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Law firm faces Twitter accusation of plagiarising newspaper articles

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Legal commentator doyen Joshua Rozenberg leads the charge against a high street practice that appears to have a penchant for lifting other writers’ words

Lead

A lesson the legal profession twitteratia has for the most part learnt is that you mess about with Joshua Rozenberg at your peril.

A leading figure in legal journalism (he describes himself as “Britain’s best-known commentator on the law”) and the host of the BBC’s “Law in Action”, Rozenberg is renowned for publicly correcting via Twitter others’ mistakes on anything from the proper titles of top flight judges to the breakfast menu choices of interviewees.

Now Rozenberg — who also writes regular columns for the Law Gazette and the Guardian online — has got a serious bee in his trilby over alleged plagiarism of his own bon mots. And it seems he’s got a valid point.

A high street solicitors’ firm in Kent had been running a series of articles on its website covering a variety of legal subjects for the delectation of existing and prospective clients. Mysteriously, however, some of the articles from Manak Solicitors bear a striking resemblance to the works of J Rozenberg.

Rozenberg himself was alerted to the potential breach of journalistic etiquette by fellow Twitterites. And once made aware, he’s liberally re-tweeted the alleged offence to his nearly 25,000 followers.

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And why shouldn’t he. In the writing game, words are your stock and trade, and you certainly don’t expect a law firm to steal them.

For example, nearly a year ago, Rozenberg kicked off an article for the Guardian’s online law section thus:

“The European court of human rights has accused British newspapers, including the Daily Mail, of publishing ‘seriously misleading’ reports. A statement issued by the registrar of the court and emailed to reporters last Friday, says the court is ‘concerned about the frequent misrepresentation of its activities in the British media’. The registrar, Erik Fribergh, is the court’s senior staff lawyer. This is thought to be the first time the registrar has responded formally to media reports, although the court did test the ground with a more low-key response a week earlier.”

The same day, Manak Solicitors ran a piece on its website that started:

“The European court of human rights has accused British newspapers, including the Daily Mail, of publishing ‘seriously misleading’ reports. A statement, issued by the registrar of the court, also emailed to reporters last Friday, says the court is ‘concerned about the frequent misrepresentation of its activities in the British media’. The registrar, Erik Fribergh, is the court’s senior staff lawyer. This is thought to be the first time the registrar has responded formally to media reports, although the court did test the ground with a more low-key response a week earlier …”

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And so it goes. Indeed, the law firm doesn’t appear to have been loyal to Rozenberg when pressing the cut-and-paste button. Examples can be found from news reports elsewhere in the Guardian, the Law Gazette and even The Mirror (but sadly, so far, nothing from Legal Cheek).

Occasionally, the firm’s web-editors shifted some of the words around and altered the odd sentence structure — or indeed, even introduced grammatical errors — but in general the pieces bore a striking resemblance to the articles in those newspapers.

Perhaps Manak Solicitors — which proudly flies a Law Society badge proclaiming “Don’t settle for less, use a solicitor” — simply forgot to credit the professional journalists whom it was referencing. It’s difficult to say, as the firm declined to respond to requests for comment from Legal Cheek.

And since Rozenberg and others highlighted the issue on Twitter, the articles have mostly disappeared from the firm’s site, although they can still be found in the Google cache.

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Plagiarism is a growing problem in the legal profession, with students normally in the frame. Earlier this year, The Times newspaper reported on “a proliferation of essay-writing companies [that] could land increasing numbers of law students in trouble with their universities for cheating”.

But it seems that even qualified lawyers can occasionally fail to resist the temptation to take writing short cuts.

UPDATE 17:43 — Manak Solicitors has issued this statement:

“The articles in question were added to the Manak Solicitors LLP website in October 2013 as part of a ‘News’ section highlighting articles we felt would be of interest for visitors to our website. Unfortunately, the articles did not contain the appropriate author credits and this has led to an allegation of plagiarism.

“Manak Solicitors LLP have since appointed a dedicated Marketing Manager to increase control over content production and marketing for the firm. Upon notification that there was an issue with regard to our website content we have requested a complete audit of our website so that any questionable content can be vetted and removed accordingly.”