At one time, law firms and lawyers could not legally advertise to promote their services. With those restrictions eliminated, most law firms now embrace various digital marketing strategies designed to gain more clients and produce more revenue. But that doesn’t mean anything goes with respect to what you can say or do when promoting your firm.
Lawyers are certainly allowed to advertise their services. But, the American Bar Association and individual state bars have created rules governing lawyer advertising practices. Here’s why it’s important to follow those guidelines and some tips for navigating the ethics of legal marketing.
Why Marketing Ethics Are Essential in the Legal Sector
Attorneys have a responsibility to provide trustworthy legal counsel to clients and uphold the law in all of their actions. Marketing ethics play a critical role in maintaining the public’s trust and that of current or potential clients.
Law firms that engage in unethical marketing practices risk damaging their credibility and reputation, which can have serious business consequences. If the state bar gets involved or the firm gets sued, a poor marketing choice could be even more costly.
How to Navigate Ethical Guidelines in Legal Marketing
Every state has different rules regarding legal marketing ethics. However, most states use the ABA guidelines as a yardstick, so it makes sense to have an understanding of these. Here is how your law firm can navigate the ethical guidelines in legal marketing.
- Avoid Claiming to Be an Expert
As an attorney, you probably want people to view you as an expert in your field. But ABA rules prohibit lawyers from calling themselves a “specialist” or “expert” in marketing materials unless there is an ABA-accredited certification to back up that claim. Instead, it’s best to demonstrate expertise by listing years of experience and work in various areas of the law.
- Don’t Make Misleading or False Statements
You obviously don’t want to lie or make misleading statements in your law firm’s marketing. Avoid saying things like you have “the lowest fees” or get “the highest settlements.” These are considered deceptive and misleading.
- Ensure Your Testimonials Are Appropriate
One of the best ways to attract new clients is to have positive recommendations on hand from past ones. As a law firm, it’s critical that you understand the legal practice advertising rules for obtaining and posting testimonials. For example, you aren’t permitted to compensate people in any way for their testimonials. Also, testimonials should not be worded in a way that a potential client will expect the same results. This would be considered misleading.
- Know Whether You Must List an Office Address
Technology has permitted many attorneys to work remotely. But, some jurisdictions might require that you have a physical location to advertise your services. Others also state that law firms must list their office address in all advertising messages, including a law firm website. For this reason, it’s important to research the rules in your state.
- Avoid Directly Soliciting Your Services
As a general rule, attorneys are prohibited from directly soliciting their services. This refers to a marketing message or ad directed at a specific person or group who needs your legal services for a particular matter. According to ABA Rule 7.3, attorneys can market their services online but not show up at the hospital emergency room uninvited after a major accident.
- Understand the Rules for Using Trade Names
Many states have rules regarding identifying information that must be included in a marketing message to avoid misleading the public. If your firm uses any trade names, research whether or not you can use these in your jurisdiction. The rules are usually specific and may change according to case law.
- Know What Information You Can and Can’t Include in Ads
When it comes to marketing your law firm, some states might have minimum information that you must or can include on your website or other marketing materials. Some examples include:
- Identifying details— Things like your law firm’s name, address, and phone number are a must in many states.
- Memberships— Current bar association and any other professional memberships are helpful.
- Awards and publications — Law-related awards and industry publications can provide credibility.
- Rates— Many attorneys discuss how their rates are structured, such as hourly, flat-rate, or contingency fee basis.
Things you can’t include on your website or other marketing materials include fake legal documents, pending case information, and fictitious details.
- Use Disclaimers When Appropriate
It’s vital that potential clients understand that every situation and case outcome is unique. An excellent way to avoid problems in law firm marketing is to add disclaimers to some of your marketing messages and testimonials. An example is “No attorney can promise a specific case outcome.”
- Protect Your Client’s Information
It should go without saying, but you have an obligation in everything you do to safeguard your client’s information. This includes advertising and marketing. Once a client retains your firm’s services, they must give informed consent before you can share any information related to their representation. Even if it is on the public record or “generally known,” an attorney is not free to disclose details of a prior client’s case.
- Stay on Top of Ethics Rules
Ethics and other rules related to digital advertising change constantly. Some of the more strict restrictions for legal advertising have become less so in the past several years. However, nothing is saying various bar associations won’t change those restrictions once again to prohibit certain actions. As with everything in the legal profession, it’s vital that you remain on top of any rule changes or partner with a digital marketing agency that can do this for you.
Create a Winning and Ethical Marketing Campaign for Your Law Firm
You need as many advantages as you can get in a competitive legal market. But it’s important to know what you can and can’t do to stay within the lines of established legal ethics for marketing. Fortunately, we can help.
Too Darn Loud Legal Marketing specializes in helping law firms become the business of choice in their geographic and practice areas. Our digital marketing specialists focus on your firm’s particular needs and goals and understand the ethics guidelines for digital marketing. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and website evaluation.