Wikipedia is a very important tool in a tech-savvy legal marketers’ arsenal. Web technologies like RSS from blogs, wikis, forums, and other kinds of channels into feed-enabled portals create buzz about an attorney or law firm.
Wikipedia has a massive traffic volume and influence in search engine results. The site also tends to attract a tech-savvy audience that researches RSS and other Web 2.0 technologies. Presented carefully, a strong presence for a law firm with relevant Wikipedia entries can help drive traffic to the Firm’s website. In the ever-expanding world of social computing, it makes sense for firms and attorneys to take the plunge into Wikipedia, but it is just as important to learn the rules of the game first.
When creating the firm or attorney page, first check the state bar’s rules for the filing requirements for public advertising and written, recorded, electronic or other digital solicitations. In Texas, all attorney advertising copy must be submitted to the Advertising Review Department. However, since Wikipedia entries are assumed written by a neutral third-party the pages don’t officially fall into the “advertising” category.
Here is the official word from the Texas State Bar Advertising Review Department Director Gene Major; “Read the Texas Disciplinary Rules for Professional Conduct. Rule 7.07(e) lists the type of exemptions the Bar allows without submission for approval from us. These exemptions include publicly available information about the attorney or law firm, business card-type information about practice areas, firm website and information concerning legal issues, such as news articles, legal articles, editorial opinions, or other legal developments or events.”
Before constructing the framework for the Wikipedia page, the best advice is to list everything planned for the page, then read the individual state bar’s exemptions rule on filing requirements and make sure nothing on the Wikipedia list contradicts the state bar rule.
Wikipedia’s strict content guidelines must also be addressed and understood thoroughly. Wikipedia’s editors are basically anyone who owns a computer, and they can be merciless. Wikipedia defines itself as: an encyclopedia, not a forum for advertising or self-promotion, or a vanity press. As such, it should contain only material that complies with its content policies, and Wikipedians must place the interests of the encyclopedia first. Any editor who gives priority to outside interests may be subject to a conflict of interest.
There are no firm criteria to determine whether a conflict of interest exists, but there are warning signs. Adding material that appears to promote the interests or visibility of an article’s author, its author’s family members, employer, associates, or their business or personal interests, places the author in a conflict of interest. When editors write to promote their own interests, their contributions often show a characteristic lack of connection to anything the general reader might want to consult as a reference.
When constructing a page if its decided to write an article on an area of law where there is personal involvement, be sure to write in a neutral tone and cite reliable, third party published sources, its important to beware of unintentional bias. A neutral point of view is the key to success on Wikipedia.
The best learning tools here are examples. Houston attorney Mark Lanier’s page is a good model of how to write a Wikipedia entry properly. It can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Mark_Lanier
You will notice Lanier’s page is categorized under American Lawyers/Living People. A page’s category is an important designation. According to the Wikipedia article traffic statistics (http://stats.grok.se/) Lanier’s page has been visited 246 times in June of 2008.
A law firm that created their Wikipedia entry properly can be found here:
This firm categorized their entry under: Law firms of the United States | Law firms established in 1948 | Law firms based in New York City. According to the traffic counter, their page has been viewed 6,508 times in June of 2008. That’s a strong audience.
Along with the successful pages we should also cite examples of problem entries. Haynes & Boone is a good cautionary tale. Their page can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haynes_%26_Boone
You will notice there is a warning header at the top of the page listing the entry as being written as an advertisement. Judging from the length of the page a lot of work went into building it. But there aren’t any external links except self-promoting websites and there are no references listed. Whoever wrote this entry probably thought the link to the firm’s website would be enough to justify the time and effort it took to build the page. However, a quick check of the page traffic counter shows the page was visited once in May and not at all in June. It is important to cite sources and make sure other articles link to the page from related topics. Make content relevant for the Wikipedia community, not just the firm.
