Any company wants to build an online presence with savvy marketing principles in mind. They want to add engaging, relevant content that will attract traffic to their site, and they try to make their website user-friendly. Law firm websites must do all of the above, but they have additional obstacles to avoid, because of restrictions placed on legal advertising. These state regulations for law firms vary for each state, and law firms should know their state’s guidelines. Here is what to know about what you can include on your law firm website, along with states that have the strictest regulations for law firms. (Of course, you could just have Law Quill write all of your content for you – and let us handle all of these regulations on your behalf with quality content!)
Your Law Firm Website: a Type of Advertising
The American Bar Association sees your law firm website as advertising, and it lays out documented guidelines to follow. Before 1976, legal advertising was forbidden, but that was overturned by the Bates vs. the State Bar of Arizona decision. After that, legal advertising was allowed –but with certain restrictions. Know your state’s guidelines, or your law firm may face certain penalties. If you are ever unsure, it is wise to err on the side of caution and just assume that your website or any of your social media content is considered advertising.
Advertising State Regulations for Law Firms
In addition to the federal laws that relate to legal marketing, the state regulations for law firms listed below have specific rules that refer to contingency fees, client testimonials, and legal certifications and specializations. These rules affect what you can and cannot display on your law firm website, blog or any other marketing content. The states with the strictest regulations for law firms include:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
Nineteen states require disclosures or disclaimers when referring to contingency fee arrangements in their advertising material. This usually impacts law firms hired for personal injury cases, so if your law firm does not work on a contingency basis, you need not be concerned about these guidelines.
- Florida, California, Louisiana, Utah, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island all require attorneys to divulge the nature of any client portion of costs.
- In some states, law firms must include fee arrangement disclosures only in certain circumstances. No disclosures are required in Colorado if the attorney states that “contingency fee arrangements are available.” Law firms in New York are forbidden to imply that advanced-cost arrangements are a unique law firm offering.
- Law firms in some states are burdened with stricter guidelines for contingency fee advertising. In South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Arizona, attorneys must disclose if they calculate contingency fees after or before expenses, and they must disclose the client’s portion of any costs.
- Connecticut requires attorneys to refrain from using a different font size when listing client responsibility for expenses. Law firms in Nevada must disclose the client’s possible portion of any expenses incurred by the opposing party.
Client Testimonials and State Regulations for Law firms
Several state regulations for law firms utilize client testimonials, comparisons and endorsements in their advertising. Most of these restrictions require law firms to provide specific disclaimers when spokespersons endorse their business. The disclaimer usually includes phrasing such as: “past results are no guarantee of future outcomes.” Even if your law firm does not practice in one of these states, adding a disclaimer on a page of client testimonials is still a wise idea.
- Georgia, Missouri, Louisiana, Montana, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Wisconsin and South Carolina require law firms to add a disclaimer wherever there is an endorsement from a paid spokesperson, non-attorney spokesperson or non-client endorsement.
- Florida, New York, South Carolina and South Dakota require attorneys to add disclaimers to potential clients that include “past results are no guarantee of future outcomes.”
- New Jersey, New York, South Dakota and North Dakota must prove with facts any claims made by way of endorsements and testimonials.
- When law firms make comparisons to other law firms in advertising, South Dakota and New Jersey require the advertising law firm to use the actual name of the other law firm that is being compared.
Legal Certifications and Specializations
The states with the strictest regulations for law firms, plus 26 additional states have restrictions that oversee the way attorneys reference their specializations or certifications. In most of these states, lawyers must include a specific disclosure when they display their specialized practice areas or certifications.
- Many states with these restrictions only allow attorneys to refer to themselves as “specialists” if they have been certified by an organization such as the American Bar Association or the Supreme Court.
- Within a disclaimer, attorneys should state their specialization and list the organization that certified them.
- Each law firm website should have a disclaimer page as part of its sitemap.
When using images or video in your law firm’s marketing materials, you must assume that they hold a copyright unless specifically noted otherwise. If copyrighted content is discovered on your website, you could be liable for it. Check your state regulations for law firms guidelines regarding use of images in advertising. Some common restrictions that vary by state include the following:
- If you display images of client models in photos, you must add a disclaimer that these are models and not actual clients.
- If you display images of attorney models in photos, you must add a disclaimer that these are models and not actual attorneys from your law firm.
- Some states prohibit the use of music, drawings or animations on websites.
4 Types of Disclaimers On Your Law Firm Website
As mentioned, it is a wise idea to add disclaimers on your website, and here are a few ideas for the types of disclaimers you should consider including. Remember that state guidelines vary, and they evolve, so stay up to date on what your state forbids and allows.
No Attorney–Client Privilege
It is essential to display a disclaimer that viewing answers on your website or contacting you does not create an attorney-client relationship. Initiating a chat or submitting a form also does not mean that an attorney-client relationship has been established, and this type of conversation is not necessarily secure. Your law firm must clearly state that these types of communication are not subject to confidentiality and they do not constitute the beginning of an attorney-client relationship. Again, review the matter with your state bar if you have any questions about this disclaimer and what is required in your state.
Required Language on Attorney Advertisements
In states like New York, a law firm’s home page must include the phrase: “Attorney Advertising.” In Missouri, legal marketing materials must contain a statement (conspicuously placed) that states: “the choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.” These disclaimers do not apply to all states, so be sure to check your own state’s guidelines about the necessary requirements for marketing materials.
Disclaimers for Client Testimonials or Case Results
Many states allow client testimonials and client stories on law firm websites, as long as you include a disclaimer. In Nebraska, law firms can report accomplishments in past cases, as long as they include a disclaimer. In Washington, law firms must use disclaimers to balance out any statements about fee comparisons with other law firms. Make sure to review your state bar’s rulings on using client testimonials and case outcomes.
Identify the Attorneys Responsible for the Website
Most states require a law firm to disclose the name of the attorney who is responsible for the website content and advertising materials. In Illinois and Wyoming, law firm websites must display the name and address of at least one attorney (or the law firm) who is responsible for the site’s content. Many states have a similar requirement, so be sure to check with your state bar requirements.
How Law Quill Can Help
There may be many more state rulings not listed above, and there may be many more disclaimers that are required, depending on your state. Even if you do not live in a region with the strictest regulations for law firms, be sure to consult your state rules, and stay updated since they are subject to change. Our opinion at Law Quill is to just always play it safe and follow the strictest state guidelines so that if your laws every change, you are still protected and safe! Stay aware and compliant, so you can market your law firm’s services professionally with a great reputation and without intervention. If you are interested in having Law Quill create your content for your law firm’s website, rest assured that we always attempt to ensure adherence to the strictest of guidelines!
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]