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Bieber's New Pitch: He's Blogging for You

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Hit by a truck? Hurt by a drug?

Here's a new jingle: "Blog Jo-el Bieber."

Personal-injury attorney Bieber, well-known for his ubiquitous television ads, has become perhaps the first attorney in Richmond to write a legal blog. He's been advertising the fact in his commercials and says it's part of his mission to educate the public.

Writing blog entries, Bieber says, "shows you're an attorney of substance."

"You're not just out there screaming, 'If you're hurt, call,'" he says. Instead, his online journal entries, posted on www.joelbieber.com/blog, discuss pharmaceutical recalls and criticize those who mock frivolous lawsuits. "These are pretty much from my heart," Bieber says.

He tries to write three entries a week, he says, although his output thus far has been closer to three a month. Bieber also posts information about product recalls and, like many other area lawyers, provides an online form for prospective clients to submit their case information.

Dealing with cases online can be tricky legal ground, however. James M. McCauley, ethics counsel for the Virginia State Bar, says he generally advises attorneys not to give any specific legal advice over the Internet because of issues regarding confidentiality and conflict of interest.

Whether on a Web site or blog, in an e-mail or chat room, McCauley says, "lawyers need to be aware that they are dealing with persons who are asking legal questions. And if an attorney answers those questions, they may have formed an attorney-client relationship."

Bieber says he thinks it's fine to give some legal advice on a blog, because an attorney-client relationship "can't just happen," but rather must be consensual.

"In order to be a good lawyer," McCauley says, "the lawyer should post a disclaimer or warning up there that says, 'Do not put anything up there that you do not want others to read.'" Bieber has a general disclaimer on his site that states the information posted is not legal advice, but he does not warn people about their own posts. Thus far, the 7-month-old blog, called "The Law Chat," has sparked hardly any posted responses.

Bieber says he's aware of the dangers of blogging, citing a brouhaha that erupted in April when a California judge read unflattering comments about a public defender and a defendant in a prosecutor's personal blog.

Thus far, Bieber has played it safe. In the blog, he mentions a client of his anonymously and primarily discusses national cases or personal observations, like this one about evangelist Pat Robertson's disputed claim of leg-pressing 2,000 pounds: "It gave me encouragement to hear about his weight lifting. I sure hope it was true." S



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