"Basically every time someone searched our firm name they would see a misleading unidentified paid ad from our competitor right above our search results," says attorney Joel Faxon. "It would certainly mislead clients."
So aggrieved is Stratton & Faxon that the firm has filed for what is known in Connecticut as a prejudgment remedy—what lawyers refer to as PJR. "It is the equivalent of a lawsuit, but it is filed if you need immediate relief," says Faxon. "That will likely be followed by a formal lawsuit against Google, but that is the process we are in now."
The advertising rules for lawyers are quite restrictive and an online presence for lawyers has been become a critically important way for lawyers to advise potential clients about the services available and the attorneys that provide them.
"Google basically sold our name to a competitor," argues Faxon. "It is unfortunate it is allowed to go on, particularly when there are very, very stringent rules about lawyer advertising. It is one thing to have it in the general market place, but is another thing when you have ethical rules that limit what you can do in terms of advertising."
Shunting people to a competitor's website Faxon believes not only is a violation of the law and ethical rules of the profession, it is also a disaster for clients.
"We deal with catastrophic injury cases. We have brain injured people, we have people who have been involved in serious tragedies very recently and I can understand how our clients would be negatively impacted by this," says Faxon. "Many of our clients want to make contact with us through our website, so if they were diverted to one of our competitors – particularly when we have an ongoing attorney client relationship with these people--that alone is potentially unethical activity."
The firm that was connected to Stratton & Faxon through Google's ad words strategy has voluntarily asked that the situation be rectified. However, Stratton and Faxon will press on with their court action against Google. "Our current PJR filing is tailored in a very narrow way," says Faxon. "This is America and free enterprise is the general rule, but with respect to legal advertising, we are constrained by ethical rules and so it is not the same with lawyers as it with virtually every other area of industry."
"What we are interested in doing with Google is not stopping the practice across the board but certainly constraining it as it relates to the practice of law where there are unique rules regarding advertising that do not apply to other sectors of the economy."
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When the lawsuit is filed, Faxon says the grounds for the suit against Goggle will be expanded and laid out in more detail. "What we are alleging right now though is unfair competition on the part of Google."
Joel Faxon is co-founder of Stratton Faxon Law Firm, handles catastrophic personal injury and death cases, professional malpractice, birth trauma, commercial truck crashes, aviation disasters, and bad faith insurance litigation. Highlights of his practice include $44 million in lifetime benefits obtained against a Connecticut hospital for a birth trauma case resulting in a child's permanent cerebral palsy.