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.
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.
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.
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.
Lawyers who use a website and/or blog to advertise their services are usually subject to rules of professional responsibility and ethics that apply in the jurisdictions where they practice. Often, these rules require that the lawyers state in a prominent manner certain information that can help prevent prospective clients from being confused or misled about the attorney's services. Here are six common disclaimers that attorneys might need to include on their website or blog. This blog post is not intended to be legal advice. Attorneys with questions about whether their website or blog conforms to applicable rules should consult their state bar or an attorney experienced in professional responsibility/ethics issues.
Different states regulate lawyer advertising in different ways. Lawyers who use a website or blog for advertising purposes should check the rules in their jurisdiction(s) to see whether their content may (or must) be approved before being published online. Regulation of law firm websites and blogs is a rapidly changing area of law, so it is important to stay abreast of the rules that apply to you and your practice.
Learn about some of the potential ethical risks associated with attorneys discussing client matters or information on their website or blog. Among these risks are violating the duty of confidentiality; violating rules requiring explicit client consent before you share case details in advertising; and violating rules regarding testimonials by, or actor depictions of, clients. The information contained in this blog post does not constitute legal advice; you should refer to the rules of your jurisdiction to ensure your marketing is in compliance.