Quality Legal Writing

Ghost Writing for Legal Blogs and More

Bobby Frederick

qlwriting@gmail.com

828-736-8773

 

 

QLW provides quality content for your law firm’s website or blog at a price that you can afford.  Our services are tailored to your firm’s personality, size, practice areas, and specific needs.  Your content is written by a former attorney who has over a decade of experience in SEO and blogging on legal topics. 

Quality Legal Writing

Ghost Blogging

We write quality original content for blog posts in your practice area that are tailored for SEO and to your firm’s unique personality.

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Website Content

We write creative and keyword rich original content for your firm’s website that is tailored to your firm’s services. 

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Legal Research

We provide legal research and brief writing services in most practice areas and courts on a contractual basis. 

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Websites and Blogs

Don’t have a website or blog or need one that performs better than your old one?  We can help you get set up and provide support as needed. 

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a little about..

Who We Are

All content for your blog or website is written by Bobby Frederick, a former attorney who has over ten years experience in running a law firm with a busy trial practice, marketing, and blogging on legal topics.

I understand the pressures of a busy law practice and the difficulties of bringing in new clients in an era where the market is over-saturated with attorneys of all kinds. I understand the ethics rules that apply to lawyers and how to market not only effectively but also professionally. I also understand that every lawyer and every law firm is different, with a unique personality and approach to the practice of law and how to market their skills.

Feel free to email or call if you have any questions or need any additional information.     

Quality Legal Writing Blog

When Does Federal Law Govern Divorce Proceedings?

As a general rule, domestic issues are exclusively within the province of the states. Although diversity of citizenship may provide federal jurisdiction in civil cases, the courts have long applied a “domestic relations exception” to this rule in deferring to the state courts. Despite this, there are provisions of federal law that affect divorce and custody proceedings, and recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have indicated that domestic cases may be taken up by the federal courts when a “federal question” is involved such as a violation of constitutional rights by the state courts.

Military Divorces

The federal courts do not have jurisdiction over military divorces, but divorces of military personnel are governed by a mixture of state and federal laws. For example:

  • The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) allows an active-duty servicemember to ask for a stay of their case if their military service affects their ability to participate in the proceedings, requires the court to appoint an attorney to represent the servicemember if they do not appear in court, and allows servicemembers to reopen default judgments under certain circumstances.
  • Servicemembers may have expanded choices of venue and may file for divorce in 1) The state where the servicemember resides, 2) The state where the spouse resides, or 3) The state where the servicemember is currently stationed.
  • The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) provides that state courts may treat military retirement benefits as either the property of the servicemember or the joint property of the servicemember and their divorced spouse. It does not dictate how the benefits should be divided, but it gives the state courts discretion to divide the assets as they see fit.
  • The military also has rules that govern alimony and child support obligations on the part of servicemembers. The military does not dictate to the states how alimony or child support should be awarded, but they make it easier for former spouses to collect alimony and child support.

The Domestic Relations Exception to Diversity Jurisdiction

Federal courts have jurisdiction to hear cases where the amount in controversy is greater than $75,000 and where the parties to the lawsuit include citizens of different states or subjects of a foreign government. Despite this, the federal courts have long abstained from deciding domestic issues including divorce, alimony, or child support citing a domestic relations exception to diversity jurisdiction in federal courts. The Supreme Court’s decisions that helped to shape the domestic relations exception include:

  • Barber v. Barber (1858) held that the federal courts do not have jurisdiction to grant or modify a divorce or alimony order, but they do have jurisdiction to enforce an alimony order that has been previously awarded.
  • In Re Burrus (1890) extended the domestic relations exception to matters involving child custody.
  • Popovici v. Agler (1930) reaffirmed the domestic relations exception in diversity cases and held that the federal courts have no jurisdiction to hear a case involving divorce and alimony between an American citizen and a foreign ambassador.
  • Ankenbrandt v. Richards (1992) held that the domestic relations exception does not cover a tort action between family members and that the federal courts have jurisdiction to hear a diversity case filed by a mother on behalf of her daughters that seeks monetary damages for torts committed against the daughters by their father and their father’s girlfriend.

