Attention Texas law firms: Do you know what content is on your Web site?
Faced with unexpected criticism about the propriety of several stock photo illustrations on its site, Houston’s Lindeman, Alvarado & Frye moved quickly to remove images of a woman and children that were used to illustrate the firm’s criminal-defense practice areas.
Jim Lindeman, a partner in seven-lawyer Lindeman, Alvarado — which defends people accused of committing crimes — acknowledges the pictures “were not appropriate for our Web site.”
He also notes that he and others reviewed the site before it went live last April, but he doesn’t have a specific memory of the photos. He was most concerned with reviewing the text on the Web site to ensure it was accurate, he says, and he did not pay attention to the photos.
In a Nov. 25 post, the Above the Law blog mentioned the photos and numerous other blogs followed the story.
Above the Law noted that a photo of a pigtailed girl accompanying Lindeman, Alvarado’s description of its Child Sexual Assault & Internet Solicitation of a Minor Defense Practice was a “little off.” The blog also pointed out a photo of a troubled-looking woman wrapped in a robe illustrating the firm’s Rape and Sexual Assault Defense Practice; one of a hand over the mouth of a young girl to illustrate the firm’s Family Violence Defense Practice; and a photo of a suitcase filled with white packages illustrating the firm’s Interstate and International Drug Charges Defense Practice.
The stock photos in question were added to the firm’s Web site in April by FindLaw, which Lindeman, Alvarado had hired to revamp and expand the firm’s site, Lindeman says. Lindeman, Alvarado partner Charles B. “Brad” Frye says the project cost the firm about $30,000.
No one had ever questioned the photos, Lindeman says. But on Nov. 25, someone e-mailed the firm the link to the Above the Law post.
“When we learned of these complaints and had a chance to look at the images themselves on Wednesday [Nov. 25], we contacted our Web site designer, FindLaw,” Lindeman says, and asked it to pull the pictures.
Lindeman says he takes full responsibility for the content on his firm’s site.
“Certainly everything that was there was presented to us by the Web designer. These images were in the back section of 18 pages,” he says. “It was an oversight on our part.”
Jodi Koupal, a senior client development consultant at FindLaw who handles the Lindeman, Alvarado account, says Frye e-mailed her on Nov. 25 to remove the photos, but because of the Thanksgiving holiday, the office was closed and the company didn’t make the change until Nov. 30.
Koupal says a designer took the photos from a database of thousands of stock images the company uses.
“The typical thing is practice-specific images. If it’s a personal-injury practice, we do car crash [photos]. I’m sure the designer just selected some photos. We create the Web site. We send it to the client to approve it,” she says.
She says the same photos could be on another firm’s Web site because they are stock photos, although FindLaw would have no way of knowing which firm may be using the same pictures on its Web site. She says the company has created about 15,000 firm Web sites.
Another Faux Pas
Lindeman says the criticism of his firm’s site came out of the blue. He acknowledges that the photos don’t work for a firm such as his that does criminal-defense and civil litigation work, adding that the images seem to be more appropriate for a victims’ assistance office.
“They are disturbing in the sense they are taken with individuals shown in extreme circumstances and situations where they would be essentially victims of crime,” he says of the photos. They were not images a defense firm should use on its site, “and that’s why they were wrong for our site.”
Lindeman says the firm has not lost any business because of the brouhaha over the photos, and in fact, the bloggers brought a lot of attention to the firm. He says 40 percent of the traffic to the firm’s site in November came through a link from Above the Law.
About 5,900 unique visitors looked at www.lindemanfrye.com in November, up from the normal number of 3,000 to 3,500 a month, Lindeman says, citing statistics provided by FindLaw.
On Nov. 30, Frye responded to the Above the Law post in a comment on the blog’s Web site. In that comment, Frye wrote that the firm thought it would avoid “anything such as this” by hiring FindLaw to design its Web site.
Lindeman says he is sorry if the now-deleted images on the firm’s site offended anyone, but he does not apologize for the firm’s criminal-defense work.
“It’s not our practice to do anything outside the ethical bounds or the moral grounds. Our role is to market our firm as experienced professionals. We, as most lawyers, as all lawyers, zealously defend our reputation, and we think our reputation in this community is excellent,” he says. “We missed a marketing issue.”
To top things off, on Dec. 2, Lindeman says he learned that his firm had failed to submit the Web site to the State Bar of Texas Advertising Review Committee after the site was revamped in April, but the firm will do so in the near future. The Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct require that firm advertising content such as Web sites be submitted to the committee for review.
Lindeman says he mistakenly thought FindLaw had submitted it.
“That’s the most embarrassing part of this, that we missed something. I’m still confident that they will approve what we have,” he says about the advertising review.
Kim Davey, a spokeswoman for the Bar, says the Advertising Review Committee will send a nonfiling notice to the firm, and the firm will have a reasonable amount of time, as long as 20 days, to respond. The firm also will have to pay a $300 filing fee, instead of the regular $70 filing fee, because it did not seek prior approval.
She says miscommunication between a firm and a third-party Web site developer is not uncommon, but attorneys at the firm are responsible for seeking State Bar review for their firm’s Web site.
To read another cautionary tale, see:
“Too Good to Be True: Consumer Counsel Warn Lawyers to Be Wary of Client E-Mail Scams“