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Law firm websites are valuable tools for lawyers as part of a small law firm digital marketing strategy, but the use of these websites has created new ethical issues for those in the legal profession. To protect the public, most states have established ethics rules for law firm websites. These rules govern lawyer advertising in all forms, including website content. Law firm websites must become aware of and stay ahead of the dynamic standards that impact their online presence and the way they advertise. Your law firm should carefully consider the content provided on your website, in order to avoid violating the guidelines in your region. The legal niche of website regulation is ever-changing and varies by state, so do not rely on your web developer or advertiser to know the rules that apply to your website. Consider your website content carefully and follow these seven standard rules that govern the content of law firm websites.
Do Not Make Claims That Cannot Be Verified
Making statements that cannot be confirmed is ethically out-of-bounds. Law firm websites should not make claims such as:
- “We are the most aggressive attorneys in the region!”
- “We work tirelessly on behalf of our clients. “
- “We are the best lawyers in Minneapolis!”
Law firm websites should never make statements that their team or law firm is “the best” or use similar words that communicate this claim. All statements on law firm websites should be true and verifiable, and since it is impossible to prove yours is the “best” law firm compared to all others, you should avoid inflated phrasing throughout your website content. In some states, language that may violate this rule may include phrases and words such as:
- Most experienced law firm
- The leader in litigation
- Unsurpassed legal representation
- Vocabulary such as: incomparable, unequaled, matchless, second to none.
Do Not Make Misleading Statements About Your Law Firm
The American Bar Association states that a lawyer should refrain from misleading or false communication about his or her services. Communication is misleading or false if it contains a misrepresentation of the facts, or leaves out a portion of the facts which are necessary to understand its truth. Contrary to this, it is common to see fulsome claims from various industries all around the internet, and while car dealerships may be able to offer “better” “best”, or “cheapest,” a law firm’s website should avoid making such declarations. Ethics rules frown on law firm websites that congratulate themselves on their uber-superior skills, best prices and most successful experience without having the evidence to back it up. All statements made on law firm websites must be truthful and confirmable through substantial data. Some states even consider the addition of client endorsements, years of attorney experience, and mentioning past results to be a misleading method of advertising.
Do Not Guarantee the Outcome
Law firm websites should never boast the prediction of a favorable outcome or a guaranteed result. Bold promises that your firm can ensure a good end result creates unfair expectations that will unethically convince potential clients to use your firm. Examples of such statements may include:
- You can count on us to get you the money you deserve!
- You will get rid of all your debt!
- We will get your compensation within 30 days!
- I will get you acquitted of the charges against you!
- We fight and you win!
Do Not Base Future Success on Past Performance
Most states have ethics rules which ban law firm websites from making reference to past verdicts, settlements or damage awards. Other states may only require a disclaimer that “past results are no indication of future performance.” Announcing that your firm “recovered 8 million dollars for the last personal injury client” implies that you can obtain a similar outcome for the next client. If you make claims based on past results and your website is challenged for being unethical, you bear the burden of proof. To be on the safe side, It is recommended to avoid the word “results” in your website and shun potentially misleading statements such as:
- “Precedent-setting law firm”
- “Track record of success”
- “Record-setting results”
Do Not Claim Certification Unless Documented
Law firm websites should avoid terms such as “specialist,” or “expert.” A lawyer may state that they are available to practice in various areas of law, but they should refrain from claiming they have special experience or competence in a certain legal area. If a lawyer is verifiably certified by the Board of Legal Specialization in their state, they may list in on their website, but law firm websites should not claim that their law firm is “board certified.”
Do Not Forget a Disclaimer
Placing a disclaimer on law firm websites is required in many states, and even if it is not mandated in your area, it would be a smart idea to paste a conspicuous disclaimer on your website. Disclaimers include information such as the following:
- “The hiring of an attorney is a crucial decision and should not be based on advertisements found on this website.”
- “This site contains legal information and should not be construed as legal advice.”
- “No Attorney Client Relationship Without Signed Agreement.”
- “Do not assume confidentiality in anything you send through this website, until a signed attorney/client agreement exists.”
- “Law firm websites, such as this one, are considered advertising.”
Do Not Use Stock Images
Along with word content, law firm websites use design and photos to tell a story about their business, and using stock photo images may be considered a misrepresentation of your firm. If you do display images of actors or models on your law firm website, you must add a disclaimer that the individuals are not actual clients. This rule goes for stock photos that could be confused with the attorneys that work for the law firm. Because stock images can make a law firm look bigger than it actually is, this may be considered to be a misrepresentation. Some states also ban the use of animations, music or drawings posted on law firm websites.
How Law Quill Can Help Your Law Firm’s Website
Although legal websites are effective tools for connecting potential clients with lawyers, it is crucial to avoid the temptation to promote your legal team and your services in a way that violates ethical standards. Just as lawyers themselves are governed by ethics rules, law firm websites have to obey the rules, too. Despite strict regulations, law firm websites that violate ethical standards are common. Young start-up firms are sometimes unaware of the guidelines, as they are ever-changing and vary from state to state. This leads some businesses to rely on their web developers and advertisers, and these agencies may not be aware of the evolving guidelines. So, a growing number of law firm websites are falling under the shadow of ethics violations, and this could turn into a messy problem for these businesses. To ensure that your law firm’s website stays compliant, one attorney should be named responsible for the content of the site, and he or she should oversee current regulations for the jurisdiction where the law firm operates. The last thing a law firm needs is to receive an ethics complaint after developing a stunning new website, and having to start all over again. If you have any questions regarding whether the content on your website meets the most conservative of ethics rules, contact your local bar in order to better understand your legal obligations. Law Quill would welcome the opportunity to write content for your law firm that meets the most conservative requirements regarding ethics rules. Contact us today at [email protected] or visit us at www.LawQuill.com.