Jim S. Adler, “The Texas Hammer,” alleges that competing Law Firms infringed on his trademarks by using them in their Mobile “Click to Call” Google Ads. The lawsuits claim, using those keywords allows the defendants’ ads to pop up whenever potential clients search for Adler on mobile devices.
If the defendants used the name of his Law Firm in the Ads themselves, that is a violation of the Rules of Professional conduct in most states, and could be grounds for a lawsuit, and possibly even disciplinary action if the state BAR gets involved.
“New technology raises new challenges to trademark holders’ rights,” plaintiff attorney Jered Matthysse of Pirkey Barber in Austin said in an email. “Our complaints seek to prevent the misuse of click-to-call technology on mobile devices in a way that violates trademark rights and confuses consumers.”
Under most states bar rules, the name of at least one attorney or law firm and office address must be included in any communications used for advertising that indicates the attorney is responsible for the content on the website or advertisement. This information must be clear and conspicuous and must be of the same size, color, duration, cadence, contrast, location and audibility that an ordinary person would be able to easily read, hear, notice and understand.
“Defendants have bid increasingly higher amounts to strategically place their own confusing ads next to—and often before—plaintiffs’ own ads in the search results. Defendants have done so intentionally, knowing that having their ads appear next to or before plaintiffs’ ad will cause a significant number of consumers specifically searching for plaintiffs to be confused and contact defendants instead.”, The lawsuits alleged.
Digital Advertising guidelines for Lawyers can vary from state to state. Rules of Professional Conduct govern attorney and Law Firm advertising, including electronic communication, content published on the internet and attorney or law firm advertising or marketing websites. All attorneys must abide by these rules when creating a website for advertising or marketing purposes.
The lawsuits also alleged that the defendants use a fraudulent scheme to use Adler’s reputation and trademarks when they buy mobile device keyword search ads for his name and trademarks. This has the effect of making the defendants’ “click-to-call” ads pop up when people use their mobile devices to search for Adler, according to the complaints.
If Adler’s claims are true, this would mean that the Ad’s were impersonating his Law Firm in order to siphon business, which is a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct in most states. This is why it’s important to work with Advertising Agencies who have a thorough understanding of your State BAR Advertising Rules of Professional Conduct in order to make sure that your Law Firm’s Google Ads don’t get you into trouble.
Also, the defendants are bidding high amounts for Adler’s marks, which has the effect of driving up the costs for Adler himself, the attorney argued. A higher number of consumers are calling the defendant’s’ lawyer referral call centers by mistake even though they’re searching for Adler, the lawsuits alleged. Those call centers then refer the clients to Adler’s competitors.
I personally don’t think this piece of the argument will hold much water seeing as this simply refers to the keywords being targeted on the backend. I might see this argument holding more weight if it weren’t for the fact that Google gives favor to your Business for your own branded terms, such as the exact name of your business.
I will be interested to see if this lawsuit goes so far as to say that even bidding on the name of a competitor is against the rules. If it does, I can almost certainly foresee more lawsuits of this type being filed in the future.
This is going to be an interesting case to watch unfold, and one that could set precedent, forcing Law Firms to rethink the way they advertise on Google. Feel Free to contact me if you’re interested in a list of the competitors who are bidding on your Law Firms’ name & Trademarks.
SYZYGY — Google Ads For Lawyers