Was Bob Loblaw's Law Blog a marketing initiative warranting regulation? Sure, he was just an Arrested Development character, but thousands of lawyers "blawg" all the time. A story from The Chicago Tribune (by way of St. Louis-based STLtoday.com) ponders that question.
The story notes the case of Kentucky attorney Ben Cowgill, who's law blog was found to be "no different than a law firm website," which The Kentucky Attorney's Advertising Commission had considered advertising subject to approval by the commission. Submitting ads for approval cost $50 before the commission "reached a compromise with Cowgill that has become the working policy of the commission on blogs," according to the article. "Kentucky bloggers don't have to pay $50 every time they post a new entry, but if the blog contains a link to biographical information about the lawyer, that page has to be submitted to the state with a one-time fee."
Though this decision seems purely based on the desire to garner tax dollars, the overall issue is an intriguing one. Surely lawyers are not subject to ad regulations when chatting with acquaintances about legal issues, so why would their blog opinions or discussions fall within those parameters? I suppose the fact that they can be traced, unlike in-person conversations, makes them that much more open to government scrutiny.
Is this something the FTC will tackle someday? Possibly. The commission is grappling with the WOM marketing phenomenon, trying to determine how or if it should be regulated. As our communications become increasingly digitized, will regulatory entities extend their tentacles into professional conversations or personal conversations involving commercial brands? It seems unlikely now, but the legal blog/advertising issue raises all sorts of questions.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.