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Website Dispute Brought to the Bar

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Let me make two things clear at the outset of this post.  First, Greg Siskind, who pioneered use of the internet for lawyer advertising and public education through his website, Visa Law is one of my heroes.  I remember visiting his website back in 1994 in the nascent days of the Internet and recognizing right away that he was on to something. Second, given Siskind’s overwhelming Internet presence and longevity, I don’t believe for a minute that a lawyer who practices immigration and sets up a copy cat site like this one can truthfully claim that it’s pure coincidence, and that he never saw Siskind’s site.

But….while Siskind arguably may have copyright or trademark claims that he can, and should, raise in court, I disagree with is decision to contact the Florida Bar about Disney, Thompson, the law firm that stole his content and design, as reported in this article,
Seeing Double, ABA e-report (1/5/07).  Siskind filed a complaint with the Florida bar, arguing that the Florida firm had copied his site and presumably, in so doing, engaged in unethical conduct.  Indeed, the article notes that lawyers have been grieved for plagiarism in briefs, though Siskind was first to raise the issue about plagiarism in websites.  The firm lawyer denied ever seeing Siskind’s site, which as I said earlier is not plausible.  I think that a better (or more truthful) defense would have been that given that he practices in Florida and Siskind’s firm does not, that the attorney did not see a likelihood of confusion, nor was he attempting to steal the firm’s potential clients.  In any event, the Florida bar dismissed the complaint, saying that it could not find that the firm’s lawyers engaged in intentional misconduct.

Now, Siskind’s complaint ought to be a lesson to other lawyers setting
up websites and blogs.  You should search the net widely before
developing a site to be sure that it’s not been done before, and use a
unique design and layout.  At the same time, I don’t endorse the use of
the grievance process to resolve these types of disputes.  First, the
punishment is simply too harsh.  In one of the plagiarism cases
discussed in the article, the attorney was suspended for six  months.
By contrast, the likely result of a court dispute would be that a
company, fearing damage, would take its site down and that would be the
end of it.  Or perhaps that’s what Siskind intended – that fear of
losing a bar license would cause the Miami firm to take down its site.
In my mind, that’s an abuse of the grievance process, and not one that
we should encourage.  Second, bar grievance committees are not
sufficiently adept to deal with the complexities of technology and are
too parochial in their concerns (it was, after all, the Florida bar
that issued these rulings
on use of animals in advertising).  Quite frankly, when it comes to
attorney use of the Internet, I trust the courts far more than I trust
the bar.

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