When a person follows me on twitter, I get an email informing me because twitter believes it’s important that I know. Rather than insult twitter, I recently decided to open the email and look at their bio. More than half of the time, it informs me that the person is either an “expert” or a “consultant” who is “passionate” about whatever makes them money. I have no clue who the person is, but they want to let others know they’re special.
We used to call this sort of conduct “shameless.”
A legal marketer whose name eludes me recently wrote that we have a duty to be shameless; “if you don’t tell them, how will they know?” Another marketer posted what appears to be a missive under the title, “my meeting with the secretary of state.” After some routine puffery, it turns out that the “headline” was a lie, that he tried to meet the secretary of state, but was turned away. His point was about boldness. He shows “chutzpah.”
The New York Times ran a story about retailers paying kickbacks to consumers if they wrote positive reviews of their wares.
Some exalt themselves by anonymously posting their own laudatory reviews. Now there is an even simpler approach: offering a refund to customers in exchange for a write-up.
By the time VIP Deals ended its rebate on Amazon.com late last month, its leather case for the Kindle Fire was receiving the sort of acclaim once reserved for the likes of Kim Jong-il. Hundreds of reviewers proclaimed the case a marvel, a delight, exactly what they needed to achieve bliss. And definitely worth five stars.
In Ottawa, Rogers Communications seeks to strike a law, requiring companies to perform “adequate and proper” tests in advance of advertising claims about the performance of a product, as a violation of free expression. It argues that the marketing claims may be absolutely true, but the requirement that they be tested in advance so that they are proven accurate before being disseminated, rather than tested only after being challenged, inhibits freedom.
Walter Olson at Cato writes about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s war against the things he believes to be unhealthy.
But as the New York Times reports, city officials “did not let on that the man shown — whose photo came from a company that supplies stock images to advertising firms and others — was not an amputee and may not have had diabetes.” Instead, they just Photoshopped his leg off, which certainly got the effect they were looking for, albeit at the cost of photographic reality. At an agency developing an ad campaign for a private company, someone might have advised adding a little fine print taking note that the picture was of a model and had been altered, lest the manipulation turn into the story itself, or even attract the interest of federal truth-in-advertising regulators. But the Bloomberg crew probably isn’t worried about the latter, given that their constant stream of hectic propaganda is fueled by generous grants from the federal government itself. Such grants also helped enable a contemplated booze crackdown exposed by the New York Post this month—quickly backed off from after a public outcry—that would have sought to reduce the number of establishments selling alcohol in New York City.
People seem to believe the advertisements without much thought, assuming that the correlation/causation problem must be proven somewhere or they wouldn’t say it.
Inexplicably, people still believe that if it’s in writing, if it’s put out publicly, it must be true. Surely, if it was false, there is some back office somewhere filled with busy elves who would squash it immediately. People aren’t allowed to lie, right? It would be scandalous if anyone could say anything to deceive others without recourse.
But there is no back office somewhere filled with busy elves overseeing the accuracy of claims. The mechanism that prevented an economy built on rampant falsehoods and puffery was the fear of being outed as a shameless liar. The mechanism existed within us, as the chance of anyone else calling us out was slim, and only the slightest possibility of being held up for ridicule as a liar was more than sufficient to push the reluctant liar over the edge of truthfulness.
No longer. Shameless is the new Bold. Freed of the constraints of honesty, we rationalize our conduct to justify doing anything it takes to achieve our goals.
One of the premier justifications for the ubiquitous consumer reviews on the internet, whether of lawyers on Avvo or a tchotchke on Amazon, is that it enlightens others. This is only true if they are accurate and honest, but this naive claim was swiftly undermined by those who game the system. We are simultaneously gullible in believing that the information we receive about others is at least reasonably accurate, while pumping out as much puffery as possible about ourselves. All without the slightest bit of shame.
We buy from the best liar, whether it’s a gadget case, a refrigerator or a lawyer. It’s not really that hard to distinguish the self-aggrandizing liar, yet we can’t seem to help ourselves from being attracted to shiny objects and important people.
As despicable as it may be to learn that we’ve been lied to after buying as thing based on sham reviews, that this same shamelessness has permeated the legal profession is different. Integrity is all we’ve got, the only justification for our monopoly on the trust given us by clients.
But, you say, everyone else is puffing, lying, scheming and scamming, while you sit there waiting for the phone to ring, with bills to pay and hungry children at home. You say that it takes too long to establish a reputation as a skilled and respected advocate, so you have to create it yourself. You say that creating a few “facts” and omitting a few others can turn you into a rock star. You say the other lawyers are liars, so why should you suffer.
Everyone is a liar today. That’s the nature of our economy. That’s the nature of our profession.
Not everyone. Granted, it seems that way. Granted, it seems as if the liars are winning the battle, and leaving the honest in the dust. It seems as if no one is terribly bothered by an economy built on lying to each other, as long as we get a piece of the pie for ourselves. There are some of us who won’t play this game, and you quietly watch as others studiously ignore us, circumvent us, lies about us and put on their play as if we didn’t exist.
But we see you. We see what you are saying and doing. We see that you proclaim yourself an “expert” when you’re not. We see that you puff your greatness and have your cousin write a false review to bolster your lie. So what if everyone else is lying through their teeth to make a buck? We’re lawyers, and our duty is different than the purveyor of shiny toys or government intent on death to sugary drinks and second hand smoke. What you are selling is your integrity, and you are selling it cheap.
Have you no shame?