So your firm has decided to take that giant leap into cyberspace
and set up a zippy Web site to attract new clients and enlighten the
masses on your practice's proficiencies.
Before you become too enamored with your own Internet prowess,
however, beware of some very real liabilities that may arise from
your newly established global presence.
One potential problem can surface when your site provides links
other pages on the Web. If your site allows surfers to click to
scholarly articles or information about upcoming events, you could
headed for trouble.
"The issue is still up in the air," notes attorney Glenn Coffee,
whose practice focuses on electronic law. Two recent lawsuits
involving Web site links deal with the legal complications that may
ensue when Web site holders allow users to click with abandon to
sites owned by third parties.
In Ticketmaster v. Microsoft, the holder of a Microsoft Web site
dubbed Seattle Sidewalk found itself defending a suit against the
ticket seller after the site provided a link to upcoming events in
the Seattle area. Ticketmaster was peeved because the link didn't go
to its home page with all its nifty advertising. Instead, the
Microsoft site took users immediately to information about the
That direct connection, says Ticketmaster, resulted in lost
Another case, which has recently settled, was Washington Post v.
TotalNews. In that situation, news services -- including CNN and
Reuters -- charged that TotalNews, a news source directory, used
frames to conceal news services' ad banners and replaced them with
their own banners.
But cyberspace legal battles of this ilk, some argue, defeat the
purpose of the Web -- a virtual free flow of info.
"Some say it's the nature of the Web," Coffee says. "If you limit
or prohibit information, then you kill the Web."
Coffee, however, notes the flip side. "The counterargument is
that companies have an earned work product that needs protection."
The possible legal complications associated with law firm sites
have prompted the American Bar Association's Interactive Services
Subcommittee of the Law of Commerce in Cyberspace to publish Web-
Linking Agreements: Contracting Strategies and Model Provisions. The
ABA suggests that Web site administrators contract with site owners
to avoid legal problems later.
Coffee, however, says the ABA's suggestions may be overkill. He
maintains that as long as Web site administrators give credit where
it's due to owners and clearly delineate copyrighted materials,
contracts may not be necessary.
But other problems may plague law firms that set up sites.
Attorneys who offer legal information on their sites need to make
clear to browsers that it's for educational purposes, not intended
legal advice. Otherwise, they may find an attorney-client
relationship has formed.
If the site is highly interactive between the firm and clients,
attorneys need to be cognizant of privacy issues. …