For the record (a obvious redundancy for those that read over here), I am a true believer in the virtual space as a working environment for clients and intraoffice personnel. Client access to their accounts through online portals is nothing new to most people. Whether trading stocks, checking your bank account, or simply writing a letter to your friends the concept of a login service for more efficient communication is anything but new. The ethical issues of online marketing are no different than marketing issues in other spaces like billboards and urinals at the Bank Atlantic Center, (oh wait those are for a urologist, the cellphone shelf above the urinal was the attorney). So why do people want to claim that it is?
As Mayra Colon stated in a online discussion for the Online Bar Association, the issue is in the form and the interpretation thereof. I have heard many comments and pointed statements about the use of the internet as a tool for acquiring new client versus it being merely a vessel to voice one’s opinion about the law and the world around them. Assumptions are made as to the intent of the writer, depending on one’s view of advertising rules, blogs, and the personalities those doing the writing (and the personalities doing the pointing). This vagueness and indeterminate standard is not really anyone’s fault. It is simply the result of the same ‘ol story of technology out pacing regulation. What occurs in these situations is either a free for all, strange analysis by analogy, or over reactions. Through technology, although the form has changed, the most basic intent, to communication, remains the same. In fact, what is being communicated remains the same. However, it is the form, and thereafter the culture that develops around the new fangled form that is so different. This, of course, is where fear and difference of opinion come in. Outsiders versus insiders. New versus old. Change versus status quo. My point in all of this is only to step back and look at the core of internet conversations, blogs, tweets, and so on, with the hope that we can apply the rules as intended. Let me leave you with this scenario (not perfectly analogous).
Every morning, a middle aged man, an attorney, walks to the corner and rattles off his thoughts. Sometimes he speaks of politics; sometimes of his profession. Sometimes he is inspiring; sometimes sad and gloomy. Regardless, he is there promptly every morning (sure he misses a day every once in a while, but he is consistent enough for he neighbors to say “everyday”). After a while this man, this attorney begins to draw a crowd. Word begins to spread every week the crowd gets a little bigger. He didn’t seem to mind the attention. Perhaps he relished in it or maybe just didn’t notice. Some in the crowd see his brief case with his little name tag tangling and start referring to him by name. Often folks would stop him and ask him a little about himself. Slightly irked by the constant interruption, he places a pile fliers with his biographical information, his name, his hobbies, his profession, even the name of his firm. After his ramblings, the man would take questions from his crowd. He never “gave advice”. He never handed his cards out or solicited members of his crowd. He simply spoke his mind on a public street for anyone that cared to hear to listen.
Now you tell me, when did he cross the line or did he?