Law Quill | #029 - Ethics Violations And Law Firm Marketing

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TRANSCRIPT

The Legal Marketing Lounge

Hi, I’m Annette Choti, an attorney of 20 years that created Law Quill, a marketing agency for small and solo law firms. Join me to learn how to grow your law firm through digital marketing strategies, SEO, social media, and more. Let’s get that law firm reviewers more online visibility, a larger digital footprint, tons of organic traffic, and more clients. I’m so excited. You’re here, click that subscribe button and join me in the legal marketing lounge.

Hello, welcome back. I am super excited that you are here. And I decided to do an episode that I get a lot of questions about. We’re just jumping right in here, aren’t we? There’s no long introduction. We’re just rubber hits the road, we’re going to get some stuff done today. And hopefully you learned some things that are going to really help you to grow your law firm online.

Ethics Violations and Law Firm Marketing

I should have some scary Halloween music in the background right now. So just if you could, if you could just imagine that there’s some sort of spooky music going on. Because we’re going to be talking about ethics violations and law firm marketing. And it’s a big deal. People, it’s a big deal. Law firms are held to a very different standard than other businesses and companies. At one time, law firms and lawyers were completely banned from advertising their legal services. Restrictions were eventually lifted. And legal marketing is allowed in print and digitally. And that’s a good thing. Because through marketing law firms, just like any business has a way to gain referrals, reach potential clients, promote their skillset, expand their business, advertising across any kind of business will bring likely more success and visibility.

But the question for law firms is one of ethics because it is ever present with law firms and not just digital marketing, all marketing. But it’s very important to highlight the fact that because something is on the internet, or is digital marketing, it does not escape the ethics standards and requirements of law firms. Lawyers are typically very familiar with ethics rules regarding professional conduct. Those ethics rules apply to digital marketing as well. And the legal industry faces the unique burden of constantly changing state bar rulings and decisions regarding ethics and decisions regarding ethics within digital marketing. And these hurdles can be challenging, but it is important, it’s crucial to grasp the concepts and cautions of ethics in law firm marketing. And at the very end of this, I’ll give you my advice, and my tips and tricks that we do at LawQuill. Because we write for law firms, and we do content and social media and websites for dozens of law firms in the United States and Canada. So we are held to that same standard on behalf of our clients.

So I’ll give you some tricks to ensure that you are compliant towards the end. But the basis of ethics and law firm marketing, which I think is important to understand is that we are all being held to a higher standard because I’m an attorney as well. I’ve been an attorney for 20 years. So I understand the importance and seriousness of ethics within legal marketing.

Frankly, for most of the 20th century, Attorney advertising was totally forbidden. And then in 1977, the Supreme Court decided in Bates versus the State Bar of Arizona if you want to look that up and you’re free to. In that ruling, they decided that rules that prohibited attorney advertising are unconstitutional. It’s not fair. So since that ruling, legal advertising has obviously become very common, but it carries with it regulations.  

Follow the Guidelines

Now the ABA, the American Bar Association, does provide ethical guidelines for legal publications that would be in the MRPC, the model Rules of Professional Conduct. Most states use this pattern to form their own state guidelines for attorneys. You know what, I’m not going to wait till the end, I’m going to tell you right now, what the best practice is.

Make sure that you follow the strictest guidelines, even if your state has not specifically addressed digital marketing. Even if your state is lenient with respect to digital marketing, the truth of the matter is that at any time, they can change their mind. And they can either make a decision about digital marketing for law firms, or they could make the laws that they have on the books stricter. So if you always follow the best practice of being the most conservative regarding your marketing, then you never have anything to worry about. You don’t have to go back and change anything on your website at any point. And frankly, that is the way that we operate at Law Quill as well.

Violating ethics in law firm marketing, the lack of ethics in law firm marketing can lead to a whole host of terrible consequences. It can lead to discipline in the form of malpractice, assertions, fees, costly domain changes, you can have malpractice, because if you’re saying and claiming on your website, that you are the best attorney, that might lead someone to actually hire you, if they don’t get the result that they want. They could say that that was misleading. If you have on your website, certain content that says that you won so many millions of dollars in a certain case, and don’t have a disclaimer surrounding that.

These results are not indicative of future results, that could be considered manipulative, and fraudulent. And that you are steering people and potential clients into believing that you can absolutely get that for them as well.

So make sure to really investigate your state ethic guidelines. But an even wiser move is to just simply be the most cautious that you can for long term success, because that is what is going to be establishing trust with your client base with potentially lawyers who would network with you, it just helps you avoid trouble. The basic rule of ethics and law firm marketing is that again, the guidelines are unique to each state. So officially, I have to tell you that all you have to do is follow your state’s guidelines. But between you and me, my advice is that in order to avoid any kind of ethics violation, that you learn the rules that I’m going to tell you about in this podcast, and make sure that you follow the most conservative suggestions, and recommendations.

Avoid these Claims on Your Website

First, let’s talk about your website. And knowing what falls within proper marketing standards can be challenging. But there are definitely some things that you have to avoid claiming on your website. These can seem innocuous, these can seem benign, but they can be considered ethics violations.

