Problems of running a law blog in Germany

Decisions of the Nuremberg-Fürth Oberlandesgericht (higher regional court of appeal) in March 1999 and the Nuremberg-Fürth Landgericht (regional court of first instance) in May 2000 held that it was against the ethics of advertising for German lawyers to have guestbooks on their websites. The reason was because the majority of entries tended to be positive and therefore this was unfair to other lawyers.

It now seems that Udo Vetter, of the weblog law blog, may be sued by a colleague because he runs a weblog with a comments function and the weblog is linked to his firm’s website. He has published some correspondence on his blog.

Another Düsseldorf lawyer, Ute Rossenhövel, has now faxed Udo twice and mailed him once on this topic.

Here’s the law blog entry (German), and here is my translation of some extracts from the correspondence to date:

bq. 1. UR fax, October 31st
Dear colleague,
… On a first assessment, we have some misgivings as to whether your web-blog [sic] is compatible with lawyers’ advertising law. …
Of course we are aware that the law relating to lawyers’ advertising has been very much relaxed. We ourselves are always interested in finding and trying out new possibilities. What is more, the undersigned herself has recently begun to use Blogger on her site to publish occasional information.
We should therefore be extremely grateful if you could remove our doubts as to the permissibility of your web-blog …

bq. 2. UR fax, November 25th
… Regrettably, we have not yet received a reply to our letter of 31 October …
We have put the matter in our tickler file to be considered again on 1 December 2003 …

bq. 3. UV email, November 26th
…You ask for an opinion …
At present I am not in a position to do this, because a) I am working to over 100% capacity at the present and 2) online law is not my speciality. But if you wish, I can instruct a colleague in my firm … to prepare a report. …
However, we should clarify the scope of the opinion and the fee in advance.

bq. 4. UR email, November 26th
… What an unfortunate misunderstanding!
We are not referring to instructions on a question in the field of online law, in which my colleagues and I have been working for many years.
On the contrary, we request you to give us … your opinion to remove our misgivings on questions of professional ethics and advertising; we could, albeit extremely reluctantly, certainly have these clarified by the bar association or a court of law …But in the first instance we prefer open dialogue between colleagues.
We continue to look forward to your opinion by 1 December 2003.

bq. 5. UV email, November 26th
… What an unfortunate misunderstanding!
You may speak plainly if you want to send me a letter before action.
I look forward with confidence to any legal proceedings and will win them. But even a judgment against me would be worth the cost of your fees, because then we would have another good example of how the legal profession stands in its own way when dealing with new and useful media.
I am sure that our dispute and in particular your progressive (?) view, which does not really seem appropriate for a self-appointed online lawyer, will provide plenty of material for discussions in the blogger community and beyond. …

3 thoughts on “Problems of running a law blog in Germany

  1. I’m impressed by the way UV keeps punching back. I suspect his costs point may have to be picked up on again at any court award of costs stage.

    Paradoxically, I think the unfair competition argument works equally against the critic trying to ‘gag’ him.

    In England, attempts at restraint of trade (clauses) have traditionally been repugnant. However, I’m unsure which way an Eng. – let alone German – court would weigh the balancing act with lawyers’ ‘(Lawblog?) advertising’ rules that have also been relaxed for GB lawyers, Solicitors and now Barristers.

  2. If it goes to court. There have been quite a few cases of German lawyers threatening to sue people, e.g. for not having an ‘Impressum’ on their website. I would have thought it reflects very badly on the attacker. – The Nuremberg court certainly seems to have been against the guestbook feature.

  3. I am new to the internet. I did a search in the search engines on “professional lawyer blog” and I found your web blog.
    I am a Lawyer in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and thus my interest in searching for a company blog on the WWW looking to see how the rest of the world thinks about lawyers and see what trends and technology are happening in the world. I also was interested in a blog for myself which might possibly lead to a blob for my law firm, you never know, that is if I can understand the technology of operating a blog and from what I see I am somewhat hesitant at the present time.
    It has been interesting reading.

    Respectfully yours
    B. J. Stephens, LL.B.
    A Halifax Lawyer

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