Lawyers are held to a high standard regarding their marketing content both online and offline. Failure to make sure that your website stays within these guidelines could lead to ethics violations! Learn the 7 things you should NEVER say on your law firm’s website to ensure you remain compliant!
Some of the resources I visited about in today’s episode include the following:
American Bar Association Marketing Guidelines
Note: Link to websites may include affiliate links, in which I would receive a small fee or reward for the referral. However, please know I only provide referrals for companies and services I either use myself or believe in strongly..
Hello, and welcome back! Today we are going to be talking about the seven things to never say on your law firm’s website. And these are big deals because they can actually get you into a lot of trouble with bar marketing associations and your ability to even practice law.
So before we get into all of the nitty-gritty of the things that you should never say on your law firm’s website, I want to first talk about ethics rules for law firms’ websites, these rules govern lawyer advertising. And a lot of Bar Marketing Association state bars have said that a law firm website is considered advertising now, you will need to go to your own state bar to see what their guidelines are regarding law firm websites and content. But my best suggestion to you is to always take the most conservative approach when it comes to your law firm website. Because at any time, your state or your bar association could change their mind and make it more conservative regarding your ability to say certain things on your website.
So it’s always just a best practice to always follow caution regarding your content that you place not only on your law firm’s website, but frankly, anything you post on social media. And if you just very carefully consider the content that you provide, you can avoid violating any guidelines in your region.
And the legal niche of website regulation is just ever-changing. And again, it varies by state, I would never rely on a web developer or a digital marketer to know these rules that apply to your website.
I am an attorney of 20 years. So this is something that I have a hyper-focus on. However, a lot of web designers, web developers, digital content, marketers simply don’t understand the nexus between advertising and law firm websites and how carefully that is regulated. So just consider your website content carefully and follow these rules that will help you make sure that you avoid saying anything you’re not supposed to say on a firm’s website.
1. Don’t Make Unverified Claims
So the very first thing is, you cannot make any claims that can’t be verified. This means you can’t make a statement such as we’re the most aggressive attorneys in the region. We work tirelessly on behalf of our clients. We’re the best lawyers in Austin, Texas. Now, I bet you are probably the best lawyer and you do work tirelessly, and you are the most aggressive attorney in the region. But you can’t say it, because there’s no way to actually verify that. So law firm websites should never make statements that their team or their law firm is the best or make any kind of claims regarding being above other law firms if they can’t verify it. All statements on your website have to be true and verifiable. And frankly, since it’s impossible to prove that you are the very best law firm, even though we all know that you are you really should avoid any kind of inflated phrasing throughout your whole website content.
In some states, language that can violate this rule can include phrases or words like most experienced law firm, the leader in litigation, unsurpassed legal representation. So we’re talking about a lot of adjectives here, such as unequaled, matchless second to none, incomparable, etc. so you really want to make sure that whatever claim you post on your website can be verified.
2. No Misleading Statements
The second thing you should never say on your website is any kind of misleading statement about your law firm. So the American Bar Association states that a lawyer should refrain from any misleading or false communication about their legal services. What does that mean? That is any information that contains a misrepresentation of the facts or leaves out a portion of the facts, which are, frankly necessary to understand the truth. So it’s sort of like a lie by omission.
It is common to see claims on law firm websites. For other types of businesses, car dealerships may say, better, cheapest, the best. But your law firm website should really avoid making any kind of declaration like that, again, not only because it’s not verifiable, but because ethics rules throughout the country frown on law firm websites that sort of congratulate themselves on their Uber superior lawyering skills, or their successful experience or prices without having any actual evidence to back that up.
Every statement you make on your website has to be truthful. It has to be confirmable through substantial data, and you can’t simply omit certain facts, because that will also be considered a misleading statement. According to the American Bar Association.
Some states even consider the addition of client endorsements, years of attorney experience, or even mentioning past results to be a misleading method of advertising. So how do you get around that you can put years of attorney experience, it is verifiable. However, if I were you, I would be very careful with putting years of attorney experience because that’s ever-changing.
Additionally, if someone leaves your firm or someone else comes to your firm, the number of years of attorney experience is going to change. Mentioning past results, if you make the decision to do that, it could be misleading, because it could lead potential clients to think that they’re going to get that same result. So just put as many disclaimers as you can around all of these things. If you are going to include them on your website, just make sure not to make any kind of exaggerated or misleading statements about your law firm.
3. Don’t Guarantee an Outcome
The third thing to never say on your law firm website is a guarantee of an outcome. Now, I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking, of course, I would never do that I would never promise someone that I could get them the best settlement offer ever for a personal injury case, or for sure, get them out of there DUI charge.
