For the first time in almost 30 years, California has completed a large-scale revision of its Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers. The changes will align California's rules more closely with the rest of the country, but also contain some notable state-specific nuances.
Legal ethics rules in a majority of states now require attorneys to become and remain familiar with technologies that affect their practices. However, the broad wording of the applicable rules and the constantly evolving world of technology may lead some in the legal profession to wonder what these rules actually mean for them. Fortunately, states across the country have begun to provide more specific guidance as to what these ethical duties entail, giving lawyers specific examples that may apply directly or analogously to the technologies they use every day.
The State Bar of California Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct recently reaffirmed its position on attorneys' duty of confidentiality toward their clients. In an advisory opinion, the Committee reiterated that lawyers may not disclose information, especially embarrassing information, acquired during the course of representing a client, even if that information is otherwise publicly available.
The American Bar Association periodically publishes a document that describes legal marketing rules for every state, detailing how they deviate from the corresponding ABA Model Rule. This document covers everything from restrictions on client testimonials to required language related to certain fees. Some of these rules may be particularly relevant in the realm of Internet legal marketing, so we highlight a few of these for you.
The Florida Bar Board of Governors has issued an opinion that attorneys contacting prospective clients by text must follow the same rules that apply to other written communications in this context. While most states have not yet addressed this question of attorney advertising by text message, lawyers who do wish to use this marketing method should exercise caution when doing so, as other states may follow Florida's lead. The information in this blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice.
Most states regulate attorneys' use of the words "expert," "specialist," and other terms that could be misleading or suggest a guaranteed outcome in their clients' cases. Although it is a relatively new area of regulation, many states agree that such restrictions apply also to the domain names for lawyers' websites. For example, both Ohio and Kentucky prohibit lawyers from using domain names with deceptive, fraudulent, exaggerated, or false information. While in some states, some attorney advertising restrictions have been struck down as violating the First Amendment, the unsettled nature of the law in this area suggests that attorneys exercise caution when choosing a domain name that may contain certain terms. The information in this blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice.
With the advent of online review websites, many lawyers are finding that they benefit from having positive client reviews on each site where their name appears (and suffer from having negative reviews). Lawyers should be aware of the rules of ethics and professional responsibility that might apply to the solicitation of client reviews. In a recent opinion, the New York State Bar Association's Committee on Professional Ethics held that lawyers may offer a discount on legal fees to clients who write an online review, provided that the discount is not contingent upon the content of the review, the client is not coerced to provide the review, and the review is written by the client and not the lawyer. Other states may have different rules or interpret similar rules differently, so all lawyers are advised to seek counsel if they are unsure about the way they are soliciting client reviews. The information in this blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice.
Whether a lawyer or law firm may ethically bid on other attorneys' or law firms' names among the keywords in their pay-per-click campaign depends on the state(s) in which they practice. Although the practice, also known as competitive keyword advertising, is commonplace in many other industries, several recent opinions issued by bodies charged with regulating the legal profession have cast doubt on the viability of the practice by lawyers under current ethics rules. The information in this blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice.
When using a website or blog to market your law firm, you should be careful to avoid using language or portrayals that your state bar considers "misleading." Three areas in which attorneys should be particularly careful about misleading material include: (1) language related to fees, including what prospective clients are and are not responsible for, (2) statements that can be construed to predict success, and (3) the use of actors to portray lawyers or events leading to lawsuits.
Embedded contact forms are an efficient way for lawyers to allow their website visitors to contact them. Like other aspects of attorney advertising, contact forms may be subject to regulation. In many jurisdictions, certain disclaimers might need to accompany your website contact form in order to comply with state laws governing lawyers. We discuss three considerations with respect to disclaimers that you may want to include with your contact form. This blog post is not legal advice and is provided for informational purposes only.