Should lawyers offer SEO and PPC services?

So, yesterday’s post discussed how people claiming to be on jury service looked up details of the accused online. If that’s true, then should lawyers do something about it? Should they offer SEO and PPC?

Now, if a jury does look up details of a person involved in a case online that could influence the accused’s right to a fair trial and throw the whole case out. After all, the starting point to any trial is that the accused is given a fair trial. Can they get a fair trial if you put the accused’s name in online and trawl through the results?

And bear in mind, online results may actually have false information in them. After all, just because something’s on the internet it isn’t necessarily true.

So we have a few problems for a lawyer and the legal system:

  • Potential jurors can search online for information about people involved with a court case, giving them information they may not receive in the courtroom. This can influence their decision, which is against the law.
  • The information online could actually be false – or perhaps planted by someone.
  • There’s no practical way to stop people searching

So what can lawyers do to fight online? Join it!

So here’s the thing. If we accept that people are going to go online and look at information, is it the job of the lawyer to ensure that the material online presents his client in the best possible light? After all, that’s his or her job in the courtroom so why wouldn’t it extend to online?

But there’s an argument that attempting to do so is trying to unduly influence the jury and that falls under the realm of contempt of court.

Should lawyers offer SEO and legal services?

Better Call Moz just wasn’t as catchy a title or a show…

So what could a SEO lawyer do online for their client, the accused?

Two things to bear in mind here:

  1. Trials don’t happen instantly, they can take many months
  2. Most people only scroll three times on mobile for search results and rarely go to a second page so you are talking about the first ten search results

With these two facts, it really wouldn’t be hard to create enough material to start causing issues. Set up and populate some social media channels – YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, wiki, Instagram, Pinterest, a personal website and a business website – and with some effort you’ve covered off at least nine of the first ten search results.

A minor bit of graft updating these pages would present a person in the best possible light. Throw in some blog comments and engagement around the web – or buying other websites – and you’ve potentially sorted the top ten.

Add in some PPC on Google and social media and you’ve got the other side of the element covered.

An ultra cautious lawyer might even throw some emails to the search engines and try for posts to be removed under the right to be forgotten.

None of the above would be expensive at a starting point. Depending on PPC spend, doing hyperlocal work and analytics it could be a bit pricier but for the sake of £100 you could have something that starts to influence search engines. Do a bit of daily work and by the time of the trial, you could have a strong three or six month body of work online showing a person in the best possible light.

But what about the victim?

This goes both ways. There’s nothing to stop the victim using all the channels to get their side of the story out there but they could do two things:

  1. Use online to emphasise what happened to them
  2. Use online to smear the accused. (Potentially defamatory)

So why don’t lawyers offer SEO?

Well, here’s the thing. Some see it as a blatant attempt at influencing the jury, which is totally against the law. Some don’t know what SEO is. But the main problem here is that it’s quite the grey area. Yes, a judge can tell juries not to do something but we live in an age when people are used to using their phones to search for information. Moreso, it’s something they can do without fear of the judge finding out.

For the lawyer, the challenge is this: they cannot prove that the jury have looked at material online as it’s an offence to ask – and even if they could, that would be at the point of trial and too late to actually do anything about it.

More to the point, even if the lawyer doesn’t offer SEO, there’s nothing to stop the accused or victim doing it themselves, which is then still going to impact on the jurors if they search online.

Are we at the stage where we need to tell people the minute they are involved in an incident to say nothing of it online? Does that breach rights of expression or basic human rights of free speech?

Closing arguments

This is actually one of those really technical areas where the current system – a judge telling people not to do something and hoping that they don’t – is probably the best case scenario. We can’t take connectivity off jurors without causing huge disruptions. But what that doesn’t answer is the crux of the issue: would SEO services be seen as trying to influence a jury?

 

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