April 25, 2017

Gary Ostrow: When SEO Works Against the Reputation of Your Law Firm

Before the Internet, a fool found it much easier to hide.

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Because of the way the internet works, in most cases, what we say online, or what others say about us online, doesn’t go away. That can work for you or it can work against you. The point is, because you are leaving a trail, you have to be very careful how you present yourself online.

Lawyers are required to conform to a strict code of ethics in their practice of law as well as how they market their law practice. When your peers see you do something that isn’t “appropriate”, you will likely be called out.

Depending on the circumstances, and as you will see in the examples presented here, you could be making a mistake that because of the internet, the effect from which could last a lifetime.

Boastful Claims

In January of 2013, a Criminal Defense Lawyer in NYC named Scott Greenfield wrote a blog titled, “Gary Ostrow’s Important Announcement”. Scott opens up his article with…

There was no reason lawyers couldn’t issue press releases before the internet. The problem then was that no one cared, and so their press releases never saw the light of day.  Let’s face it, there wasn’t much a lawyer had to say that was worthy of print space.

But now that the internet has provided infinite room, lawyers can use the marketing tool with abandon and hope that someone notices.  Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer Gary Ostrow did, and abandoned any hope of coming out of it unscathed.

I don’t know Gary Ostrow, or his legal skills, or his reputation. What is clear is, his press release announcing his decision to take on all celebrity criminal cases got the attention of his peers in a bad way.

He wanted to be noticed, and it worked.   South Florida Lawyers noticed.   Mark Bennett noticed. Some of his local brethren noticed. I did too.  What was noticed is that Gary Ostrow marked himself as a social media goofball. While the question of who came up with this idiotic idea, and who actually executed it, remains unanswered, there is no question about who will pay for it: Gary Ostrow. 

Indeed, and pay for it he did, partly because he wasn’t able to let sleeping dogs lie.

The Comment

I stumbled onto the saga of Gary Ostrow and Scott Greenfield when I came across another one Scotts post, titled “Gary Ostrow Faces the Narcissist’s Dilemma” written almost a full year after the original article. 

The inspiration for Scott’s second article was the comment Gary made, almost a year later, on the orginal post. Gary made an attempt to defend himself, and in the process, inspired more ridicule. Scott says…

They want attention. They crave it. And so they go to extreme, ridiculous lengths to get it.  But when they get what they desire, they learn that it doesn’t always come with the adoration they hoped. Instead, they find that they’ve turned themselves into an internet clown, a fool ridiculed by those near and far.  They cradle their teary face in their hands, furious that they are now tainted forever by their screams for attention, and confused as to how to fix their abject foolishness. (emphasis added)

The original article was bad enough, but when Gary weighed in to defend himself, which may seem a normal thing to do, he compounded his dilemma by inspiring not only Scott’s mockery, but many other lawyers as well.

The Internet Remembers

You may not like Scott Greenfield and his band of legal internet bandits, but you have to respect one thing. These lawyers have blogs that are well traveled. Because of this, their blogs are respected by search engines. As a result, whatever they write on their blogs tends to find its way to the top of search rankings. The irony of this is that folks like Scott don’t give too much attention to SEO at all. 

When you search “Gary Ostrow Lawyer”, Scott’s article is the 4th item. After all these years, it shows up at the top of page one of the search results, in the third spot. Someone looking for Gary cannot help but see this exchange. When you combine the effect of what Gary’s peers said about him, as well as Gary’s failed attempt to defend himself, it doesn’t look good for Gary.

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In fact, when you think about it, that Gary wasn’t able to make an argument in his own defense may make prospective clients feel like he wouldn’t be able to defend them either. I don’t have the data to conclude one way or another as to the impact this has had on Gary’s business, but logic allows me to conclude it cant be a good thing.

Conclusion

I don’t much care about who was right and who was wrong in this scenario, though it certainly appears given all the backlash Gary got that he was a bit out of line. The things to be aware of include:

  • Your peers are watching what you do, and the internet makes it easier for them to provide an opinion of it for the world to see
  • If you think you are right, be careful how you defend yourself, because it may make matters worse. It may be better to let it go, and go about your business.
  • If your peers don’t approve of what you are doing, it may mean something, or it may mean nothing at all. You have to balance a healthy respect for what others think with a primary concern for what works for you. 

You don’t have to run scared of lawyers who may not agree with how you do things. You do however have to realize how the internet works. Your reputation depends on it.

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