JDSupra. Give Content, Get Your Clients Noticed?

 Posted on November 13, 2008 in Uncategorized

Following the example of California criminal-defense lawyer Rick Horowitz, I signed up for JDSupra is a website that allows lawyers to share their work with the world. Why? Probably for the same reasons that we blog - the need to feel that we're making a contribution? ego gratification? staking out territory - the human lawyer equivalent of peeing on trees?

No matter. I logged in, and started to upload my first document - the Texas Get Out of Jail Free Motion (that's not a JDSupra link).

The Texas Get Out of Jail Free Motionā€˜s purpose is to get a lawyer who has been held in contempt out of jail and request a hearing before some judge other than the one toward against the contempt was allegedly perpetrated. I thought that would be a good and worthy contribution to the state of legal knowledge (every Texas trial lawyer should carry one in her briefcase).

But there was a hitch: in order to post the document, JDSupra required me to enter a case name.

Now, this motion is generic, so there's no case name. But even if there were a case name attached, I wouldn't put the case name up on JDSupra. Nor would I, absent some clear benefit to the client, publish the client's name on the web in any other form.

Some lawyers don't worry about bandying about on the web the names of people whom they represent or have represented. Aside from publishing documents with JDSupra, I've seen lawyers advertise the names of clients whose cases they've won (boooooo!) and blog about the names of clients whose trials are pending.

After all, the reasoning goes, the client's name, the fact of representation, the case name, and the documents filed in the case are all matters of public record.

All true, but there's more to it than meets the eye. Again, we confront the difference between law and ethics. The identities of our clients for whom we have appeared in court, as well as documents that we have filed publicly, are not privileged, though they might be confidential. The law (in Texas, the Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct) probably allows us to reveal these things.

But the fact that something isn't privileged or confidential doesn't mean that we, as criminal-defense lawyers, should reveal it freely. Our clients very rarely have anything to gain from seeing their criminal cases get more googlable.

When I begin to represent someone, the ultimate goal is a resolution that allows the client to expunge his record so that nobody can find out about the result. Revealing the name of clients online stymies that goal. Even after clients are convicted, so that expunction will never be an option, surely we have some responsibility to do what we can to protect their online reputations. Wedon't do that by uploading documents revealing their identities.

(I've asked Adrian L., of JDSupra, to give us an option to upload documents without case names.)

(Edit: Adrian L. patiently points out that clicking on "Legal Form" instead of "Legal Document" changes the form so that there isn't a "Case Name" blank. Doh!)

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