Lawyers: Don’t Use Deceptive Google Advertising Practices

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A grievance committed of the North Carolina State Bar recently censured North Carolina lawyer David J. Turlington for engaging in misleading and “dishonest” advertising. See In re David J. Turlington, III, No. 13G0121, N.C. Grievance Cmte., Wake County (Nov. 18, 2013). According to the committee, he used other lawyers’ names in a keyword advertising campaign through Google’s AdWords advertising program. (Google AdWords allows Internet advertisers to purchase keywords that result in favorable and highlighted Google search results.) Said the committee:

you . . . intentionally add[ed] inappropriate keywords to your Google AdWords advertising campaign; your inappropriate keywords consisted of other individual attorney names (including attorney nicknames), names of law firms, and names of judicial officials. . . . Your intentional inclusion of other attorneys’ names and law films in your keyword advertising campaign is dishonest and therefore violates Rule 8.4(c).

In addition, the committee found that Turlington violated Rule 8.1(c) (prohibiting false statement in disciplinary matters) because he lied to the grievance committee in defending against the allegations by contending that his inclusion of inappropriate keywords was “inadvertent” and the result of a “bulk-purchase of keywords suggested by Google.” Id.

A similar disciplinary result would happen in Louisiana. Louisiana Rule 7.2 clearly prohibits a lawyer from making “a false, misleading or deceptive communication” about the lawyer, the lawyer’s services or the lawyer’s firm. This advertising practice is unquestionably deceptive and misleading.