Wednesday, September 30, 2015
The South Carolina Supreme Court has publicly reprimanded an attorney for violation of its rules on advertising
Respondent and Joseph DuBois, Esquire, are partners in Naert & DuBois, LLC, a law firm handling a variety of legal matters, including timeshare litigation. In 2013, respondent created a website for the firm when the law firm opened in 2013. The website address did not contain the name of the law firm or any part of the names of the partners.
In March 2013, respondent created a Google AdWords account as part of the law firm's Internet marketing campaign. Google AdWords is an Internet marketing technique in which the advertiser places bids for "keywords." When an Internet user of particular search engines associated with Google enters an Internet search that includes words in common with the advertiser's selected keywords, the search results may or may not include the advertiser's ad amongst the list of other nonadvertising or unpaid website search results. The advertiser pays Google if the Internet user clicks on the advertiser's ad from amongst the search results.
At the time Naert & DuBois, LLC, used Google AdWords, if an advertiser's ad appeared in the search results, it appeared under the heading "Ad related to [keyword or keywords]." At that time, ads for Google AdWords could appear amongst the search results with no visible designation or delineation of an area on the webpage specifically designated for advertisement.
Naert & DuBois, LLC, has filed a number of lawsuits on behalf of clients against a timeshare company (the Company). The Company and other individuals related to the Company are represented in various capacities by Attorney A, Attorney B, and Attorney C. Naert & DuBois, LLC, bid on the names of Attorney A, Attorney B, and Attorney C as well as the name of the Company in its list of keywords for the firm's Google AdWords campaign. The firm's advertisement appeared in some Internet search results in which Internet users entered one or more of the Attorneys' names in a Google search.
The firm's advertisement read as follows:
Timeshare Attorney in SC - Ripped off? Lied to? Scammed? Hilton Head Island, SC Free Consult
Sometimes the Attorneys' names appeared as the first result in the list of search results and, other times, the Attorneys' names appeared later in the list of search results. Naert & DuBois, LLC, paid for its advertisement each time an Internet searcher clicked on the firm's advertisement.
Naert & Dubois, LLC, terminated bidding on the use of the Attorneys' names prior to notice of the disciplinary investigation.
Respondent admits he is the attorney responsible for the Google AdWords campaign on behalf of Naert & DuBois, LLC. He further admits the firm's advertisement did not contain his name, Mr. DuBois' name, or the name of any other lawyer responsible for the advertisement's content. Respondent agrees use of opposing counsels' names as keywords in an Internet marketing campaign in a derogatory manner violates provisions of the Lawyer's Oath.
In addition to the reprimand
Within one (1) year of the date of this opinion, respondent shall attend and complete the Legal Ethics and Practice Program Ethics School and Advertising School and, no later than ten (10) days after the completion of the programs, submit proof of completion to the Commission.