As a lawyer, you’re likely well aware of the rules that prohibit you from writing misleading statements or solicitation from various law school classes and MPRE prep. But when was the last time you or your law firm investigated the attorney advertising rules in your state?
Today’s law firms are leaning on digital marketing more and more to reach prospective clients, meaning that the potential for running into a violation is around every corner. In the case that your trusted marketing partners aren’t aware of these rules implemented by your state’s bar, you could find yourself paying the consequences.
Our team at the Grow Law Firm has outlined what you should know regarding attorney advertising to ensure you’re up to date.
Attorney Advertising Rules Differ From State to State
Although each state has its own rules and regulations regarding lawyer advertisements, there are some general rules that you should be aware of regardless of location. A quick glance at the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, and you might think that the laws surrounding attorney advertisements are minimal and straightforward. At a closer look, lawyers need to navigate different state rules of professional responsibility, bar association advisory opinions, and even rulings from the Federal Trade Commission.
In the case that you have at least one lawyer practicing in a different state, it becomes even more challenging to navigate these rules. Each state has a unique approach to how legal services are advertised which could require more research and time for your law firm.
As a lawyer, you might have hesitations about putting so much time and energy into this type of research as you’d rather be litigating cases. This is why partnering with the right marketing law firm can give you peace of mind that your content is meeting the necessary rules outlined by the state in which you are practicing. We've outlined some tips to help align your marketing efforts with the rules of the American Bar Association.
Be Careful When Claiming Your Expertise
One of the first things to keep in mind regarding lawyer advertising rules is to use specific language when claiming your expertise. While other law firm websites might have pages that claim that the lawyer is an expert in his or her field, these words could cause you trouble down the line. Even if you’re proud of your law firm’s success, it’s typically against the rules to claim that you are an “expert” or “specialist” unless you have the formal certifications to back it up. Rule 7.2 in the American Bar Association notes that lawyers shouldn’t imply that they are specialized in a practice area unless they’ve been certified by an ABA-accredited organization authorized by either their state, district, or U.S. territory.
Rather than saying these potentially false or misleading statements, you can instead say that you are focused on a particular practice area. For example, in the state of California, in order to be considered a legal specialist, you need to have practiced law continuously for a set number of years with a specific portion of this time dedicated to practicing that specialty. We encourage you to take a look at any web page that has “expert” or similar language to see if you’re violating any rules.
Mention Only the Facts
There are also specific rules regarding what you can and cannot say in your advertising. Any language that is misleading or untrue could result in a frustrating violation. While this is a fairly understood rule across law firms, here are some things that aren’t allowed in most states:
- Create advertisements for practice areas that you don’t handle
- Guarantee or imply success to potential clients you take on
- Insinuate that you have a special connection to a judge or other attorneys that can help your client
- Publish blanket and non-verifiable statements such as you are “the most respect law firm in Chicago, Illinois”
- Make unverified comparisons between your law firms and your competitors
Always strive to make your legal statements as honest and accurate as possible. If you often use this type of language in digital or traditional advertisements, know that rules apply. You might be tempted to claim that you are the “world’s best lawyer” to your audience, but know that legal consumers often see through that type of language. Instead, show your clients how amazing you are through client success stories and testimonials.
Testimonials and Reviews
When executed correctly, client reviews and testimonials are one of the most effective ways that your law firm can build social proof and trust. Some states, such as Indiana, used to prohibit the use of client testimonials in advertising. However, today, most state bars allow them with some limitations. For example, it isn’t allowed to publish misleading or false testimonials. In many states, it’s also required that you post a disclaimer every time you post an endorsement or review from a client.
Another interesting example to consider is the state of Florida. There, they have strict testimonial rules for lawyers:
- If the individually giving the testimonial isn’t a lawyer, they are not considered qualified to comment on your legal skills. They can, however, talk about whether or not they were satisfied with your services or mention what their client experience was like.
- Lawyers are not allowed to write, draft, or edit client testimonials. It’s also frowned upon to offer a template when asking for reviews.
- All published testimonials need to include a disclaimer that indicates that past results are not a guarantee of future success.
- It’s not allowed to offer anything of value in exchange for a client testimonial.
When it comes to lawyer advertisements, depending on your state, there could be minimum requirements for the information that needs to be included. This holds true for the types of information that can’t be included as well. If you’re trying to create more advertisements, make sure to browse through these examples that outline the information that you should include.
- Identifying details: Information such as identifying information may be required for the lawyer advertising rules in your jurisdiction. For example, Florida Bar’s advertising rules note that lawyer advertisements need to call out the name of at least one lawyer, or at a minimum, name the law firm. Other states require that advertisements are explicitly identified as advertisements. For example, New York state has rules that specific ads need to be labeled as “attorney advertising.”
- Publications and awards: Using legal industry publications or law-related publications or accolades are allowed in some jurisdictions.
- Memberships: Your current bar association or professional association memberships.
- Rates and prices: In some locations, it is allowed to post your hourly rates or fixed rates.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are rules that you should know that outline the language that you cannot use in your advertisements. Here are some examples of what may not be allowed:
- Pending case information: For example, the New York Rules of Professional Conduct note that Rule 7.1 claims you must avoid using client testimonials with pending matters unless you’ve received informed client content in writing.
- Fictitious details: The same rule also prevents lawyers from using made-up or false law firms or lawyers in their documents.
- Faux documents: Don’t use any fake legal documents in your advertising efforts.
Advertisement vs. Solicitation
All lawyers want to increase their volume of new cases, but there’s a difference between using a sound marketing strategy and soliciting your services. Advertising, when executed correctly, is allowed, however, soliciting is generally prohibited.
