A South Carolina lawyer was reprimanded for buying Google ads intentionally linked to keyword searches for three opposing lawyers involved in ongoing litigation. Attorney Zachary Steven Naert, who bought the ads for his firm Naert & DuBois used opposing counsel’s names as keywords in a derogatory Internet-marketing campaign.
He also failed to include his own name, his partner’s name or their firm’s name in their internet advertisement in violation of South Carolina ethics rules.
The advertisement, which popped up anytime Google users searched for the timeshare company or its three lawyers, read: “Timeshare Attorney in SC - Ripped off? Lied to? Scammed? Hilton Head Island, SC Free Consult.” Naert paid for this Google AdWords advertising, which at that time appeared amongt the search results with no visible designation or delineation of an area on the web page specifically designated for advertisement.
Google AdWords is an Internet marketing technique in which the advertiser places bids for "keywords." When a person conducts 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 amongt 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 amongt the search results.
[sws_pullquote_left]To read an interesting article about social media, see NC State Bar: Social Media Usage by Judges OK[/sws_pullquote_left]
These Google AdWords websites appear at the top of the search results with a yellow box designating them as an “Ad.”
Naert agreed with the South Carolina State Supreme Court that the use of opposing counsels' names as keywords in an Internet marketing campaign in a derogatory manner expressly violates provisions of the Lawyer's Oath and the state’s Rules for Professional Conduct.
South Carolina Professionalism Rule 7 states that communications under the rule must include the name and office address of at least one lawyer responsible for its content. The South Carolina Lawyer’s Oath requires lawyers to pledge to opposing parties and their counsel the utmost fairness, integrity, and civility in all written communications and to employ only such means consistent with trust, honor, and principles of professionalism.
Lawyer Michael Virzi represents Naert in the ethics case. Virzi said Naert “is a zealous advocate for victims of timeshare fraud” who, with his law partner, recently obtained two substantial awards in timeshare cases.
“As it pertains to the public reprimand,” Virzi wrote, “Zach was attempting to make his services readily available to victims of timeshare fraud with his ad when Zach bid through Google AdWords on an attorney’s name who represents timeshares companies. Zach did not mean to imply in any way that the attorney was a fraud or fraudulent, only that Zach could help honest, hardworking people who have allegations of fraud against timeshare companies.”
The Supreme Court found Naert’s misconduct warranted a public reprimand. Naert has 90 days to pay the costs incurred in the investigation and prosecution of this case and one year to attend and complete a Legal Ethics and Practice Program Ethics School and Advertising School course.
Attorneys marketing their services should always keep in mind their states’ respective professionalism rules.