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Michael Phelan
Michael Phelan
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Ethical Law Firm Marketing?

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The endless quest to improve search engine optimization may have landed one Wisconsin personal injury firm in hot water. Wisconsin’s largest personal injury law firm, Habush, Habush & Rottier, is suing another firm, Cannon & Dunphy alleging that Cannon has been hijacking Habush’s name in Google searches. The suit claims that Cannon is paying Google and other search engines to direct people who search for Habush to the Cannon website. The suit says consumers could be confused when their search for the Habush law firm turns up a competitor. "Defendants’ obtaining and using the keywords ‘Habush’ and ‘Rottier’ is an intentional and illegal effort to trade on the hard-earned names, personal reputations and good will" of the plaintiffs, the suit claims.

If these allegations are true, I hope the Habush firm prevails. Aside from the privacy right and consumer law implications, the alleged hijacking seems, in my opinion, to be plain wrong and unethical. I cannot imaging making the decision to try or allowing a SEO marketing company I hired to try to divert consumers searching for a competitor firm to my website. Aside from the obvious appearance of an impropriety, and the concern about false and misleading information, the activity is just wrong. I’m sure most lawyers know this and would never undertake such Rambo marketing tactics.

In fairness to Cannon & Dunphy, its name partner Patrick Dunphy said he thought a marketer made arrangements with search engines, and that his firm never requested that Habush and Rottier keywords bring up his firm in search results. On the other hand, Dunphy does not concede that there is anything wrong with the alleged diversionary tactic. If Dunphy’s professed ingorance is true, I believe C &D should have instructed their marketer to stop the practice as soon as they learned about it.