Jayne Navarre has a post on “ghost blogging” today, but it conflates the practice with two other types of writing that are less of an issue. Let’s break them apart:
- Ghost-blogging. Professionally written posts for those too busy to regularly blog on their own.
- Ghost-written website content. Professionally written copy on a lawyer’s website.
- Editing. Professional editing of posts or other content written by the attorney whose name is on the blog or website.
Let’s address the last two first. There’s nothing wrong with having a professional write the content on your website. It’s marketing copy, subject to the advertising rules, and there is no pretense that it’s written by the attorney. Editing is an even easier case. We could all use a good editor, and there’s nothing wrong whatsoever with having another set of (usually uncredited) eyes helping us to make our ideas clearer and more incisive.
But then there’s ghost-blogging . . .
Put aside the fact that it’s utterly pointless to have a blog you don’t write yourself. Forget that using third-party content robs you of the relationship-building and becoming-a-better-lawyer benefits offered by writing an actual blog (and to her credit, Jayne agrees with this, noting that blogs “are not the optimal domain a ghostwriter”).
Let’s just address the special ethical issues for attorneys considering having someone else blog under their name. There are two related ethics problems, the first having to do with Model Rule 8.4 and the second having to do with the advertising rules.
You see, there’s a crucial difference between ghost-blogging and other situations – like pleadings, articles and letters – where the labor of other writers may appear under a single lawyer’s byline, and this difference can be summed up in a single phrase: the intent to deceive. An attorney using this method is effectively claiming someone else’s words as their own in order to bolster the attorney’s credibility. That’s textbook deception, and it violates ABA Model Rule 8.4(c), which prohibits “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”
If you’ve read my section on blogging, you’ll know that a proper blog doesn’t fall under the attorney advertising rules as it is not “commercial speech.” However, that safe harbor goes out the window if it turns out you’re paying someone else to create all of that writing under your name in an effort to build your image. What you call a “blog” will be treated as the advertisement that it is – complete with the question of whether any disclaimer can truly cure the deception caused by an attorney claiming thoughts and expression written by others as his or her own.
Bottom line – if you don’t like to write, don’t blog. If you do blog, feel free to follow Jayne’s suggestion and hire an editor. But make sure you write your own damn posts.