Ghostwriting an Ethical Dilemma
If you're into blogging,
Take great care before you post.
Lest you risk a flogging,
As host to the musings of a ghost.
-- Ghostwritten by Irwin R. Kramer
Every day, lawyers are inundated with those touting their marketing and advertising services. Many of these solicitations offer to prepare content for law firm web sites, providing helpful information to visitors who may ultimately retain the firm for legal services.
What's wrong with that? Maybe nothing. But what if the lawyer buys this content and passes it off as his own? Is this misleading? Or, is it perfectly accurate to put one's name on content that he really does "own" by virtue of this purchase?
Under Rule 7.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, an "attorney shall not make a false or misleading communication about the attorney or the attorney's services." Even if the post does not tout the attorney's services directly, some would argue that ghost-written content may mislead potential clients into false perceptions about the attorney's expertise or writing style. As such, an attorney who claims credit for another's work arguably makes a misleading communication on authorship. Whether this is materially misleading, or worthy of sanctions, is another story entirely.
As a newly-minted lawyer, I remember writing full-length briefs for a law firm partner who loved my work with the exception of three small words: "Irwin R. Kramer." Striking that useless moniker from the draft, he filed these briefs under his own name as sole author. I wasn't happy with the change, but I liked having change in my pocket and followed my boss's wishes.
To this day, I find something a bit seedy about claiming credit for another's work even when paying for it. Professed "songwriters" do this all the time. But, when it comes to lawyers, it remains unclear whether this practice is merely out of tune, or downright unethical. As more marketers take aim at law firm web sites, it remains to be seen whether this practice ends on a positive note.