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January 27, 2004

Weblog Ads Seem Too Tacky for Most Lawyers

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 8:01 pm

deleteKey n . . .


Ethics aside, aesthetics and economics appear to doom any widespread use of advertising by weblogging lawyers — at least if those commenting at this site are representative of their webLAWg colleagues 


When Instapundit pointed today to Matt Welch‘s sales pitch for BlogAds, it reminded me to wrap up our own e&h inquiry into the use of content-targetted ads on lawyer websites.  Welch says there’s good money to be made allowing BlogAds on a weblog and he wonders why anyone would turn down the gelt.  A proponent of Google’s AdSense content-targetted ads had similarly wondered why webloggers weren’t cashing in on the “free money” generated by such ads. 


Well, the lawyer weblog editors who responded to our questions seem to have reached a consensus:

Content-targetted ads are simply

  • too tacky

  • too likely to hawk the services of competitors and/or unsavory types, and

  • too unlikely to bring in serious amounts of money

to be used on their weblogs or law firm websites.   Using ads in general, even if un-associated, also appears to fall into the “too tacky” category.

Recently, TVC Alert pointed to an article from Search Engine Watch that explains how contextual ads operate and why they might be attractive to advertisers.  Like ads placed in a niche magazine, online contextual ads “are placed on a web page because of an ‘association’ between the web page content and the advertisement.”  Such ads can show up on any website that accepts contexual ads and has appropriately “associated” content.  BlogAds are more conventional — they are directly placed by advertisers on particular websites, and approved in advance by the website owner. 


Because the lawyer website owner/editor does not have control of the third-party ads appearing on a weblog or firm website, we wondered whether there might be ethical issues raised, if those placing the ads were engaged in the unauthorized practice of law or the ads were deceptive or fraudulent.  We also asked if the ads jibed with whatever image the lawyer was attempting to project. 

Our initial posting garnered comments from Steve Minor of the SW Va Law Blog, CorpLawBlog‘s Mike O’Sulllivan, Carolyn Elefant of, Jerry Lawson at NetLawBlog, Denise Howell at Baby & Baggage, Marcia Oddi of the Indiana Law Blog, Kevin J. Heller of Law Tech Advisor (the only commentor using weblog ads), Marty Schwimmer of the Trademark Blog, and B. Janell Grenier of BenefitsBlog.  

You can find quotes and summaries of the comments at the foot of our original 12-21-03 posting.


traffic cop s  Only one lawyer besides myself seemed much worried about possible ethical issues — perhaps, because the conclusions of the others made the ethics moot.   We ethical worryworts still fret that visitors to a website/weblog might conclude that the lawyer was associated with the advertiser or was endorsing the product.  If being an “ethical lawyer” requires more than saying “I won’t be disciplined for this” [or, “it’s not a felony”], a lawyer using such ads should — at the least — check regularly to see what is being offered in the targetted ads and by whom; and arrange to filter out inappropriate advertisers.  Otherwise, the lawyer is profiting from the deception or fraud — offering a platform for the ads and then turning a blind eye to their content in order to make a few dollars.


Since my law school days, I’ve looked askance at the “dignity of the profession” arguments raised by the legal profession (especially when used to discourage rivalry among lawyers for clients).  I must confess, however, that — were I still seeking clients as a lawyer or mediator — it is hard for me to imagine using ads on any weblog or firm website under my control.  

  • That’s true, even though Google’s ads are discrete and tastefully done.  The BlogAds seem clearly aimed at a “groovier” audience and are fun.   Still, no matter who my target audience might be, were I seeking clients, having advertising would seem to clash with the image I’d want to project.  As some of those commenting to the first post noted, almost no one is looking for a lawyer who needs to make a few cents per click-through (or wear an e-sandwich board) to stay afloat.  To me, “informal” or “friendly” is not the same as “cheap.”  Of course, that’s just me, and it’s an issue of aesthetics, not ethics.  Thanks to my generous alma mater’s free weblog service, I also have not been even tempted to pass the hat or rattle any cans.

p.s.   Tiffany left this Comment today at Matt Welch’s site:  “I want money, but the ads would ruin the aesthetics of my site. Wow, I can be superficial. (;”   haikuEsq points out that seeking beauty should trump seeking bucks any day.

update (01/30/04):  Matt Welch successfully nudged Glenn Reynolds this week to put BlogAds on his Instapundit website.

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