Is There a Domestic Relations Exception to Federal Question Jurisdiction?

It appears that there is not although the law is not yet clear on this issue. In U.S. v. Windsor (2013), the United States Supreme Court confused the issue in its analysis while striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional. The Court’s reasoning was ultimately based on two conflicting views of the domestic relations question: 1) The authority to regulate domestic issues, including the definition of who is permitted to marry, is reserved for the states and the federal government should not have interfered by enacting DOMA; and 2) DOMA violates the Fifth Amendment rights of the citizens of New York where New York recognized a resident’s out-of-state same-sex marriage and the federal government refused to permit the same-sex surviving spouse to claim federal benefits upon their spouse’s death.

In Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), the Supreme Court again accepted jurisdiction in a domestic relations case based on a federal question. The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to 1) Issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples when requested, and 2) Recognize out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples. Although the subject matter of Windsor and Obergefell were squarely within the province of domestic relations, jurisdiction was based on the federal question of whether a constitutional right had been violated, and it was not based on diversity jurisdiction.

It appears that the Supreme Court will permit federal courts to hear matters regarding domestic relations when the federal courts’ jurisdiction is based on a federal question. The filing, granting, and modification of divorces, alimony, or child support are still prohibited under the domestic relations exception when jurisdiction is based solely on diversity.

 

What Should I Blog About?

Once you have decided to start a law blog, the obvious next question is what do I blog about? If your purpose is to create a platform to express your ideas to the world, the answer is simple: blog about whatever is on your mind. On the other hand, if you are trying to build your online presence for your firm or solo practice, there are some basic formats that you can follow while you find your voice and gain your sea legs.

Blog About Recent Caselaw

Whether you are writing your own content or using a ghost writer, regularly blogging about new caselaw relevant to your practice areas should be one of the staples of your blogging material. The benefits include:

  • Staying abreast of recent developments and learning new law as it appears in appellate opinions.
  • Demonstrating your knowledge of new developments and nuances in the law related to your firm’s practice areas.
  • Keyword rich blog posts that flow naturally without sounding forced. If one of your goals is to rise in the search engines, blogging about caselaw can get you there with scholarly articles that do not turn off potential readers with blatant marketing.

On my own criminal defense blogs, at first I regularly blogged about caselaw because I did not want to miss anything. In trial, I would often refer to my own blog and pull cases on the fly as issues arose. Years later, I realized that some of the biggest cases we were retained on came from blog posts about caselaw whether directly or indirectly. It is not enough to simply brief a case in the blog post – talk about your opinion, how the ruling affects your practice, and what implications an appellate opinion may have for future cases.

Blog About the Daily Challenges in Your Law Practice

There are issues that arise on a regular basis in your law practice, and you have your own methods of navigating them. You can blog about those issues and your best practices in general terms while being careful to safeguard individual clients’ confidentiality. If you are a criminal defense lawyer, how do you approach the issue of handling preliminary hearings when police, prosecutors, and judges all insist that you waive the hearing? Are there systemic issues with Brady violations in your area and how does your office handle them? As a plaintiff’s attorney, what is your experience with defense counsel and how does your office handle common issues that arise?

The issues that arise most often and that you feel the most strongly about make some of the best topics, and you may be surprised to find that other attorneys and potential clients may be searching for keywords that appear naturally in these blog posts. Only you can say what these topics are based on your own experiences over time. Because the topic is based on your own experience and practices, you are the expert and this type of blog post should easily flow for you.