But what’s the difference between advertising and solicitation when it comes to attorney advertising? Although they are both used to retain business for a law firm, they are different when it comes to how directly they are targeted.
Attorney advertising refers to communication made by or on behalf of an individual lawyer or a law firm as a whole. Advertising often revolves around the available services at the law firm.
Attorney solicitation, on the other hand, is an advertisement from a lawyer or law firm that targets a specific person or group. This may be unethical which is why it isn’t allowed. For example, the ABA Rule 7.3 is about the solicitation of clients. It states that a lawyer or law firm is not allowed to direct any advertising communication to a specific person who is in need of legal services or offer to provide legal services.
Make sure that you closely follow these rules to ensure that you’re advertising, not soliciting. There is another ABA Rule 7.3 that highlights that lawyers are not allowed to solicit their services in person toward a specific person if there is financial motivation behind the lawyer or law firm’s intentions. In other words, when advertisements are not directed to the public, it is not considered to be a solicitation.
Keeping Ad Copies If Necessary
Before you jump from one advertising campaign to another, make sure to research whether or not you’ll need to keep copies. Depending on your jurisdiction, you might need to keep copies of your advertisements, whether they are physical, digital, or both, for a particular amount of time.
For example, there is Rule 7.1 in New York that requires lawyers and law firms to keep copies of advertisements for at least three years after they were initially circulated. They must also keep copies of ads that were used for computer-accessed communications for at least one year after they were initially circulated. When it comes to law firm websites, many jurisdictions also require that the site content including major redesigns or content changes are preserved at least once every three months. In today's digital age, it's always a good idea to keep copies of everything.
Inviting Actors or Spokespersons to Advertise
Even if you don’t have bad intentions, you might be breaking your state’s rules if you use actors, spokespersons, or reenactments in your law firm’s advertising efforts. Many states have lawyer advertising rules that require you to use clear disclaimers when using non-attorney actors or spokespersons while others prohibit this approach entirely.
When in doubt, you can always submit your television or radio ads to your state bar association. They will either provide you with approval or deny your ad. Make sure to submit these ads in advance as the review process can take a good amount of time. In the case that they request changes, you’ll need to submit it again for additional review.
Attorney Advertising and the American Bar Association Rules
As we have hinted at throughout this blog, the American Bar Association will keep your law firm responsible for your advertising efforts. While lawyers are allowed to use any media to communicate information, there are specific rules that each state has that are outlined by the American Bar Association. For example, lawyers are not allowed to refer clients to “another lawyer or nonlawyer professional pursuant to an agreement not otherwise prohibited under these Rules that provides for the other person to refer clients or customers to the lawyer if the reciprocal agreement is not exclusive; and the client is informed of the existence and nature of the agreement.” Doing this research ahead of time can save you a lot of trouble when you start creating advertisements for circulation.
Tips on How to Advertise Legal Services
Starting a new business as a lawyer can be daunting, especially when there are so many rules surrounding how you can or cannot advertise. Here are some tips on how to advertise your law firm.
Think of Making a Website for Your Law Firm
The key to taking on more business for your firm is creating a website. This website will act as a foundation not only for search engines to crawl your site, but they're a great way to promote your services and build your online presence. Your website should showcase your particular field and any accolades that can help build trust with your prospective clients. Put yourself in the shoes of a consumer who is looking for a lawyer; what about your law firm website design? Is it enticing or impressive enough to help seal the deal? Maybe you have tons of video testimonials that you want to show off or maybe you've recently hired a professional photographer who has captured the essence of your firm. All of these different aspects can (and should) live on your site as long as you are following all of the compliance and regulation rules expected of you. Creating a website is easy with the right law firm website services team on your side.
Start a Lawyer Blog
Another facet of your advertising efforts can also come in the form of a company blog. Blogs are an easy and effective way to show off your expertise and write about relevant topics that your potential clients may be interested in. While you are not claiming to be an expert in your particular industry, you are showing your audience through your sheer knowledge that you understand the ins and outs of your industry and can provide them with the guidance they need to overcome their legal issue. Write legal blogs about a variety of topics related to the industry to show your range of knowledge and to help cover common topics associated with your law firm. In addition to showing off your knowledge, well-written blogs can be a great way to improve your SEO through targeted keywords.
Create a Law Firm Social Media Profile
You might not associate law firms with a strong social media presence, but in reality, this is a great avenue to make connections with your community. You can use both paid and organic advertising techniques to capture the attention of your audience when they are seeking legal services in your area. When it comes to paid advertising for lawyers, make sure to do your research so you know the type of language that you can and cannot use in your jurisdiction. Paid ads will have a more immediate return on investment while attorney SEO services, or search engine optimization, will take more time to take effect. Be patient and continue to post consistently to build a following who cares about your legal services. Examples of platforms that you can consider include Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Instagram. If you are able, you can also start a YouTube channel that has videos from your law firm that can easily be shared throughout your profiles.
Grow Law Firm Can Help You Navigate Lawyer Advertising Rules
As you can tell, lawyer advertising can be tricky. With so many specific rules across jurisdictions and platforms, you might feel hesitant to move forward with any sort of advertising whatsoever. Rather than shying away from such an effective way to grow your business, you can instead partner with a lawyer advertising firm like Grow Law Firm. Our team has extensive experience helping law firms both big and small navigate the nuances associated with professional conduct and lawyer advertising rules. We’re passionate about helping you grow your business with tangible results. If you’re interested in learning more about how our team can help, please contact us to get started.