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.
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.
One of the most important components of a strong content strategy for lawyers is to include legally substantive material throughout your website. Finding a balance between readability and legal substance can be difficult, so we describe three ways to help you find that balance. First, focus on a few basic rule statements. Second, give real-life (or hypothetical) examples illustrating the application of the law that a prospective client can relate to. Finally, explain why a reader should take action.
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.
A recent ethics opinion by the State Bar of California clarifies the circumstances under which legal blogs may be subject to that state's professional responsibility and legal advertising rules. Other states have released, or are considering, updating their rules with respect to attorney advertising online, so all lawyers who use a website and/or blog for advertising should stay current on the developments in this area.