Small business owners, and especially lawyers, if you want a web site, be prepared to shell out a bit of money for it. Just as you would any other service. Somehow, the web design industry has become cheapened and skill and talent and expertise are not appreciated. Until it’s too late.
Hyderally & Associates
The latest law firm to become painfully aware of the consequences of cutting corners on web design is Hyderally & Associates, an employment law boutique located in New Jersey. The firm hired (and I use that term loosely, since no money changed hands; the site was done for free) the cousin of the named principal, Ty Hyderally, to revamp the web site. And in his well-meaning attempt to add visual interest to the site, he added the seal of the New Jersey Board of Attorney Certification. Purdy. Shiny. Fraudulent. None of the firm’s attorneys were certified at the time.
The seal languished on the web site for two years before the Committee for Attorney Advertising got wind of it and reported it to the Office of Attorney Ethics, which launched an investigation. The OAE accused the firm of fraudulent misrepresentation but the complaint was ultimately dismissed since the disciplinary review board found that neither Hyderally nor other lawyers in his firm held themselves out to be certified attorneys and there was no “intent,” despite the fact that as “captain of the ship,” Hyderally should have known about the seal on the web site.
The web designer wannabe cousin stated that he found the seal doing a Google search and just wanted to make the site “attractive and appealing.”
Brayton Purcell v. Recordon
Brayton Purcell is a Northern California law firm specializing in elder law. Via CopyScape, it discovered its web content had been reproduced, wholesale, on the web site of a San Diego law firm, Recordon & Recordon, which had hired the web design firm of Apptomix to add an eldercare law section to its web site.
Brayton Purcell sued Recordon and Apptomix for, among other things, copyright infringement, fraudulent misrepresentation, and misappropriation. After arbitration in 2006, the arbitration panel ordered the Recordon firm to pay Brayton Purcell more than $24,000 in statutory damages and nearly $37,000 in fees and costs. Apptomix, the web design firm hired to work on the Recordon firm’s web site, paid nearly $49,000 in statutory damages and nearly $74,000 in fees and costs. As you can see, the arbitration panel assessed fees and damages two-thirds against the web design firm and one-third against the law firm. The Recordon firm then appealed the district court’s denial of its motion to dismiss for improper venue, but that decision was upheld by the Ninth Circuit.
It was essentially our Web site pages on elder abuse just block and copied with the name of the law firm changed.
This is what Lloyd LeRoy, the Brayton Purcell partner heading up the appeal, reported about the Recordon web site. Stephen Recordon said that had he known Apptomix had stolen content, he never would have launched the site, and took the content down as soon as he was notified of its infringing nature.
And how did all this come about? Because Apptomix struck a deal with Recordon to do the web site for a “cheap” price and for the opportunity to add the law firm’s web site to its portfolio. I find it somewhat ironic that the Recordon firm’s current web site has a CopyScape notice at the bottom. An expensive lesson, to be sure. (And it really could benefit from a complete redesign. Just sayin’.)
Choose a Design Firm Wisely
The takeaway from this should be that, just as with legal documents, where lawyers are responsible for what they sign, submit or file, despite any typographical or other errors on it, lawyers are responsible for their web content, and this goes beyond text to all elements of the site, including metadata and graphics. The buck stops with the lawyer. So hire a competent and ethical web design firm with experience in designing web sites for lawyers, who can shepherd you and your firm through the steps it takes to create and launch such a site, and to ensure that your web site is in compliance with your state bar association’s ethics and other requirements, if any. Pixelita Designs has such experience and knows what it takes to get a lawyer’s or law firm’s web site up and running without these kind of SNAFUs.
Law.com article on Hyderally ethics complaint [July 2011; last accessed July 25, 2013]
Law.com article on SoCal versus NoCal Law Firm Web Content dispute [Aug. 2009; last accessed July 25, 2013]