For example, the design of your law firm website and the pictures that you post on it. Some states do not allow professional models to be used in Law firm website photos, only the actual attorneys from the firm are allowed. Now this isn’t really maybe on blog posts where it’s clearly stock footage. But if you have a stock photo, even one that you paid for even that you have royalty and licensed to use on your main page, and it has people at a board meeting and there’s just one of you at the law firm it’s a solo practitioner that could be seen as an ethics violation in a lot of states. And so therefore I

Just tell all my law firms don’t do it. Because even if your state doesn’t have that right now, it could change the rule at any time, you wouldn’t know, it’s just not a best practice to be a little deceptive and make it look like you’ve got a lot of attorneys at your law firm when you don’t.

Also any kind of reconstructed events in video forms such as accidents or car crashes, you want to be very careful with those as well. Those are very regulated. As a rule, you don’t want to put anything on your website in terms of photos or videos or even written content, where someone could construe that your story or your reenactment or your picture is not actually what happened.

This is just very important for your website. Overall, a great best practice is to put a disclaimer at the very bottom of your website so that no matter what page a person is on, they will be able to see at the bottom, that this is marketing materials that this is an advertisement however you want to phrase it that past results do not indicate future results. Whatever verbage you want to use, just make sure that there’s a disclaimer that this is marketing material, and that the choice of an attorney is an important one. It shouldn’t be based on advertising, however you want to phrase it.

Obey Your Client’s Wishes

Okay, the next big section is that you have to obey your clients wishes.

If you have contacted potential clients through email, or a physical mailing address, and they have asked you to stop sending material, you have to honor that request. In some states, this is an ethical mandate, not just for law firms. But for businesses as a whole.

Even if the individual originally volunteered their email address or their physical address for a freebie, you’re still required to take this person off of your contact list. Because if you don’t, then you are sending soliciting materials to them against their wishes.

Labelling Add Material

Next up is labeling add material. So certain states require a label that mark your mailing material as add material on the outside of every envelope and at the beginning and end of every electronic marketing message. So you need to make sure that first of all on your print mailers, which is a really a little bit outside of my jurisdiction, because we really do digital marketing. But I’m here for you, I just want to let you know that if you are sending out any postcards or mailers that you need to make sure to clearly indicate on the outside of the envelopes, that it is a form of advertisement. And this also has to happen at the beginning and end of every electronic marketing message. So make sure your ads are never misleading. And that any statistics you give can be verified.

Testimonials

Next up testimonials. These are fantastic for websites, client stories. Testimonials, either written or through video are absolutely fantastic. And it is exceptionally important to have these on your website. So do not think I am saying not to have testimonials. No, no, please have testimonials and lots of them. But the use of client testimonials is a frequent concern for ethics violations. So the best practices for client testimonials are that you should avoid testimonials that are anonymous. You can’t have a testimonial and then say anonymous or something like that you have to have the actual person’s name picture is even better.

You cannot have a Client Testimonial that implies that a similar future result is likely for another client. You cannot discuss the quality of attorney legal skill within a testimonial. You should really not even mention the outcome of legal matters. This is a bit of a source of debate, but I always err on the side of caution. You should avoid always any unverifiable facts. You should never include any testimonials that have exaggerated or oh my goodness fabricated information. And you can never ever ever pay a client in exchange for a test testimonial. So those are the big ones, the best thing to do is make sure that you get a solid quality testimonial. And really try to get a picture try to convince them to have just a little tiny picture along with it. That is the very best practice. And if you can’t do that, at least their name.

Publishing Disclaimer

I’m going to talk about a disclaimer again, because it’s really important. Publishing a disclaimer along with your whole website is very important at the bottom. But here’s the thing. You should also publish a disclaimer along with your client testimonials in that Client Testimonial section, wherever you’ve got it on your website, it is a really prudent way to avoid problems because if anything escapes your scrutiny within these testimonials, or if you just inadvertently put on a testimonial was something that could be a violation of ethics, then this disclaimer will help you ensure that you’re not violating any ethics rules at all. Some of the disclaimers could be the following. Listen to what our past clients say about our law firm based on their individual situations, or your legal situation is unique and our law firm cannot promise you specific results. Or no attorney can promise you specific results. Nor can they promise that results will be the same as that of previous clients.

That should cover you. At least if you are doing your very best to ensure that the client testimonials seem to follow ethics guidelines and you have a disclaimer, you should be fine.

Avoid Comparative Statements on Your Website

The next thing is that your website should avoid comparative statements. Certain states have guidelines for comparative statements made in advertising. So again, while you should check your own state’s rules, my advice is going to be to be the most conservative, and the best practice is to just not have them. Comparative statements often use phrases that cannot possibly be verified as factual. And as a result, they may fall into a misleading category, quote unquote misleading category. Some of these claims would sound like this. We are the most aggressive defense lawyers in Atlanta. Well, I’m sure you are, but you can’t say it.

Our law firm fights harder than anyone else in the Twin Cities. I bet you do. But you can’t say it. We are the top bankruptcy law firm in Denver. I believe you. I believe that you are but you cannot say it on your website.

