With the increasing number of alerts regarding fraudulent law firm websites, I have a proposal for Canadian law societies on how they might protect the public and provide better value to their memberships. I propose that law societies offer stylized web badges to be used on law firm websites. They might look a little something like this (but better because they’ll have to hire a designer):
The badge would link directly to the lawyer’s profile on the law society’s website. In other words, a low-tech version of Verisign certificates. In BC, this would mean linking through to Lawyer Look-up. The Law Society’s public website does not currently offer encrypted connections, so I don’t have any grand ambitions on the security side. Something remains better than nothing. While fraudulent websites can certainly copy the badge, they would need to take the subsequent step of spoofing the Law Society of BC website as well.
By offering such badges for use by law society membership, the public would have one additional means of performing due diligence on a lawyer before initiating contact. Because the public will not otherwise call the law society until after a matter has gone awry, these badges may help cut down on frauds. They would also provide a certain level of comfort to members of the public that the lawyer carries compulsory liability insurance and that the lawyer is subject to the Law Society Rules and the Code of Professional Conduct.
From the perspective of the profession, these badges may also increase the value of membership. As paralegals and immigration consultants offer services that increasingly overlap with lawyers, such badges would provide a means of professional differentiation. If the idea caught-on, law societies would likely be pushed by their memberships to improve the information offered through these official directories. Ideally, a lawyers’ profile should be able to contain as little as their name, call date, and registered office or as much as they decide to share. This could include links to their firm’s website, social media information, professional experience, or detailed practice descriptions. For an example of exactly what I’m suggesting, have a look at MediateBC.com.
If law societies don’t offer such badges, they may start to appear without formal sanction. Many web companies companies now offer various badges for use in order to deter people from trying to make their own (e.g. LinkedIn).
If that doesn’t convince you, what if it just looked really good?