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Law Firm Wants Fans Badly Enough to Violate Facebook Rules

by Carolyn Elefant on April 21, 2011 · 3 comments

in Ethics & Malpractice Issues, Marketing Ethics

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Don’t get me wrong, I love creative law firm marketing ideas – so much so, that I’ve collected a couple here and here. But I’m not amused when marketing initiatives violate rules – even when those rules seem stupid – because it suggests that the law firm didn’t engage in due diligence.

Consider the case of this Dallas based personal injury firm. The firm is so eager to attract fans for its Facebook page that it’s giving away an Ipad, reports the ABA Journal. To enter the contest to win the Ipad, or receive a bag of prizes participants must like the firm’s Facebook page and photograph themselves wearing a 1-800 Car-Wreck tee shirt or holding a sign saying “I like 1800CarWreck” and post it on the firm’s fan wall. Sounds harmless enough, but trouble is that this type of contest violates Facebook’s rather stringent rules on promotions. According to Facebook’s Guidelines on Promotions, any contest sponsored on the Facebook platform must include a disclaimer specifying that the promotion is not sponsored by, or affiliated with Facebook.
In addition,

You may require that an entrant like a Page, check in to a Place, or connect to your Platform integration before providing their full entry information for a promotion. You will not condition entry to the promotion upon taking any other action on Facebook, for example, liking a status update or photo, commenting on a Wall, or uploading a photo. (emphasis added)

The lack of disclaimer and the contest requirement to upload photos violates these Facebook Guidelines. In addition, the two legal publications (ABA Journal and Texas Lawyer) that reported on this contest didn’t mention the quirks related to Facebook contests – which will likely encourage copycat measures by other lawyers that will also violate Facebook guidelines. (For the record, Facebook’s promotion guidelines are no secret – I blogged about these rules earlier this month at Nolo Legal Marketing Blawg earlier this month), and there’s an even more extensive piece at the Social Media Examiner.

For the record, I think that Facebook’s policy on contests is silly and overly restrictive. But when lawyers host a page on a third-party platform, you must abide by their rules. Silly as these Facebook’s rules may be, lawyers come across as equally silly when they don’t follow them.

  • http://www.adamskylaw.com Edward Adamsky

    Why do they have to abide by Facebook’s rules? Just because facebook makes them and says they are their rules doesn’t mean you have to follow them. I guess Facebook could take some action like closing your account, but other than that, it’s just facebook’s rule, it’s not a law nor an ethical rule.

  • Carolyn Elefant

    Like I said, I think that Facebook’s rules are overly restrictive. But if you don’t like the rules, then don’t play. And if you choose to play and break the rules, then expect consequences. Yes, Facebook can shut your account for something like this – and for firms that are investing time and effort on FB pages, that’s a fairly serious consequence.
    To me, though, failing to comply with social media rules and netiquette is more a reflection of carelessness or willingness to cut corners than anything else. Makes me wonder about a lawyer’s practice.

  • http://twitter.com/BruceGodfrey Bruce Godfrey

    I wonder whether this promotion clears ethics rules. I am not licensed in Texas, but it does occur to me that this violates Maryland’s “dialect” about paying people to recommend an attorney. I do not know whether the aleatory shot at an iPad constitutes a reasonable advertising charge, if this is fairly considered “advertising.”

    From MLRPC 7.2 (c) A lawyer shall not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services, except that a lawyer may

    (1) pay the reasonable cost of advertising or written communication permitted by this Rule;

    (2) pay the usual charges of a legal service plan or a not-for-profit lawyer referral service;

    (3) pay for a law practice purchased in accordance with Rule 1.17; and

    (4) refer clients to a non-lawyer professional pursuant to an agreement not otherwise prohibited under these Rules that provides for the other person to refer clients or customers to the lawyer, if

    (i) the reciprocal agreement is not exclusive, and

    (ii) the client is informed of the existence and nature of the agreement.

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