But I’m talking about something a little bit more subtle. You should never boast obviously, the prediction of a favorable outcome or a guaranteed result. We all kind of know that any bold promises that your firm can ensure a good end result may create an unfair expectation for a potential client visiting your website. And that can be considered unethical because those potential clients are using that information and that expectation to contact your firm and have you represent them.
So examples of statements that really border on guaranteeing an outcome include statements like this, you can count on us to get you the money you deserve. We fight and you win, you will get rid of all of your debt, I will get you acquitted of the charges against you, we will get your compensation within 30 days.
Now, while a lot of those seem really easy to follow, the one that I would like you to focus on is the one that says we fight and you win. Because a lot of law firms have very similar language to this on their website. Another thing that a lot of law firms do is in their articles, they will say contact our law firm today to get the compensation you deserve.
Well, that even gives me a little bit of heartburn. You can just change that sentence a little bit to say consider visiting with an attorney to ensure you understand your legal rights. That is okay. Because you are just saying, hey, consider visiting with an attorney, if you really want to truly understand your legal rights, you can contact us. But when you say, contact us to get the compensation you deserve, it just feels like if they don’t contact you, they won’t get the compensation they deserve.
Now, let’s be honest, the truth is, they probably won’t. I mean, having an attorney represent you, in any kind of a case gives you a better advantage. But you can’t say that, because then it just creates, as I said previously an unfair expectation. And according to the American Bar Association, it is considered unethical because potential clients are using that language to make a decision regarding whether or not to hire you thinking that they will also get those same kinds of results.
4. Don’t Base Future Success on Past Outcomes
The fourth thing, it dovetails nicely with this, you can’t base future success on past performance. We touched a little bit on this, but I really want to dive a little deeper on this. Now, most states do have ethics rules that do not let lawyers or law firm websites make a reference to past verdicts settlements in damage awards. And a lot of law firms have this on their website. Some states say it’s okay for you to have that. As long as you have a disclaimer that says something like past results are no indication of future performance. So you will really need to go to your own state’s bar marketing guidelines regarding advertising and ethics rules to determine what is your safest bet, announcing that your law firm recovered $8 million for your last personal injury client, there’s an implication that you could obtain a similar outcome for the next client.
Now I know that you are just simply showing your past verdict or settlement or award to show that you are inexperienced and and you’re a good attorney. But there is an implication that you can obtain a similar outcome for the next client. At least that’s the way that a lot of ethics rules have decided they believe this is perceived by potential clients.
So whether it’s true or not, it is an ethics rule that you may need to follow. If you do make the decision to make a claim that you have had this kind of verdict settlement or award, and your website is challenged for being unethical in any way, it’s important for you to know that you’re going to bear the burden of proof on that.
So again, just to be on the safe side, I personally recommend avoiding any kinds of words like results, or settlements, or winning awards on your website just because it may potentially mislead clients. Some other types of potentially misleading statements that may appear to base future success on past performance can include precedent-setting law firm track record of success or record-setting results. So you may have a track record of success. And I’m certain you probably absolutely have record-setting results. But when you make mention of that on your law firm website, it misleads potential clients to think that they will also get success or these very large settlements. So be very careful when you are including any information or making any kind of reference to any types of success or verdicts, settlements damage awards that you’ve received in the past.
5. No Undocumented Certification
The next thing you should never say on your law firms website is that you have a certification unless you can absolutely document that. So your law firm website should avoid terms such as expert or specialist. Now, I’m sure you are an expert and you are a specialist. But you are not allowed to use those words unless you can document it. Now you can say that you are available to practice in a certain area of law. You’re a family law attorney. You’re a divorce attorney if you want to phrase it that way. You’re an estate planning attorney, elder law attorney you know you can phrase these however you want because you are practicing those areas of law, but you should refrain from claiming that you have any kind of special experience or competence in a sense certain legal area.
Now, here’s the kicker. If you do have a verifiable certification by a board of Legal Specialization in your state, you can list that on your website. Absolutely. But again, your law firm websites should not claim that your law firm is board certified unless it actually is. So tread lightly with words like specialist or expert even though we all know that you are.
6. Don’t Forget Disclaimers
The next thing you should never say on your law firm’s website is actually a double negative. Do not forget a disclaimer. So never don’t use a disclaimer. Okay? It’s terrible grammar, right. But it’s really important. So hopefully you forgive me for the grammar. Because this is really important. You have to place a disclaimer on your law firm’s website.
First of all, it’s required in many states, and even if it’s not mandated in your state, it’s a smart idea. just placing a very obvious disclaimer on your website really will help you avoid any kind of appearance of impropriety or any kind of suggestion that you may be attempting to manipulate or in any way, be misleading on your website. So disclaimers include information such as the hiring of an attorney is a crucial decision should not be based on advertisements found on this website. This site contains legal information should not be construed as legal advice. There’s no attorney client relationship without a signed agreement. Do not assume confidentiality in anything you send through this website until an assigned attorney client agreement exists. Law Firm websites such as this one are considered advertising.
