Monthly Archives: May 2012

How the Google algorithm change “Penguin” could affect your law firm

By David Macaulay

It’s affectionately known as “Penguin” but Google’s new algorithm change has left some businesses wondering if they are going to be left in unfamiliar waters.

As a legal writer, blogger and marketer, the recent tweak has led me to ask some fundamental questions about whether the SEO techniques I have picked up over 18 intensive months no longer hold good or at least need to be amended.

There are no easy answers from the outset. Google doesn’t provide a list of do and don’ts but there are some pointers about how we should adapt our writing techniques to ensure we remain ahead of the curve.

Google’s tweak has had a dramatic effect on some businesses in a short period of time. The Wall Street Journal carried a recent article about the San Francisco-based company Oh My Dog Supplies, LLC.

Co-owner Andrew Strauss said more than two thirds of customers found his business on Google searches in the past. No longer.

Google’s algorithm change at the end of April 2012, led his Google traffic to plunge by 96 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal.

That’s a dramatic and atypical kind of change. Strauss said he believed his site’s rankings fell because he paid for hundreds of inbound links in the past in response to a 2011 algorithm change that also affected his business, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“Google declines to divulge specifics of its search-ranking algorithm, but it discourages paid links and low-quality website links,” the Wall Street Journal article states.

The lack of specifics is problematic but Google has revealed guidelines. Penguin is intended to discourage sites that aim to get a higher ranking than they deserve by manipulating search engines.

Google dislikes the idea of “key word stuffing,” in which large numbers of key words are put in articles with an eye to fooling search engines.

Although it will take weeks to work out what works the best in terms of SEO, the latest change may well mean a movement away from blogs and articles that overload a lot of linked terms such as “New York family law attorney.”

Penguin is just the latest of changes that Google has brought in to its algorithm. And with more than 60 percent of searches going through Google they are not tweaks we can afford to ignore.

 In 2011 Google brought in a change that would allow the latest news to float to the top of searches.  This was significant for law firms because it made regular and topical blog postings more important, giving firms with regularly updated sites an edge over those with static websites.

There appears to be little in the new change that will fundamentally change the accepted wisdom of legal marketing. But the tweaks are likely to reward original and interesting writing even more than previously at the expense of unnecessary repetition for the sake of SEO.

The need for law firms to continue to develop multiple websites still holds good. While the main website may rank high on Google for some of the important search phrases, there always are gaps that specialist sites can exploit be they linked to a geographical area or a specific area of practice. 

A multifaceted website strategy that concentrates on keyword-rich domains to fill those gaps is still likely to prove effective.

And businesses should look at wider strategies to stay ranked.


  • Work on local directory listings: Listings with sites such as Google Places, Yelp, Insider Pages, City Search and the Better Business Bureau will show you are a reputable firm as well as allow clients to post reviews.



  • Work on content: Make sure content is interesting, topical and relevant to the wider community. Don’t pack your blog with insider material that will only be of interest to other attorneys.


  • Use Social Media : Links to Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook will build following. And consider other up and coming sites, in particular Google+



  • Consider more press releases. News releases on a topical issue are effective tools in promoting what is new in your business. Sites such as PRWeb can provide rapid distribution.


  • Work on links to credible sites : Aim to work with charitable organizations and get links back to your business. Charitable organizations that use .org domains are good links as are educational sites (with .edu domains).



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Study Questions Claims Texas Malpractice Cap Brought in More Doctors

Caps on what a medical malpractice victim can claim remain controversial because they can mean it’s not worth lawyers taking on som cases in states that have a cap, even when a patient has suffered considerable harm.

Texas imposed one of the most severe caps on what a victim of medical malpractice can claim in the country in 2003, following claims lawsuits were leading doctors to quit the profession in the state.

And while supporters of the reform have pointed to an influx of doctors into the state since, a major new study suggests this may not be the case.

 Before Texas adopted tort reform in 2003, proponents claimed that physicians were deserting Texas in droves,” the April, 2012 paper by academics David A. Hyman from University of Illinois College of Law, Charles Silver of the University of Austin School of Law and Bernard S. Black from Northwestern University’s School of Law, says 

Then after tort reform was enacted, supporters pointed to a massive influx of physicians into Texas due to the improved liability situation.

 “We find no evidence to support either claim,” the study concludes.

