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Lawyers cautioned: No hiding behind ghost bloggers

You may want to promote your practice and show the world you’re up to date with the latest legal issues, but you just don’t have time to write sparkling essays every day for your blog.

Before you bring on a hired hand to craft witty blog posts under your name, better heed the “informal consensus” of legal ethicists that using ghost bloggers without a disclaimer could be considered “deceit” or “dishonesty” under the Rules of Professional Conduct.

That word comes from Virginia State Bar Legal Ethics Counsel Jim McCauley, by way of VSB president Sharon Nelson.

Nelson said she caused a “firestorm” at a lawyers conference when she offered her view that ghost blogging without a disclaimer was unethical, so she asked McCauley about it. McCauley backed her up with an informal report on what he said has become a hot topic for legal ethicists.

The prevailing view is that, while other professionals are free to use ghost bloggers, lawyers must heed advertising rules and rules prohibiting deceit or dishonesty, McCauley said.

Even if a hired writer is disclosed, there are other concerns, McCauley said. Lawyers who do not preview their outsourced work to ensure it meets professional standards “do a grave disservice” to the public, he said.

“Passing off someone else’s writing or ideas as one’s own, in a marketing vehicle designed to induce potential clients to hire the lawyer, is not only unethical but a bad way to initiate a professional relationship that is supposed to be built on trust,” McCauley wrote.

McCauley said his informal note is simply his personal opinion and does not represent the view of the VSB or its Standing Committee on Legal Ethics.

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