Matt Brown, a criminal defense lawyer in Tempe, Arizona, has noticed that a lot of local lawyers have websites that get the law on concealed weapons wrong.
Every single lawyer website I visited had misstated the law.
Fortunately, the law has become more permissive, so nobody who believes what they read on the lawyers’ websites will think it’s legal to do something that will get them arrested. Still…
[…] I still see the pervasive misinformation on this as a big problem. At best, it makes lawyers look like idiots. At worst, it seriously misleads the public.
Sadly, it’s just how things work now. People find everything online now, including lawyers. Garbage on the internet with the right keywords brings in business. If you or someone on your behalf isn’t spewing client-attracting terms everywhere, cluttering search results with marketing nonsense and drowning out the seemingly ever-shrinking number of lawyers actually trying to say something thoughtful online, you’re losing money. I don’t know if it makes it more depressing or not knowing that lawyers probably didn’t even write half the crap I read. It’s probably some web guy copying something some other web guy put up.
That’s my theory.
I’m not a lawyer, so unlike Matt Brown, I can’t generally spot legal errors in marketing materials — unless they’re really obvious, such as a California lawyer blatantly trying to inflate his Avvo stats by explaining how bail bond companies work in Illinois. (Follow the link if you want to know why that’s a problem.)
Q 4: Should I submit to a chemical test? Can I refuse?
A: The police officer cannot force you to submit to a chemical test. However, if it is found that you refused the test, your Illinois Driver’s License will be suspended for a one-year period by the Department of Motor Vehicles no matter what the outcome of the court case is. You have the right to a hearing to contest this suspension and must request this hearing within ten (10) days from the date of your arrest.
Forget whether you can be forced to take the test, or what the suspension period is, or how your hearing rights work. Just know this: There is no such thing as an Illinois Department of Motor Vehicles. All that stuff is handled by the Illinois Secretary of State’s office, which has both a Driver Services department and a Vehicle Services department.
This doesn’t mean that Jerald Novak is a bad lawyer. I’m no legal expert myself, and I know nothing about him other than what’s on his website and his Avvo profile. For all I know, he’s an excellent lawyer. (Just as, for all I know, Jerald Novak & Associates actually has associates, although none are listed on the firm overview.) But since he got his bar card way back in 1987, he clearly didn’t grow up as part of the internet generation, and I’m guessing he sees his website as just another piece of marketing. Like a billboard, but in “cyberspace.”
He certainly doesn’t take his website seriously enough to actually read it, or to correct the problems with it, since I first noticed the issue six years ago while Googling around for information about Illinois DUI law for a post I was thinking of writing, and in all that time, nobody’s bothered to fix it.
I decided to look around a little more, and I noticed the website repeats its use of the wrong department on the page about suspended or revoked licenses. These could, of course, be simple editing mistakes. The Department of Motor Vehicles, or DMV, is a common generic term for whatever bureaucratic entity handles things like driver’s licenses and vehicle tags in a state, and it’s possible the copywriter slipped it in by accident, and whoever reviewed it didn’t notice because — although it’s the wrong term for Illinois — it means the right thing.
But then there’s the glossary page, which has a specific entry for “DMV”:
DMV – Department of Motor vehicle (Driver Control Division of Illinois Department of Revenue)
That’s pretty clear. I don’t see how you miss that on review. And I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing as the Driver Control Division in the Illinois Department of Revenue. (In Illinois, the Department of Revenue does income tax collection and has nothing to do with driving.) Googling around a bit, it looks like the “Driver Control Division” might be a Kansas thing.
I noticed a few other terms in the glossary that struck me as odd:
Cereal Malt Beverage – 3.2 Beer, not liquor store beer
DC-27 form – Officer’s certification of failure or refusal of alcohol test. The DC-27 form is also referred to as the “pink sheet” or the “officer’s certification”.
DC-28 form – Law enforcement officer’s certification of breath test failure for minor with alcohol test of .02 or greater. The DC-28 form is also referred to as the “pink sheet” or the “officer’s certification”.
When I Google each of those terms, I don’t see any immediate hits showing up on Illinois information sites or DUI sites, but I get plenty of hits referring to Kansas liquor and motor vehicle laws.
Jerald Novak’s site was apparently built by Speakeasy Marketing (which I have to say is an awesome name for a creator of DUI lawyer websites) and the material on their front page includes this item:
You don’t have to blog AT ALL. No need to write even a single word, even though your website will grow to have 70,000+ words / 120+ articles of quality content effortlessly.
(Your website will become a go-to, trusted source of content about your practice areas, containing dozens, and eventually hundreds of articles that attract, inform, and compel Google searchers to call you for legal help.)
I wonder how that’s supposed to work. How is a website marketer supposed to produce “70,000+ words / 120+ articles of quality content” for a lawyer’s website without the lawyer having to write a single word? The answer is actually kind of a neat idea:
You spend 1 hour talking about a practice area and answering common questions. We record, transcribe, and edit the call, and turn it into 15-20 unique articles and place it on your website.
I’m pretty sure that’s not going to produce the kinds of articles someone like me would actually want to read. (Feedly shows only one reader subscribed to it.) But it will produce the kind of new content that Google likes, and it does so with content actually sorta kinda created by a real lawyer instead of a team of ghost writers in Belarus, which seems like a reasonable attempt to stay on the right side of an ethics line. They also offer to turn some of these interviews into a short e-book that visitors can download, as an additional marketing technique.
(Note to editor: Insert obligatory plug for Brian Tannebaum’s book here.)
I’m pretty sure that the references to a non-existent Illinois government department on Novak’s site are not the result of an interview. Speakeasy Marketing’s own website doesn’t appear to have been around long enough for them to have been responsible for the problem when I first noticed it in 2008, so I think they just imported the content from an earlier version of the site, where I think the web guy may have cribbed the content from some Kansas DUI lawyer.
It may seem that using the wrong name for the department that administers driver’s licenses is a trivial mistake, but to me it’s a warning sign. Novak’s site is filled with details about Illinois DUI law and procedures that are far beyond my non-lawyer ability to evaluate. So if I were to use any of the information on the site, it would be an act of faith. Yet if one of the few things on the site that I can evaluate is wrong, how much faith can I have in the rest?