Other suggestions for topics:

  • Current events that are relevant to your practice area. News about local events, high-profile trials, or pending legislation can all spark ideas and provide blogging material relevant to your practice areas.
  • Topics chosen by other bloggers. You can be inspired by the commentary of other writers, respond to their opinions, and provide a link to their posts to start or join a conversation about important issues.
  • Question and answers. Write about the most common questions that current or prospective clients ask you and your staff, or answer the questions that brought people to your website. Either way, you have a topic that you know prospective clients are interested in and want to learn more about.
  • How-to guides. A short how-to guide about an area of law that you regularly handle can show your knowledge and expertise, provide a source for natural keyword placement in your article, and could become a resource that other legal professionals return to for guidance.
  • Blog about controversial issues. If you only blog about boring, vanilla topics, your blog may help potential clients find you through keyword searches, but you will probably not build a base of regular readers. If you want people to actually read your blog, write about something interesting that people care about and do not shy away from controversy.

Why Should I Have a Blog?

If you are just starting out with a new blog or considering it, there are a few questions you should be asking yourself before you begin. Why am I blogging? What should I blog about? Who is my audience? If you have the answers to these questions, you are ready to begin…

There are two main reasons that people start blogs: 1) I want a platform to share my opinions and commentary; and 2) I want to market and bring in more business. When blogs first appeared online, they were primarily a way for people to share their thoughts and even daily activities online (web-log). The format later developed into a marketing tool much to the dismay of the “real” bloggers. They are not mutually exclusive. If you think of it as a continuum, most attorney blogs fall somewhere inbetween the two extremes.

Blog for Yourself

If you love writing and want to create a platform for yourself to express your opinions to the world, a blog is the perfect medium. I recommend giving it a try on your own if you are motivated and have the time. If you have the time to invest, you can research online and learn how to set up and host a wordpress blog. You don’t have to hire a company to do it for you and you don’t have to hire a ghost-writer to write the content. You can do this without spending a dime apart from your time investment. There are many different ways to go about doing this, but I recommend starting with wordpress.com where you can set up a free hosting account. If it goes well, you find you that you love blogging, and you are able to stick with it consistently, you can move your domain from wordpress to a private server.

I understand that not everyone has the time or motivation to learn about blogging and to write regular updates themselves. Obviously, if you choose to hire someone to ghostwrite your blog and maintain it for your firm, I approve and that is what I do. Nevertheless, if you are someone who loves to write and can spare the time, I recommend that you do it on your own and ignore the blather of the multitude of “marketing experts” who only want to sell you a product.

Blogging as a Marketing Tool

Most law firms use blogs as a marketing tool. The topics on these blogs tend to be more focused on specific practice areas to maximize the relevant keywords and search engine results. The goal shifts from 1) expressing my personal views to 2) driving traffic to the firm’s website. A well-written “real” blog can also drive traffic to your website through links from other blogs and social media; on the other hand, a well-written but purely marketing-oriented blog directly sends traffic to your site through regularly updated, relevant content that will appear in online searches. It is a fact that regularly updated, relevant content will increase your website’s exposure in online searches and the sites with the most well-written content are at the top of the search engines. More is better provided it is well written and professional.

The “call to action” is a sure sign of a marketing-oriented blog and is recommended by most marketing experts. It’s a trade-off between credibility as a blogger and effectiveness as a marketing tool. It may be effective when your target audience is solely prospective clients who find your website through online searches, but it is also a turn-off for other attorneys or anyone who is looking for interesting legitimate content to read.

If you have a lawblog or are considering starting one, contact Quality Legal Writing now to find out how we can help you increase your firm’s online exposure with quality, regularly updated original content.  (See… you didn’t really want to read that, did you?)

Website Professionals and Lawyer Ethics

Many attorneys use non-lawyer “website professionals” to host their websites, blogs, and to draft their content. I’m not here to detract from anyone’s expertise or to tear down any particular company, and it’s not my place to say whether someone is a “website professional.” If you are an attorney and you are marketing legal services, however, you need to consider that you will be judged by the content that your ghostwriter places on your websites. When you outsource your marketing, you outsource your ethics, and non-lawyers often do not understand or care about the ethics rules that govern lawyers.

A South Carolina ethics opinion from April of this year illustrates the most common ways you can go wrong by using a non-lawyer website professional to create the content for your website and social media.