Another place to look is your biography section on your website, your bio, because this is like your virtual business card. Ethics in law firm marketing even governs these bios that it governs the little business cards as well. Too much information can cross ethical lines.

List Your Successful Cases Along With a Disclaimer

An online lawyer bio can list successful cases, you can do that. But really take care to add that disclaimer along with your successes. Because you want to prevent the point of this is that you want to prevent unrealistic client expectations. Maybe somebody comes in with a dog bite, and they see that you are a personal injury attorney that is boasting that you got a $50 million recovery for a personal injury case, they may think that their dog bite is worth $50 million. So it is preventing unrealistic client expectations. special precautions are needed for mentioning a past case because even if you don’t use the client’s name, you really should be getting the client’s consent to even post this anonymously, on your website. And on your business card. Again, we don’t do business cards and print materials are not particularly our forte, but because we’re on the subject, your business card should be sticking to very simple contact information. You should try to avoid any slogan or tagline that could be potentially misleading. Right. So, Bob Jones, the best bankruptcy attorney in Austin, that might be considered misleading. With both your bios on your website and business cards. Just be very cautious that you’re listed credentials, or specialty areas are not tagged or indicated or described as certified, or expert. If you’re not, and 99% of the time, you’re not, unless you are a CPA, a certified public accountant, then you should not be putting certified anywhere on your website or expert.

Protect Client Information on Social Media

Now let’s go off your website onto social media. Not surprisingly, law firms are appropriately and effectively harnessing the power of social media as part of a dynamic marketing plan. I hope you are doing this. And as the use of social media increases by lawyers on these platforms, more and more questions evolve regarding law firm marketing. Make sure that your social media posts follow the same ethical rules. Make sure you protect client information. Make sure that you avoid false assumptions. Have an attorney client relationship. Be careful with your DMS. Be careful when someone is asking you specifically go questions either on a social media platform or in a private message. You can even include in your profiles on these social media platforms that any discussions that you have, do not create an attorney client relationship or do not create attorney client privilege. Some law firms do hire social media experts, specialists, because that helps them know that they are protected and that they can circumvent any kind of ethics violations. Typically, social media marketers that work specifically for law firms, and that’s the important parts specifically for law firms will know how to avoid these very tricky ethical issues.

In addition to monitoring all the technical aspects of social media marketing, I would be cautious about hiring someone to do content on your website or to do social media marketing that is either not an attorney themselves, or does not have an incredible familiarity with the legal profession and these ethics rules.

Do Not Spam

Next up, don’t spam.

None of us like spam. And I’m sure none of you do it anyway. But I have to talk about it. So sending spam is another big no no. Spam is defined as unsolicited Internet content usually sent for advertising purposes, and often transmitted to many recipients at once. So that’s the definition. If you’re a law firm uses mass marketing emails to communicate, that’s fine. It’s great to have a very robust email list that you mail content to often, but you need to make sure that there’s an easy way for anyone to unsubscribe if they wish at the bottom. Rules for online communications are consistently evolving. And it is your responsibility to know the rules regarding all of this, which can seem overwhelming, I know. But if you want to track ongoing changes and just make sure that you are staying compliant, then kudos to you.

A great resource to check is the ABA website, the American Bar Association website, because typically they do have the pulse on the intersection between ethics and digital marketing. Well, I hope that I have helped you understand a little bit better. The things that you can say the things that you shouldn’t say the things that you should include, and then things that you should exclude on your website to ensure that you are following all the ethical guidelines that apply to you by educating yourself you really can stay aware and keep ahead of your state ethics rules, and the ABA rules and anywhere your law firm does business.

Conclusion

Avoiding ethics violations will prove you trustworthy to clients and to other lawyers who will give you referral business. And of course it will allow your law firm to escape unwanted fees. Why? sight, interruptions, potential malpractice claims all of it. And it will help you expand your company’s marketing success in the long run, because you’re doing everything legit, you’re doing everything in the appropriate way without violating any of the ethical standards that law firms need to meet. So think about it. Do you have any of this on your website right now that you need to go and take off? Do you have things that I discussed that you need to put on your website, maybe a disclaimer at the bottom of your website, maybe a way to opt out of emails, or a disclaimer around your client testimonials, think about what’s going on on your website right now, and how you can ensure that you don’t violate any of the ethical standards that are required for law firms within their digital marketing.

I hope this helped you and as always, feel free to reach out to me if you ever have any questions about the digital marketing for your law firm at annette@lawquill.com. And we are a full service digital marketing agency. We provide websites, SEO audits, content marketing, digital marketing, pay per click branding, we do it all. So if you have any digital marketing needs, please feel free to visit our website at WWW dot law. quill.com. And in the meantime, did you click that subscribe button? I bet you did. I bet you did it at the very beginning when I asked you to. And so now since you already did that, would you consider leaving me a review on iTunes? Oh, thank you. I appreciate it.

In the meantime, I’ll be off going to gather more content to help you grow your law firm online. Until next time. Thanks for joining me in the legal marketing lounge.