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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 on attorney advertising. Regulations governing advertisements for legal services vary by state, so it is important for law firms to know their state’s guidelines. Here are some general principles for what lawyers usually can and cannot include on a law firm website, along with states that have the strictest regulations for law firms. To get help with online law firm marketing, reach out to Law Quill today and schedule a free consultation to discuss a marketing plan that complies with your state’s regulations.

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. 

Following Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, legal advertising has been allowed –but the marketing of legal services remains subject to certain restrictions. Managing attorneys will need to stay up to date with their state’s guidelines in order to avoid potential violations of state-specific rules of professional conduct. If you are ever unsure, it is wise to err on the side of caution and just assume that your website, as well as anything content posted to your law firm’s social media accounts, may be 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, and the fact that attorneys are aware of the potential for risks in this area is reflected in how often “Can a state bar take over a law firm?” shows up in search results for law firm marketing. Attorneys can use their well-honed instinct for caution to help themselves stay informed and in compliance with state law firm advertising restrictions. Some of the states with the strictest regulations for law firms include: 

  • California
  • Florida
  • Louisiana
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina

 

At some level, whether your state has the strictest regulations for attorney advertising may matter less to your law firm’s ethics requirements than the specific restrictions your state applies to lawyer marketing efforts.

Contingency Fees

Nineteen states require disclosures or disclaimers when referring to contingency fee arrangements in their advertising material. Disclaimer requirements for contingency fees most commonly impact law firms hired for personal injury cases, so if your law firm does not work on a contingency basis, you may not need to 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 

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State regulations for law firms frequently put restrictions on using client testimonials in attorney advertising. Generally speaking, these restrictions are designed to require law firms to provide specific disclaimers when spokespersons endorse their business. The disclaimer often 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. While it would be unusual to see a state bar take over a law firm over advertising considerations, professional censure or even suspension of license to practice law could be possible responses if a state bar association determines that an attorney or law firm has violated the rules of professional conduct in their law firm advertising.

In many states, lawyers are subject to a stringent requirement that they 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. 

 

Law firm marketing experts (who can freely assert that they specialize in attorney marketing and legal advertising) often receive some version of the question, What is the best form of advertising for a lawyer? –– but the honest answer is that the best marketing for law firms will always be the kind that maintains compliance with the rules of professional conduct, and any specific laws on the books, in the state or states where the attorney practices law. To make the most of your options, and to get help designing a customized attorney advertising plan that works within the state regulations for law firms that apply to your state and practice area, reach out to a digital marketing specialist at Law Quill today. 

Website Images

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’s law firm marketing guidelines regarding use of images in advertising. 

Some common restrictions on images in attorney advertising 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

Here are a few ideas for the types of disclaimers you should consider including on your law firm website. Remember that state guidelines vary, and they evolve, so stay up to date on what your state forbids and allows. 

1. No Attorney–Client Privilege

Most attorneys will want to display a disclaimer that viewing answers on your website or contacting you does not create an attorney-client relationship. If the website offers chat or form submission options, it may also be a good idea to include a disclaimer stating that initiating a chat or submitting a form does not mean that an attorney-client relationship has been established, and this type of conversation is not necessarily secure. Your law firm should clearly state that these types of communication are not subject to confidentiality and emphasize that 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. 

2. 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 that do not fall under Rule 4-7.3 of the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct 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. 

3. Disclaimers for Client Testimonials or Case Results

Many states allow client testimonials and client stories on law firm websites, as long as the lawyer advertising includes a disclaimer. In Nebraska, law firms can report accomplishments in past cases, as long as the communication includes 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. 

4 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. Illinois and Wyoming, for example, both require law firm websites to display the name and address of at least one attorney (or the name and address of the law firm) as responsible for the site’s content. Many states have a similar requirement, so be sure to check with your state bar association for required law firm website disclosures.

How Law Quill Protects Clients by Maintaining Compliance With State Requirements for Attorney Advertising

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 state regulations for law firms, be sure to consult your state rules, and stay updated since they are subject to change. After years of working with law firms in multiple states and a variety of practice areas, the legal marketing experts at Law Quill have developed a client-protection strategy of always playing it safe and following the strictest state guidelines so that if the laws in a client’s state ever change, their legal marketing materials are still protected and safe! Stay aware and compliant, so that you can maintain the continuity of your attorney advertising professionally, with a great reputation and without intervention. Our content creation team is trained to create compelling, informative content that attracts site visitors to a law firm website and then motivates those visitors to schedule consultations – all while adhering to the strictest ethical standards to keep your law practice safe., rest assured that we always attempt to ensure adherence to the strictest of guidelines! Law Quill is here to help, and we 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 support@lawquill.com.