An old one of mine from that details tactics still used in the world of mass-tort advertising, as more recently described by veteran Kevin Pflug at

Like millions of other people, Rachel Wright jumped on the Facebook wave in September, 2010.  The Columbus, Ohio resident quickly accumulated more than 170 friends, including 15 from far-off Australia as well as Americans with names like Jane Toby, Tamara Reyes, Nicole Harris and Pete Harvey. She also displayed a strong interest in human tragedies, posting links to articles about dangerous pharmaceuticals, unsafe toys, birth defects and industrial accidents on a website called Sometimes she and her friends used other social media, like Twitter and

Wright and her friends shared other attributes. They had a lot of the same friends from Australia and didn’t like posting pictures of their own faces.  The picture on Wright’s Facebook page, for example, also illustrates “Janice Sporzak, Happy Customer,”  a victim of childhood trauma and the “secretary” at Tampa resident Pete Harvey used a picture showing the back of a fisherman’s head from this site, and another friend with a strong interest in toxic torts wore ski goggles in her Facebook image (friends, apparently not aware of her virtual status, are still posting birthday congratulations on her dormant page.). Regardless of where they lived, many in Wright’s network also were friends with a New Yorker named Alex Romanovich, who runs a social-media marketing firm called Social2B.

There are more threads connecting these camera-shy Facebook friends. They all appear to be fake, and they’re all linked to Parker Waichman, a law firm that specializes in pharmaceutical litigation and once paid Social2B to help run its social-media marketing campaign. That social media campaign was overseen by name partner Jerrold Parker, according to former employees, and included Internet “properties” like Wright, Toby and Harvey, who appear designed to direct potential clients to Newsinferno, one of more than one hundred websites Parker Waichman maintains with information about litigation it is involved with.

There’s nothing illegal about creating fake online personas, although Facebook prohibits them and the Federal Trade Commission and New York  Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have cracked down on similar marketing practices, such as posting fake “reviews” on Yelp.

New York’s ethics rules covering lawyers and their employees prohibit any statements that are “false or misleading,” however, said Mark Bower, a medical-malpractice attorney who is a voting member of the ethics committee of the New York County Lawyers Association.

“Obviously creating a false persona” might be considered false and misleading, he said.

Parker Waichman declined to comment on who made the Facebook personas with links back to their website. They seem to have stopped posting around two years ago.

“Both Jerry Parker, and the law firm of Parker Waichman, are committed to upholding the highest standards of ethical conduct,” said Clifford Robert, an outside attorney for the firm. “Neither the firm, nor Jerry Parker, has ever tolerated any breach of these standards, nor will they.“

Newsinferno is a Parker Waichman production, although the firm’s name appears only in small print on the bottom of the homepage. It’s not prominently displayed on the “about us” page, which describes Newsinferno as “a specialized daily news service which delivers the kind of breaking stories and developing news that will have an immediate or long-term effect on our readers lives.” A banner ad on the right asks “Do You Have A Case?” in bold letters, without identifying the law firm asking the question. Only after clicking on unlabeled chat button do potential clients see they are contacting Parker Waichman.

Parker Waichman isn’t the only plaintiff firm using social media to try and find clients. Unlike corporate defense lawyers, who can count on a steady flow of fees from a few well-heeled clients, plaintiff firms must constantly find new clients to stay in business. Many jumped into the new field of social media in the 1990s and 2000s, hoping to use a rifle-shot marketing approach to find people who have side effects from dangerous drugs or who were exposed to toxic substances. That’s why “mesothelioma” is frequently cited as the most expensive search term on the Internet. Click on and you will see a lot of helpful medical information about diagnosing and treating the disease – and a tiny acknowledgement at the bottom that the site is sponsored by The Peterson Firm, a Washington law firm that focuses on asbestos litigation.

Rachel Wright and her fake Facebook friends were part of a social media campaign designed to find potential clients for lawsuits over matters including zinc-containing denture cream, temporomandibular joint failures, fracking-related torts, and heart arrhythmias caused by Darvocet. Some of the links mention Parker Waichman directly and others send readers to some of the “hundreds of websites” Parker Waichman has said in court filings it runs, websites with names like,, and

Romanovich acknowledged Social2B once worked for Parker Waichman but said he couldn’t recall who set up the Facebook personas with all the links to the law firm’s websites.

“Persona marketing is nothing new,” Romanovich told me, although he said the use of fake personas probably peaked in the 2011-2012 time frame. “In the past there have been cases where brands or marketers create accounts just to test certain things.”

New York’s ethics rules also require law firms to place their name, address and names of attorneys on each of their websites, Bower said. “It should say `this is attorney advertising,’ and it should be clear and unequivocal,” Bower told me. “It isn’t even a close call.”

Litigation has flared over Parker Waichman’s marketing efforts. The firm is suing its former head of Internet marketing, Robert Laraia, for allegedly stealing trade secrets and sharing them with a rival plaintiff firm, Gilman Law. (It’s also entangled in litigation over an Alabama coal baron’s claims he was the victim of a shakedown scheme in Colombia.)

A federal court dismissed Parker Waichman’s first suit against Gilman and Laraia last year, rejecting the firm’s claims that Laraia had helped Gilman misappropriate the look and feel of its websites, known as “trade dress.” There is no possibility of consumers being confused when they click on a website that clearly identifies itself as belonging to Parker Waichman, the judge ruled, even if another firm uses similar design elements.

Parker Waichman refiled the suit against Laraia alone in state court in New York, where the case is still pending. Laraia declined to comment on the litigation against him.

Parker Waichman is also suing former name partner Andres Alonso, accusing him of stealing client information including medical records when he left to form his own firm. Alonso denies Parker Waichman’s allegations, which include perjury, and said “I will be happy to put their claims to the test.” He said Parker Waichman was a marketing-driven firm where Jerrold Parker devoted himself to bringing in new clients.

“That was frankly all he did,” Alonso said of his former law partner. “He didn’t spend a lot of time litigating and frankly devoted most if not all of his time on being a marketer.”

The remnants of one such campaign appear to be still floating through cyberspace, no longer posting their articles about fracking accidents, Accutane side effects and zinc-laced denture cream but living on as an example of how aggressive the search for clients has become. How many more are out there, only the law firms know for sure.

Categories: The Law