Is Your Firm on Wikipedia?

Rupert White of the U.K. Law Society’s Gazette has a couple of articles on law firms’ use of Wikipedia: “Top 50 firms that get Wikipedia – and those that don’t” and “Why the world’s favourite encyclopedia matters.” His basic position is that a law firm should have a page on Wikipedia and should groom it regularly to make certain it’s accurate, full (definitely not “fulsome,” as he has it!) and up-to-date.

I’m less convinced that a Wikipedia page is a necessity. After all, if your firm comes up top in a Google search for key components of the firm name, the curious will go to your firm’s website (which is another story altogether) for information. There is, however, the possibility that it won’t come up first and that a Wikipedia page about the firm will be near the top. As well, some people go to Wikipedia first or right after Google to flesh out their understanding.

Even more important, though, is that if there is to be a page about your firm it be edited by your firm. Although a moment’s thought will make it clear that because anyone can create and edit a page on Wikipedia (more or less) there’s no necessity that any page about your firm will be written by people with the firm’s interests at heart or with the requisite knowledge, it’s still likely to surprise some lawyers that there could be information out there about their firm that is wrong if only because it is outdated or insufficient.

In a completely unscientific way, I checked a few of the bigger Canadian firms just to see how they fared. I chose at random and in no particular order Stikeman, McCarthy, Heenan, Aird, Blakes, and Osler. Here’s a chart that shows briefly what I found.

Firm &
Google
search term
Home
page
position
Wikipedia
page
position
My comments on the Wikipedia site
Stikeman 1 6 ok / brief / edited reg.
[link]
McCarthy Tetrault 1 4 poor / very brief / edited 3 times a year?
[link]
Heenan 1 not in first window ok / brief / Heenan Toronto edited it in 2008
[link]
Aird 1 4 (disabiguation page) very good / lots of material / photo of location / links to refs. on members / edited regularly
[link]
Blakes 1 not in first window “Blakes” redirects on Wikipedia to “Blake Cassels & Graydon” / very poor / brief / recent editing by unknown persons
[link]
Osler 1 not in first window poor / brief / oddly, has compensation scale for associates added in March of 2009
[link]

The “good news” is that these firms all have something on Wikipedia. The “bad news” is that in most cases it’s very weak. Only Aird’s page would convey anything truly positive to a viewer. As well, it’s not clear that all of the pages are curried by people from the firm. It would seem that a bunch of pages were established by people not involved in the firms, because some are identified as members of the named “seven sisters law firms of Toronto”: “Blake, Cassels & Graydon · Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg · Goodmans · McCarthy Tétrault · Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt · Stikeman Elliott · Torys” all of which names (except Osler) are linked to the appropriate firms’ Wikipedia pages.

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Comments

  1. Wikipedia has strongly expressed policies against self-promotion (NPOV – neutral point of view). Articles are supposed to be verifiable from third-party authorities, and what passes for an authority is fairly strict, too (a casual newspaper article might not make the graade.)

    However, what one tends to find is an editorial note or two at the top of the page, rather than that the whole page has been taken down (in which case of course one does not find it!)

    So one is arguably violating Wikipedia’s policies by putting up pages about one’s own firm, even if it’s pretty neutral in tone.

  2. ‘Grooming’ a firm page in WP is asking for trouble. If you write the article yourself (as a firm member), you will be accused of self-promotion.

    I would also warn those who think WP is a great link target for search marketing. It isn’t. WP was one of the first websites to put the ‘no-follow’ attribute on every outbound link on the site.

  3. Wikipedia may have policies against self-promotion but that doesn’t mean that everyone abides by them. If you peruse the wiki article of any major political figure you will see very little negative content. They will have a LITTLE of such content to maintain credibility, but usually it will be highly white-washed and many major scandals do not appear at all.

    I would much rather have someone using google land on my firm’s site than on a wikipedia article about my firm. If there is such an article, whether started by someone promoting the firm or not, the firm has to take ownership of it and make it as positive as possible.

    We should not forget that Wikipedia has nothing to do with “truth”. Wikipedia reflects what the people who care the most about a given subject want others to think about that subject. It just so happens that the people who care the most tend to have either a very positive or a very negative opinion and that’s what the Wikipedia article will reflect, rules be damned.