Website Ethics Violations

The attorney in question received a public reprimand that will forever appear next to their name on the bar’s website and appear in online searches. Their non-lawyer website professional copied and pasted content from other attorney’s websites. Besides the obvious problem of owning a website that contains plagiarized content, the website included misleading information such as:

  • The website implied there were multiple lawyers in the law practice when there was only one.
  • The website claimed that the attorneys had “over 12 years of experience,” and “fifteen years of combined experience” when there was only one attorney who had only practiced law for eight years.
  • The website referred to the attorney as an expert when the attorney was not certified in any specialization.
  • The website advertised an area of practice in which the attorney had no experience and did not accept cases.

Social Media Ethics Violations

The attorney also hired a non-lawyer to make posts on Facebook related to the attorney’s practice but did not monitor the content of the posts which included:

  • Facebook posts that revealed client’s names and details of their cases without the clients’ permission.
  • Descriptions of the attorney’s legal services as the “best” which made unsubstantiated comparisons to other attorneys’ services.
  • Advertisements for special discounted rates for legal fees that did not disclose anticipated costs.

How do you avoid marketing-related ethical violations that could result in a public reprimand or worse? Hire a company that employs writers with law degrees and that focuses solely on attorney websites. They might cost more than your local Acme Website Company, but it is a fact that the structure and content of lawyer websites require a level of expertise that many website professionals do not have.

Regardless of who designs or hosts your website or blog, take control of the content. Ideally, you should draft the content yourself. If you do not have the time or motivation to draft the content yourself, ensure that the person drafting your content understands and cares about the ethics rules. Always review and revise your content before allowing it to go live keeping in mind the ethics rules and the quality of the content that your prospective clients will be reading on your websites.

Free Online Plagiarism Checkers

A few days ago, I discovered that at least four webpages that I drafted content for over 10 years ago had been lifted verbatim and copied to another attorney’s website. On the one hand, I feel flattered that the unethical writer chose my content to copy. Clearly, they liked it better than the hundreds of other law sites that they could have copied from. On the other hand, duplicative content negatively affects a website’s search engine placement. The plagiarizer is not only hurting their own client, but they are affecting my client as well.

This set me on a quest to find an online plagiarism checker that actually works. I’ve spent most of today testing every free plagiarism checker that I could find and most paid plagiarism checkers that would allow a free trial. I tested 18 services and found only two that worked.

How do You Avoid Duplicative Content on Your Site?

As far as I can tell, the website that lifted my content was not written by the attorney. The website’s owner was extremely apologetic and promised to take the pages down and redraft them immediately. The attorney hired “a guy” who drafted the content for them and did not expect that “the guy” would simply copy and paste content from someone else’s website.

This was not a case of similar content that discussed the same practice areas on each website. It was copied and pasted directly from the original site. No one expects this to happen when you hire someone to write content on your site. But how can you avoid it? First of all, hire a professional to write your content. A professional writer whose reputation depends on their work product will not lift material from other websites, and they will use a plagiarism checker to ensure they are not inadvertently reproducing the content.

The second method is to check the content on your website yourself. But how?

Online Plagiarism Checkers

Based on my pseudo-scientific tests, most of them do not work. I took four original webpages that I knew had been copied and pasted to another site. I checked each website and confirmed that the content was duplicated verbatim and that the plagiarized webpages were still online. I then copied a paragraph from each of the four plagiarized webpages into each of the following online services. The results:

