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MONTH-IN-BRIEF (Nov 2020)

Ethics

Search Engine Optimization Manipulation

By Keith R. Fisher

May lawyers ethically purchase from an internet search engine provider or social media platform (in this space primarily Google, but also Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp) an advertising product that acquires competitors’ names as keywords and diverts search results for those names to the purchasing lawyer’s website?  By paying for such keywords, the advertising lawyer or law firm seeks to attract potential clients who might not otherwise be aware of the advertiser.  This is known as search engine optimization manipulation (“SEO manipulation”). 

There is some uncertainty under the advertising segment of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct whether such a communication constitutes a “solicitation” under Model Rule 7.3(a), and, if so, whether it would be prohibited under Model Rule 7.3(b).   Note that the advertising provisions of Rules of Professional Conduct vary widely among the States; some may, in the circumstances described, require that the word “ADVERTISEMENT” be displayed and impose other consumer protection measures.

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