You will notice from the Mark Lanier page example citations of some of his flagship cases. These cases should not be cited unless they are considered closed by the courts and all parties involved. If an attorney is involved in a court case, or close to one of the litigants, it would be very difficult to demonstrate that what is written about a party or a law firm associated with the case, or a related area of law, was entirely objective.
The courts or their parties could potentially notice even a minor slip up in neutrality in a court-case article on Wikipedia for an active case-in-progress, and this could potentially cause real-world harm. Because of this, restrict case citations and edits on other Wikipedia pages to cases officially closed.
STEPS FOR DEVELOPING THE PAGE
1. Research State Bar Professional Conduct Guidelines for filing requirements.
2. Research Wikipedia’s guidelines for content creation and editing, including standards for writing style, formatting, editing, adding links, etc.
3. Study the attorney and firm pages listed in this article and notice how they crafted their page, then make it easy on yourself and copy them with your own content.
4. Choose the proper category for the page. Study other related firms and attorney pages to distinguish the particular area that will most benefit your practice.
5. Find someone outside of your organization to do the actual development of the entry to avoid being deleted by Wikipedia’s conflict-of-interest policy.
6. Craft practice articles in the Wikipedia Sandbox:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Sandbox The Wikipedia Sandbox section of the site allows members to post draft articles, experiment with formatting, tone, and linking strategies, and receive feedback from the community
7. Write articles according to Wikipedia’s neutral point-of-view standards, which discourages users from putting spin or bias in articles. Remove all the slick marketing hype for the copy. This sentence, for instance, is similar to something that would appear in company marketing materials:
o “XYZ Firm is a diversified law practice focused on the highest level of customer service”
For Wikipedia, it needs to sound like this:
o “XYZ Firm is comprised of attorneys representing a number of diverse practice areas including, Intellectual Property, Maritime Law and Business Litigation.”
8. Strategically link related pages within Wikipedia. Guidelines state that content creators should provide relevant links to other Wikipedia articles.
9. Use external links to send traffic to a Firm’s site. Hotlinks are permitted in certain sections of a Wikipedia article, such as External Links. Be sure to add links to relevant Firm Web pages where possible. Use concise, targeted pages relevant to the Wikipedia article in question, rather than just linking to the company’s homepage. Add links to the firm’s Web pages, data sheets, and white papers in an article’s “References” section. Include links to third-party sites on company-specific pages to demonstrate neutrality.
Finally, take all the valuable content just created and add value to the Wikipedia community by expanding the information available on RSS technology.
TRACK THE RESULTS
Starting with the article traffic statistics, track how many people are visiting the Wikipedia page. Be sure to monitor where clients are hearing about the firm and keep a record of the new calls into the office and be sure and ask the client where they heard of the firm.
Wikipedia is a collaborative, constantly evolving site, and a firm’s page must be constantly monitored. The team responsible for overseeing the page must constantly be aware of edits to the page, participate in ongoing discussions about pages, and look for opportunities to add more relevant, useful content to the site. Provide value to the Wikipedia community and reap the rewards!
Miranda Sevcik is a veteran journalist, broadcast news producer, anchor and corporate writer. She has earned many accolades and awards for journalistic excellence including an Emmy, and a Society of Professional Journalists Award for best feature story.
During her tenure as a journalist, Miranda covered local beats, served as an award winning investigative reporter, producer and news anchor for NBC news. Highlights of Miranda’s career include breaking the Phen-Fen diet drug dangers story, the Million Man March on Washington and covering the 52 day siege at the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco.
As an investigative journalist, Miranda recognized the often wasted opportunities for attorneys to communicate their client’s story to the benefit of the case and future profitability of the client. As a result Miranda formed Media Masters, a legal marketing and public relations firm exclusively for attorneys and law firms.
Miranda continues to work with journalists as a special projects producer for KPRC-TV Houston, Court TV, The Discovery Channel and KHOU-TV Houston. Miranda is a member of the Legal Marketing Association and a member of the Lone Star Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences