Creative Use of Google AdWords Gets SC Lawyer in Hot Water

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Supreme Court is not amused by timeshare attorney’s advertising technique


yellow card - suitThe South Carolina Supreme Court handed down a public reprimand last year against a Hilton Head lawyer for his resourceful use of Google AdWords.*

According to the Court, Google AdWords is an Internet marketing technique in which the advertiser places bids for “keywords”. When a Google search includes the advertiser’s keywords, the search results list may or may not include the advertiser’s ad. The advertiser pays Google for clicks on the ad from the search results.

The lawyer and his partner (the “law firm”) handled timeshare litigation and had filed numerous lawsuits against a particular timeshare company. The law firm bid on key words including the timeshare company’s name and the names of three lawyers who represented that company. The law firm’s ad appeared in some Internet search results when those names were used. The ad read:

“Timeshare Attorney in SC – Ripped off? Lied to? Scammed” Hilton Head Island, SC Free Consult”

Sometimes the law firm’s ad appeared as the first result and other times, it appeared later in the list. The law firm paid for its advertisement each time an Internet searcher clicked on the firm’s ad.

The Court held that the attorney violated the Lawyer’s Civility Oath by using the names of opposing parties and their counsel in this manner. By taking the oath, a lawyer pledges to opposing parties and their counsel fairness, integrity, and civility in all written communications and to employ only such means consistent with trust, honor and principles of professionalism.

Marketing is now virtually a necessity for successful lawyers. Attorneys are exploring many avenues in their marketing efforts, including numerous Internet marketing techniques. But, beware, this one is not a good idea!

 

*In the Matter of Naert, S.C. Supreme Court Opinion No. 27574, September 30, 2015.

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