  1. Regular old Google search: Does not work. It finds the original website but for some reason did not turn up the duplicative content.
  2. Plagium.com: Does not work. Did not even find the original site’s content. No plagiarism found.
  3. Copyscape.com: Although praised in several places as a tried and true plagiarism checker, it does not work. It searches using the original sites URL instead of text and found no plagiarism.
  4. Dustball.com: Does not work. No plagiarism found. Then it suggests that, if I pay a subscription, the results will be 3X more accurate. I’m not buying it.
  5. Plagiarisma.net: Does not work. Plagiarisma did find the original website but did not find the plagiarized webpages.
  6. Quetext.com: Does not work. Quetext did find the original website.
  7. Plagiarismcheck.org: Does not work. It did find the original website.
  8. Plagiarismchecker.com: Does not work. It limits your search to 32 words, and it did find the original website.
  9. Searchenginereports.net: Does not work. Did not even find the original website.
  10. Duplichecker.com: Does not work. It did not find the plagiarism and would not run additional tests unless I create an account. Their website has constant pop-ups advertising for Grammarly.
  11. Smallseotools.com: Does not work. Did not even find the original website. And… pop-ups advertising for Grammarly.
  12. Plagscan.com: Does not work. It says approximately 10% of the content is plagiarized, but it lists two sites that did not copy the material while missing both the original and plagiarized site.
  13. DMCA.com: I ran one search with the webpage’s URL, and wasn’t sure what the result was. So I tried it again, and it gave me a message that said my two free searches had been used and I needed to sign up with them. Inconclusive, but I’m not going to go through a registration process when the results are already suspect.
  14. Whitesmoke.com: Claims to allow a free search to test their product, but I could not find it. Everywhere I looked and clicked on their website I was redirected to a sign-up page with subscription pricing.
  15. Prepostseo.com: Does not work. It did not even find the original website.
  16. Grammarly.com: Everywhere that I looked, people recommended grammarly.com. I have been using their free grammar checker for some time and I can recommend it. Although they are running a Google Adwords campaign with ads titled “free plagiarism checker,” there is no free plagiarism checker. I even emailed their customer support to confirm there is no way to test the service before paying. I was immediately concerned about the dishonest advertising. Because so many people are recommending the service, I went ahead and signed up for one month to test it. Grammarly consistently found the original website but did not turn up the offending plagiarized site in any of my searches. I have already canceled and requested a refund, and I do not recommend them for plagiarism searches.
  17. Paperrater.com: Finally! This is a free service that found not only the original website, but the confirmed plagiarized site as well. It located the plagiarism in all four webpages that I searched.
  18. Unplag.com: Yes! Unplag.com is also a free service. It found the original website, the plagiarized website, and several more. It turns out there are several forums or message boards that also copied and pasted content from the same webpages, and this is the only service that found them.

My conclusion: Even the paid services did not find plagiarism that I confirmed is online and has been online for some time. The only services that worked were the free services paperrater.com and unplag.com. The paid service that everyone seems to be recommending, Grammarly.com, lies in their advertising and did not find the confirmed plagiarism that I was searching for. I recommend using either paperrater.com or unplag.com to check the existing content on your websites and to run a search before publishing new material.

I would love to hear if there are any services that I missed or if anyone has had different experiences with these services.

Back the Blue? Congress is Trying to Make it Impossible to Sue Police

The Washington Post reported yesterday on a bill that has been introduced by the GOP in both the House and Senate, the “Back the Blue Act of 2017.” If passed, the bill would create new federal crimes that include mandatory minimums and the federal death penalty for degrees of assault on a federal official, and it would allow the feds to take over cases from local prosecutors that involve an assault on a federal official. More importantly, it would impose preconditions for any lawsuit against a police officer that would effectively make it impossible to bring suit even in the worst cases.

The King Can Do No Wrong

The default state of U.S. federal and state government liability was dictated by rex non potest peccare, or the king can do no wrong. It’s an ancient principle adopted from the law of kingdoms where the king creates the courts and therefore cannot be sued through those courts. Today, it is possible to bring suit against government entities and government employees (police) in the United States only where the government has given citizens permission to do so under the federal or state tort claims acts or under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, also known as a “1983 action.” The tort claims acts severely limit potential damages that may be recovered, the statute of limitations in which an action must be filed, and limits named defendants to government entities only.

