What Makes a Lawyer “Notable”? (According to Wikipedia)

Jeremy Hessing-Lewis

As a lawyer or law firm, there is good reason to have an article about you in Wikipedia.  The primary marketing motivation is Wikipedia’s extremely high search engine visibility. If you have an entry under your professional name, chances are that this entry will be on the first page of Google/Bing search results. Moreover, external links back to your own website will increase traffic along with your page rank.

Concerns regarding inaccurate information or defamatory edits are proving increasingly less worrisome considering Wikipedia extremely tight editorial guidelines. Why not-pile on and get started creating an article for yourself? Even better, why not hire a marketing specialist to create your entry for you?

Not so fast. Not just anyone gets a Wikipedia entry. Here are some of the impediments you’ll have to overcome:

1. Living Persons

Biographies of living persons have particularly stringent requirements. In particular, biographies must be from a neutral point of view, verifiable, and must not contain original research. Above these basic requirements, privacy is paramount. This means that biography must built such that statements about the lawyer are cited to reputable third party publications. Want to say that the lawyer is a leading class-action lawyer? You better find a newspaper article confirming this view. If the lawyer has published articles on their practice area, they better be in reputable sources. The firm blog or similarly self-published sources won’t cut-it. Failure to comply with these requirements will likely result in summary deletion of your entry (you’ll be amazed at how quick the Wikipedia editors can be).

2. Notability

Just because a lawyer complies with the above requirements does not put them shoulder to shoulder with Napoleon, Anthony Weiner, and Alexander Hamilton. They also need to be notable, the test that Wikipedia uses to establish whether something deserves its own article. Something is notable “if it has received significant coverage in reliable sources that are independent of the subject. For better or worse, this standard tends to leave notorious lawyers.

If you’ve practiced diligently throughout a long career, served your clients well, and steered clear of major scandals, you likely aren’t notable. If you slept with clients, embezzled trust funds, or drafted the constitution, you’ll get into the club. A review of lawyers in Wikipedia suggests that the fast-track to notability is to run for public office or enter academia. There notability standards for law professors are considerably more lax than they are for lawyers in private practice. This makes sense because Wikipedia polices notability partly to prevent the commercialization of the system.

But what about your law firm? How come Bird & Bird is notable but your average local firm is not? There are two considerations here. The first is size and the second is notable lawyers at the firm. If you aren’t a national firm and want to be entered into the club, get your partners to go into politics or get appointed to the bench.

3. Neutrality

Wikipedia articles are required to be drafted neutrally. This means that you should not be creating an article about yourself. For that matter, you should not be retaining third parties (read marketing companies) to draft the article for you. If an editor suspects a bias, the entry will be promptly deleted. On that note, Skunkworks is not a Wikipedia article factory for our clients. This goes to the notability requirement described above. If you’re notable, they expect that unrelated third parties will voluntarily spend considerable amounts of time drafting Wikipedia profiles (generally a librarian or grad student).

There’s only one way to find-out if a lawyer is worthy of Wikipedia…create an article. If you meet the living persons requirements and the article is deleted by an editor, you’ll have an opportunity to make your case re: notability before the deletion becomes permanent. If all else fails… you can always run for public office.

Or:

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