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February 03, 2011


Nicole Hamilton

Disclaimer: I work in a marketing capacity with Educate2Motivate, the company referenced, but not identified, in this blog post.

First, we want to thank you for your efforts to ensure that our field continues to be held to the highest standards of integrity and respect. We couldn’t agree with you more.

With that in mind we wanted to make one small correction to your post. The stories in our newsletters are always based on real life situations. To protect confidentiality and privacy, names and identifying facts are changed. I was not able to find anyone in our company who had received a call from you, so we are not sure how you reached your determination that the stories were not true.

Nonetheless, your post raises other good issues. Especially about the ethics of using stories.
The reason we chose a story format for our newsletter offering was not to deceive readers. Instead, part of our mission at Educate2Motivate is to help lawyers meet their ethical duty to educate the public.
In our experience, teaching through stories has always been the most effective way to educate. Much more so than merely teaching abstract legal principals or a rote recital of do’s and don’ts. This is not something new created by Educate2Motivate but is something that has proven throughout human history. People simply seem to learn more effectively through stories.

Of course, because we all deal with issues of privacy and confidentiality, names and other aspects of a story must be changed.
This does not make the story any less true or meaningful. And while we believe most readers understand that names and facts are changed, we agree that it makes sense to let readers know that the stories, though grounded in fact, have been changed to ensure that privacy and confidentially are protected, and edited to make the story readable and so that it most effectively helps the lawyer reach the ethical goal of educating the public.

Thank you again for creating the opportunity to discuss this important issue.

Jennifer Campbell Goddard

Thanks Nicole. I did not mention Educate2Motivate by name, nor did I contact your company. The situation referenced is an example, and I did not want to single anyone out. Also, I did not know whether your company wrote the content or simply distributed it. However, based on your comments here, we may agree in theory but not in practice.

If you read my post carefully, I do not dispute that storytelling is a valid method of educating or of marketing. But it must be made perfectly clear in the telling of the story that is indeed a story. This was not done in the example I referenced.

A slight change in execution resolves the ethics issue, in my opinion. It may be a slight change, but it is indeed important.

Attorneys are held to a very high standard, both by their own ethics committees, by their colleagues, and by their clients. Storytelling is fine, as long as we are all clear that we are, indeed, telling a story.

And, of course, there are some ethics committees in some states who still disagree. Perhaps because of this "gray area." You say the story is true, but you're changing the names and the facts to protect privacy and confidentiality -- which means no one can check to see whether the story actually is true. Some ethics committees say no -- we're not buying it. And if you're going to play fast and loose with the facts, we're going to call FOUL.

So, attorney beware. Storytelling can be a dangerous art. Practice it carefully, or perhaps at your own peril.

Jim Schuster

you raise an important point that lawyers must pay heed to their ethical rules. Compliance awareness cannot be observed often enough in all the nuance and instances.

But. Let me put a different emphasis and that is we lawyers MUST recognize and be true to our tradition. We are storytellers. We represent people in the story of their life. A lawyer who is an ivory towered academic loses in trial to the advocate who knows what the trial is about. It is not about a legal point, it is a story, a drama of real people in the courtroom.

I will observe that most lawyer education/marketing material is as dry as a day old mud pack. And then many lawyers pack on the weasel words of disclaimer. Stories, based in fact, bring the law alive. Don't practice storytelling at peril. Learn how to tell stories that comply with the ethical rules of your jurisdiction.

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