1983 actions have a broader scope, allowing a plaintiff to name individual defendants and to recover a broader range of damages for violation of a person’s civil rights, including First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, and Eight Amendment violations. Both tort claims act and 1983 actions are also limited by the courts which have made it extremely difficult to successfully bring suit under either type of lawsuit. Police officers are protected by qualified immunity, a doctrine that requires the plaintiff to prove not only that their rights were violated by a police officer but also that a reasonable officer would have been aware that they were committing a violation.

Most lawsuits fail on the strict qualified immunity requirements. If this was not enough, there has always been a clear bias in the courtroom in favor of the police officer. In my own cases, I experienced judges who would bend over backward to ensure that a case is dismissed or to influence jurors’ decisions. I have also experienced jurors who ignored otherwise unquestioned videotaped evidence in favor of an officer’s perjured testimony.

Who Does Back the Blue Protect?

Not law-abiding police officers. The current system effectively weeds out all potential frivolous lawsuits as well as many that have merit. There is no crisis of non-meritorious lawsuits against good police officers. This proposed law will protect police officers who abuse their power. It will protect officers who commit unnecessary violence and murder. It will protect the worst of the worst and leave American citizens with no recourse when they are victimized by law enforcement officers.

The bill would add language to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 that provides further immunity for police officers where the plaintiffs are themselves accused of committing a felony offense or crime of violence:

(2) in any action seeking redress for any deprivation that was incurred in the course of, or as a result of, or is related to, conduct by the injured party that, more likely than not, constituted a felony or a crime of violence (as that term is defined in section 16 of title 18, United States Code) (including any deprivation in the course of arrest or apprehension for, or the investigation, prosecution, or adjudication of, such an offense), a court may not award damages other than for necessary out-of-pocket expenditures and other monetary loss.

If you think this through to its logical conclusion, it gives the police permission to abuse, beat, and even murder citizens so long as the citizen was committing a crime at the time. Or as long as the police say they were committing a crime. There is no requirement of a conviction for a crime and the defense in a 1983 action need only prove the crime by a preponderance of the evidence which means more likely than not.

Police already charge suspects with resisting arrest or assaulting an officer in any case where they are afraid of civil liability. They are backed up by prosecutors who will insist on conviction of the victim in any case where the officer used excessive force or overstepped their bounds.

Consider the following scenarios where police will no longer be held accountable:

  • Police raid a house where they suspect drugs are being used or sold. As long as there are drugs in the house, police under the “back the blue” bill can beat, shoot, or kill the occupants without any possibility of civil liability.
  • Any time a police officer wrongfully arrests or assaults a person, that person will be charged with resisting arrest or assaulting the officer which can be charged as a felony in most jurisdictions. In most cases, the officer’s word that the wrongfully arrested person committed a felony assault will provide immunity from lawsuit.
  • As long as a person is charged with a felony offense, police will now be immune from civil suit for any action they take during the arrest, investigation, or prosecution. They are free to violate any constitutional right of the suspect without accountability.

The bill also ensures that no attorney will take these cases by adding a provision that will take away a plaintiff’s ability to recover their attorney fees in a 1983 action where the person is also accused of a felony. The attorney fees provision that currently applies to 1983 actions has operated to create a type of “private attorney general” which allows private attorneys to be compensated for bringing these cases even when the resulting monetary judgments are low. In many cases, it is the only mechanism left to hold the police accountable and enforce constitutional rights. As a general rule, police do not police the police. They protect their own. And prosecutors only prosecute the police when public opinion demands it which is not very often.

If you believe that there is a crisis of greedy plaintiffs suing law enforcement officials, that police or prosecutors do not lie, that police do not abuse their authority, or that there is some need to further limit police liability, you have been duped.

This “back the blue” amendment will back only the worst of the offenders wearing blue. It will provide immunity to the worst of the worst, those officers who are beating, jailing, and even murdering citizens. It will back those officers who intentionally ignore constitutional protections during their investigations or arrests. It will back the police officers who cheat and lie to insulate themselves from accountability. If what you want is a police state where our citizens have no recourse against abuses of power and violence by our government’s agents, rejoice because this will bring us one great leap closer to your goal.

 

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