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At one time, law firms and lawyers were banned from advertising their legal services, but since certain restrictions were lifted, legal marketing is in full swing. Through digital marketing, law firms have multiple ways to gain referrals, promote their skills, and expand their business. Digital advertising brings more success and visibility, but the question of ethics is ever-present. Lawyers are familiar with ethics rules in all aspects of their professional conduct, and ethics rules apply to advertising as well. The legal industry faces the unique burden of constantly changing state bar rulings and decisions regarding ethics. These hurdles are challenging, but it is crucial to grasp the concepts and cautions of ethics in law firm marketing.
Basis of Ethics in Law Firm Marketing
For much of the 20th century, attorney advertising was forbidden in most states. In 1977, the Supreme Court decided in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona that rules prohibiting attorney advertising were unconstitutional. Since this ruling, legal advertising has become common, but it still carries regulations. The American Bar Association provides the ethical guidelines for legal professionals in its publication Model Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC), and most states use this pattern to form their own state guidelines for attorneys.
Violating Ethics in Law Firm Marketing
Lack of ethics in law firm marketing can lead to discipline in the form of malpractice assertions, fees and costly domain changes. Steering carefully around your state ethics guidelines is a wise move for long term success, since it establishes trust with your client base and helps you avoid trouble. The basic rule of ethics in law firm marketing is that guidelines are unique to each state, even though most states generally follow the ABA’s Model Rules. If you have been worried about the ins and outs of ethics when it comes to law firm marketing, you are not alone. To avoid violations, consider the following ground rules, while minding your specific state requirements.
Watch Your Website
Knowing what falls within proper marketing standards can be puzzling, but there are definitely some things to avoid claiming on your website and it is important to scrutinize the marketing material created by your law firm. For example, state guidelines govern the design of law firm websites and the photos posted on the site. Some states do not allow professional models to be used in law firm website photos — only the actual attorneys from the firm are allowed. Reconstructed events in video form, such as accidents and car crashes are often regulated as well. Check out the rules that apply in your state, and as a general rule, apply the ethical standards for printed material to your website pages.
Obey Client Wishes
If you have contacted potential clients through email or a physical mailing address, and they have asked you to stop sending material, honor their request. In some states, this is an ethical mandate. Even if the individual originally volunteered their address in exchange for a freebie, you are still required to take this person off your contact list as they wish.
Label Ad Material
Certain states require a label marking your mailings as “ad material” on the outside of every envelope, and at the beginning and end of every electronic marketing message. Make sure your ads are never misleading and that any statistics you give can be verified.
Display Testimonials Cautiously
The use of client testimonials is a frequent concern for ethics violations. The best practice scenario for these is to avoid client testimonials that:
- Are anonymous
- Imply that a similar future result is likely for another client
- Discuss the quality of attorney legal skill
- Mention outcome of legal matters
- Involve paying a client in exchange for a testimonial
- Contain unverifiable facts
- Include exaggerated or fabricated information
Always Publish a Disclaimer
Publishing a disclaimer along with client testimonials is a prudent way to avoid problems, so consider adding a disclaimer like the following:
- “Listen to what our past clients say about our law firm based on their individual situations.”
- “Your legal situation is unique and our law firm cannot promise you specific results.”
- “No attorney can promise you specific results, nor can they promise that results will be the same as that of previous clients.”
Avoid Comparative Statements
Certain states have guidelines for comparative statements made in advertising, so check your state’s rules. Comparative statements often include phrases that cannot possibly be verified as factual, and may fall into the “misleading” category. Avoid making claims like the following:
- “We are the most aggressive defense lawyers in Atlanta.”
- “Our law firm fights harder than anyone else in the Twin Cities.”
- “We are the top bankruptcy law firm in Denver.”
Examine Your Bio and Business Cards
Ethics in law firm marketing even governs online lawyer bios as well as those friendly paper business cards. Too much information in either one can cross ethical lines. An online lawyer bio may list a few successful cases, but take care to add a disclaimer along with your successes, preventing unrealistic client expectations. Special precautions are needed for mentioning a past case, because whether or not you use the client’s name, you should get the client’s consent. On your business card, stick to simple contact information, avoiding slogans or potentially misleading taglines. With both bios and business cards, be cautious that your listed credentials or specialty areas are certified, and ditch the word “expert.”
Tend Your Social Media
Not surprisingly, law firms are harnessing the power of social media as part of a dynamic marketing plan. As this use increases, so do questions of ethics in law firm marketing. Always confirm that any social media posts follow ethics rules such as: protecting client information and avoiding false assumptions of an attorney-client relationship. Some law firms wisely hire a social media specialist, who can wrestle with tricky ethical issues in addition to monitoring the technical aspects of social media marketing.
Say No to Spamming
Sending spam is another no-no. Spam is defined as unsolicited internet content, usually sent for advertising purposes, and often transmitted to many recipients at once. If your law firm uses mass marketing emails to communicate, make sure there is an easy way for anyone to unsubscribe if they wish. Rules for online communications are constantly evolving, and the responsibility to know the rules belongs to your law firm. To track ongoing changes, consult the ABA website.
How Law Quill Can Help
Digital marketing is critical to modern law firms, but each business must adhere to state guidelines for ethics in law firm marketing. By educating yourself, you can stay aware and keep ahead of the state ethics rules where your law firm does business. Avoiding ethics violations will prove you trustworthy to clients, allow your law firm to escape unwanted fees and website interruptions, and help you expand your company’s marketing success in the long run.
We are here to help and would welcome the opportunity to visit with you for free regarding your law firm website’s content, and how we can take these tasks off your plate! Schedule a free visit with us by scheduling a quick phone or zoom call at your convenience on our calendar today. You can also email us at [email protected]