According to this CNET post of last month (and as you’ve probably already heard), the Federal Trade Commission is planning to adopt guidelines this summer which would require bloggers to disclose any freebies, payments or other financial benefits that they receive in return for promoting a product. The proposed guidelines are available here. Since I’ve always been completely transparent here at MyShingle, the specter of FTC oversight doesn’t frighten me in the least. My policy has always been that I don’t “do” affiliate deals – I’ll either promote a product or service at no charge because I endorse it or I’ll accept financial support from valued sponsors like Nolo, whose products I love and which appreciates what I’m doing for solo and small firm practitioners.
But here’s my beef about the FTC rules. They create a bit of a double standard, in my view. Bloggers, such as myself who dispense some of the practice management advice offered by bar associations or otherwise provide a service to the bars (such as through this comprehensive Bars Reviewed report) are required to disclose financial support from sponsors, yet the bar associations are not. Indeed, I never even realized the magnitude of the problem until I came across the New York Bar’s Report on Solo and Small Firms, wherein the bar volunteered that it earns a commission from ABA books, as well as $100,000-$125,000 per year in royalties from LOISlaw and $400,000 for the sale of HotDocs. It’s no wonder I can’t get many of the state bars to stock Solo by Choice, which after all, isn’t an ABA book.
If the bars need to get extra revenue from private providers, that’s their perogative. And if those providers offer a discount to bar members – for instance, LOISLaw offers free legal research – even better. But the bar associations should be required to disclose these relationships as well as the amount of money that they’re collecting from sponsors. After all, isn’t it only fair that a rule which applies to lawyers who blog apply to our bar associations as well?