A lot of those are going to be acceptable. And I would include them early and often throughout your website. They are very important to paste perhaps in the footer of your website in the header, and somewhere on the articles that you write or practice pages. Again, if you have a disclaimer on pretty much every section of your website that a potential client goes to that is going to go a long way to help you if there is ever any kind of a question regarding an ethics violation.
7. Don’t Use Stock Images
So the very last thing that you should never do on your law firms website is to use stock images. Stock image is any image that you just find online through a Google search or whatever it may be, and you copy and paste it and use it on your website.
I will say it’s very important for a law firm to use design and photos and infographics to tell a story about their business, you want to have pictures on your website in your articles in your practice areas, it’s always helpful to break up content with pictures and images. It’s also great for the Google algorithm. But using stock photo images may be actually considered a misrepresentation of your law firm. If you display images of actors or models on your law firm website, for example, in your about us section, or in a practice area section, you have to add a disclaimer that these individuals are not the actual attorneys in your law firm or that they’re not actual clients.
So this rule also goes for stock photos that could be confused with anyone that might be working for your law firm, not only attorneys, but paralegals or legal assistance anyone, because stock photos can really make a law firm look larger than it actually is. And therefore a potential client could think that they have this very large team of lawyers working for them, when really it’s just a solo law practice. So that can be considered a misrepresentation.
Some states ban the use of animation, music and drawings on law firm websites. So that’s a bit of a unique type of ethics violation. And I would just encourage you to look at your own state to see what they allow and do not allow.
But regarding stock images, specifically, there is a whole nother layer to this. stock images that you do not have the legal right to put on your website that are royalty-free, can actually be used against you in a lawsuit, someone who created that image has the rights to that image unless they have given you the specific right to use that image on your website.
The best workaround for this is to find a company such as deposit photos, and I can put a link to that in the show notes. And these types of websites will grant you permission to use these images if you pay a certain fee. It is absolutely worth the money that you will spend for these photos, because you will not be ever involved then in a lawsuit regarding the intellectual property of the images on your website.
So again, there are many reasons not to use stock images, it is not only because of intellectual property rights, it is also because frankly, having these stock images could make it appear that you have a much larger, firm or diverse firm than you actually do. So the seven things you should never say on your law firms website.
Again, to recap are, do not make claims that cannot be verified, do not make misleading statements about your law firm, never guarantee an outcome. Do not base future success on past performance. Don’t claim any kind of certification unless you can document it. Do not forget a disclaimer and do not use stock images. So legal websites are obviously very effective tools for connecting with your potential clients, and frankly, with other lawyers. But it is critical that you avoid the temptation to promote your legal team and your legal services in a way that would violate ethical standards. I think a lot of times, lawyers and law firms just simply make these mistakes, without any kind of intention to violate ethical standards. But lawyers are governed by ethical rules and law firm websites have to obey these rules, too.
Now, despite these strict regulations, I will tell you, you can go on the internet right now and law firm websites that violate ethical standards are common. And not just with young startup law firms. It’s with law firms that have been established for dozens of years. And usually, it’s simply because they don’t know that these ethical guidelines exist, or they know they exist. But they don’t know that a law firm website actually falls under marketing. So it leads some law firms to rely on their web developers or digital marketing advertisers. And the truth of the matter is that these, these agencies just may not be aware of these guidelines, because they are so specific to lawyers.
So to ensure that your law firm’s website stays compliant, it’s a great practice to have one attorney, be named respond responsible for the content of the website, and oversee current regulations for your specific jurisdiction where your law firm operates. And just to check those rules regularly. Because the last thing you need is to receive an ethics complaint or even an intellectual property lawsuit based on an image that’s on your website, after you’ve developed this amazing website to then have to deal with these complaints, or potential lawsuits.
And I will just say this final piece of advice. If you have any questions regarding the content on your website, and whether or not it meets the ethics rules of your state, contact your local bar in order to just better understand your legal obligations.
So I hope that this particular episode helped you really understand the things that you really cannot say, on your law firm’s website, even though so many other law firms probably are making these mistakes.
As always, it’s been fantastic to have you here in the Legal Marketing Lounge, and get ready because I am starting a huge series on creating great content for your law firm’s website.
Now, why would I do that? Because I’m a digital marketer that is a content creator. The reason is that it is my mission and my passion to help small and solo law firms as best as I can. So if you cannot afford a digital marketing agency or someone to help you create content, then I want you to have all the resources available to do the very best you can right now and create great content for your website so you can get more organic traffic. I look forward to seeing you in that series. And again, click that button. Click that subscribe button. Have you not already done it on? We’re already at Episode Three. I’m so excited to have you here. And I can’t wait to see you again on the Legal Marketing Lounge.