So last week my Reader, was abuzz about the the horrid infidelity known as “Ghost Blogging”. Piles upon piles of concerns and outrage regarding the practice of ghost blogging on law blogs. I have to be honest, as I read through the spit and anger, I had do wonder “what is the big deal?”
You see many are concerned with the ethical issues that come about by signing off on blog posts written by another. The concerns are two fold. First and foremost is the strangely, oh so holy, “ethics” of the blogosphere and the second is the ethic issue of attorney potential misrepresenting himself under the various codes of ethics. On both counts, I find these arguments trite, contradictory, and even slightly elitists. To be sure that there is clarity. I personally draft all my blog posts, which is why there are so few. (A curious thing about the “ethical” proliferation of blogs and tweets and facebook posts of “practicing attorneys” but I digress.)
So lets begin with the ethics of the “Blogoshere”, the hand made, true to the heart, Etsy version of journalism. Over the last decade, blogs and the personal journalist have exploded in popularity. So much so that the so-called Main Stream Media actually reports on the blogosphere as a form of research and reporting. Many point to the fall of the big media houses and newspapers as proof of a new dawn of journalism. The problem, however, with defending the blogosphere under ethical terms, is that no such rules exist. The Blogosphere is not the rightful heir to journalism of old, complete with its traditions, its Constitutional backings, its interwoven history with modern society. It is an limbo like state between gossip, coffee talk, and journalism (but only true to any as a catch phrase or conceptual architecture of a webpage). And although there are certain etiquettes and unspoken rules that you learn from being a citizen of the internet, these are about as rigid as as facebook commenting etiquette (or should I use hahaha or lol in a text). The blogosphere may have taken the mantle of main stream media in that it has become the mainstay for information for the internet community, but no where along the time line were the established journalistic concepts of ethics actually passed along. In fact, this is the biggest issue facing the internet community today, misinformation and lack of accountability. So how can bloggers stand up and complaining about the ethics of “ghost blogging” as if it is some grand violation of the sanctity of journalism. Because even if you have a real concern with the ethics of blogging, ghost writers should be the least of your concerns. How about accountability and accuracy. Today’s blogs are the backbone of a divided country, hardly willing to look at facts unless they come from the Dailykos, Breibart and the like because of the lack of a common sense of integrity amongst the blogging community.
Now the issue of attorneys blogging is a different issue. We, as barred attorneys, do in fact have formal ethical standards. So one would hope that “misinforming” is not an option for an attorney as it is simply unethical to behave in such a way. The crux of the complaint of attorney ghost writing however hinges on this comment of misrepresentation. It seems to me that these attorneys want their cake and to eat it too. Many fights are being fought around the country to define the lawyer’s internet presence. Those of the blogging persuasion find current rules and codes to be archaic and passe. The question being decided as we speak is whether or not an online presence consists of marketing or not. The purists will contend that no, it is simply a form of personal expression. So go start a blog without any reference to your title or your profession. And besides, any attorney blogging, twittering, facebooking, etc. on behalf of their name as an attorney for a firm would be less than honest to say that it isn’t marketing. Some for ad revenues, some for referrals, some to sell their books, some to attract clients, but at the end of the day, they all want some return from their efforts. That is marketing plain and simple. More importantly, by ethical standards, simply holding yourself out as an attorney has its ethical ramifications as a public citizen representing the profession, specifically your state bar association. And so with all that, what is the big deal with ghost writers?
In advertising, the traditional set is to hire a third party, a creative ghost writer if you will, to produce content for you that can then be disseminated. By putting your face on an I-95 billboard, you are not claiming that the content was your creation, but that you condone the use of such information in your name. As a practicing attorney, you likely have an employee, a law clerk or paralegal, draft your motions, your notices of appearance, your briefs, etc. By signing your name and placing your bar number at the end of a filing, you are not claiming that you drafted the document, but that you are responsible under your license of the content held therein. So why, if a blog is written by another person, but published under your name, is this all of the sudden a travesty of ethics. Certainly the de facto implication of this act, as a licensed attorney, is culpability completely directed at you. If you are unlicensed or stepping beyond your duties as an attorney, their are steps to take to deal with these infringements. However, crying over spilled milk because you feel some elitist pride for your words and your stature as a “cutting edge” provider of legal services is catty, and quite honestly does nothing to clear the air with regard to the debate over internet presence being reconciled with the current ethics codes. In fact, I even go as far as to say that it only hampers the debate by adding more uncertainty to how we should actually classify and regulate the activities of attorneys on the internet. Are we marketing, are we journalists, or are we “just people”?
For the record, I have the utmost respect for both of these attorneys, both as respected attorneys in the fields and as true trailblazers in the legal market, but hey sometimes lawyers disagree. 🙂