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Law Firm Brings RICO Lawsuit against the Rainmaker Institute
A law firm, Seikaly & Stewart, recently sued The Rainmaker Institute (which touts itself as "the nation's largest law-firm marketing provider") for charging it thousands of dollars to increase the law firm's visibility, when Rainmaker Institute was well aware that it was not following Google's guidelines, and the resulting work would, in fact, bring down the visibility of the law firm.
Surprisingly enough, the law firm did not bring a suit of breach of contract or of false advertising, but a lawsuit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which has a high probability of failing under the circumstances.
What did the SEO services provider, "The Rainmaker Institute" do that offended the law firm? Seikaly & Stewart, P.C., claim that The Rainmaker Institute hid their schemes to use spam-like methods to promote the firm under the guise of "trade secrets" while using methods to violate Google's "well-established and published" guidelines, as their suit words it.
This in effect gives Google's guidelines significant legal weight, if Seikaly wins the suit. Their complaint reads that:
"The Victim Firms were duped into believing that the services to be provided by THE RAINMAKER INSTITUTE...would be effective in making the web sites and related web pages of the Victim Firms appear high in the results of the most important internet search engines--most significantly Google--when key terms chosen by the Victim Firms to describe their practices and the services offered were entered in a search by potential clients. Plaintiff and others paid many thousands of dollars, individually and collectively, to the RAINMAKER INSTITUTE to obtain these services, only to find that they were, in most instances, completely unsuccessful."
They took this lack of success as evidence of fraud on the part of Rainmaker Institute, and further accused them in "promoting this marketing scheme to the Victim Firms," that "they knew that the techniques were proposed to use were in violation of the guidelines already well-established by Google; knew that Google was moving rapidly to crack down on violators; knew that use of these techniques would not only fail to enhance the likelihood that the Victim Firms would rise in Google's Rankings but would actually be downgraded."
So the fraudulent element is to be seen in light of Google's policies, and the "conspiracy" element in that they supposedly knew this would happen, but "intended to cloak their schemes in allegations of 'trade secrets' to avoid the balance of the schemes from coming to light."
It will take some work to make the charges of civil conspiracy and fraud stick, but if they do, this could change some precedents for SEOs, especially when working with law firms. How responsible is a firm for checking out the methods a SEO service will use when they offer services? Do SEO firms have to promote services in only the correct, well-defined way, or do they have leeway as to how they will promote the company they are representing?
The law firm claims the lawsuit falls under RICO because "the conduct of the defendants meets the pattern and continuity of requirements of the statute … and constitutes not an isolated or incidental feature of the defendants' business but is at the core thereof."
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