer” and found numerous options listed under that particular word. In the online version, when you enter a word, a number of options come up, including clearly marked advertisements. Not all that different really.
The resistance to keyword advertising is part of the evolution in the legal profession. It wasn’t all that long ago that lawyers were pretty much forbidden from advertising at all. But thanks to a 1977 U.S. Supreme Court ruling those days are over. The First Amendment allows lawyers to speak, and that includes advertising. Here’s a piece that lays out the history very well. It’s interesting that most of the complaints about lawyer advertising come not from consumers, butFROM OTHER LAWYERS. That should tell you something right there.
Now, I can’t say that I love every lawyer commercial I’ve ever seen but I think lawyers have a right to produce non-misleading advertising. And that includes keyword advertising.