Texas has one of the most stringent caps in the nation. Under the Texas reforms a cap on non-economic damages against physicians and other licensed health care providers  is limited to $250,000 and total non-economic damages are capped at $500,000.

The cap can be as high as $750,000 if there is more than one individual held liable for medical malpractice.

 The cap was a clear part of the Republican mantra in the state. Texas Governor Rick Perry justified the reform in a speech when he said.

“The threat of litigation has a domino effect . . . causing malpractice carriers to raise rates, which in turn force many doctors to leave Texas, or in some cases to leave the practice of medicine altogether. And ultimately this hurts patient access the most.”

 The new study questions assertions that themedical malpractice cap led to a major influx of doctors into Texas, citing possible other factors.

“For example, after Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2005, many citizens of Louisiana relocated to Texas,” the study states.

 It also targets the way backers of the cap have seized on the number of  licenses applied for and issued. They did consider physicians leaving Texas or retiring, the study says. Statistics by the Texas Board of Medical Examiners “do not reflect net changes in Texas’ population of physicians,” the report states.

Nor did the authors find any evidence that the lack of a cap before 2003 was a disincentive to doctors moving to Texas.

“Physician supply was not stunted prior to reform, and did not measurably improve after reform,” the study sai 

“Limiting med mal lawsuits might be a good idea, or a bad one. But the core message from this study, and our related study of the impact of tort reform on health care spending – both consistent with other research – is that tort reform is a small idea, when it comes to the larger and linked questions of health care access and affordability,” the  study concludes.

 The report appears to undermine the arguments of those who have argued providing immunities to doctors would bring more of them to Texas.

 This argument, in itself, raise the question why Texas would want doctors who are anxious to have lesser liability from medical malpractice.

 A number of organizations including the Committee for Justice for All, argue the caps are depriving patients of the standard of healthcare that they need.

More than 20 states have placed a cap on non-economic damages, which limits how much money a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case can get for non-economic compensation, such as pain and suffering.

Lawyers say the main driver behind caps on damages are the lobbyists working for the medical malpractice insurance companies. It is clerly in their best interest to have legislation past that limits the amount of money they will have to pay out to injured patients


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Could ‘Fracking’ for Natural Gas be Causing Breast Cancer?

David Macaulay

Veritas Legal

Hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking” is a controversial process in which natural gas is mined from the earth by pressurized fluids being blasted into rock. The practice is widespread in Texas.
Although the process has been around since the 1940s there has been an upsurge in fracking over the last few years as the demand for natural gas has risen.

The downside of fracking is that the chemicals inserted into the ground appear to be contaminating groundwater and drinking water.
There are new studies that even provide a possible link between fracking and breast cancer in women living in areas where the practice takes place.
A recent report showed a rise in breast cancer rates in six counties in the Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas where natural gas is extracted from the Barnett Shale.

“The six counties with the most production equipment are Denton, Hood, Johnson, Parker, Tarrant and Wise counties – the same six counties with high breast cancer rates,” reported the Denton Record-Chronicle.

Other reports have suggested chemical compounds including toluene, that have also been found in ground water contaminated by fracking, could harm pregnant women.

Further research is clearly needed in this important area. It wouldn’t be the first time the oil and gas industry in Texas has fallen foul of lawsuits. In fact the oil and natural gas industry has been guilty of numerous environmental and safety lapses in the past.

For instance a group of oil workers who were lost at sea in the Gulf of Mexico for three days on a raft 2011 and their families have recently filed a lawsuit. Only six of the 10 workers survived.
The lawsuits filed in Galveston name the Houston-based company Geokinetics, Inc., Trinity Liftboat Services, the company that operated the liftboat vessel the men were working on and Mermaid Marine Australia Ltd.

The Texas Gulf Coast has one of the highest concentrations of oil refineries and chemical plants in the United States.

The industry has a record of explosions including the Amoco plant in Texas City, 1976, the Arco plant in Channelview, 1990 and the BP Amoco plant, also in Texas City, in 2005.

 Many of the oil plants on the Gulf Coast are getting older and the possibility of further explosions cannot be discounted. Workers in the oil and gas industry face some of the most hazardous conditions of any industry in the USA, with Texas seeing the highest numbers of occupational fatalities.

 But the growing weight of evidence about fracking suggests workers in this industry may not be the only victims.

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