Are you promoting your services on a website, social media platform, or otherwise over the Internet? The vast majority of attorneys who market their legal services do so online, but how many of those attorneys sit down and study the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPCs) and ethics opinions before launching an online presence? Many don’t realize the advertising RPCs apply to all online communications about your services. One misstep in advertising can lead to a grievance and it’s your competitors who are reporting your noncompliant ads, not your clients.
In addition, compliance is not as simple as following the rules. For example, did you know that the Ethics Committee has interpreted Rule 7.1 to prohibit use of truthful testimonials that reference a dollar amount obtained through the attorney’s services? The advertising rules and ethics opinions are not necessarily intuitive and simply knowing that you cannot make a false or misleading communication is not enough. In the last several years, there have been a series of formal ethics opinions pertaining to online marketing. Failure to keep track of these opinions can be a trap for the unwary or an ethical mine field.
The following provides a short bullet point summary of what you can and cannot do concerning online marketing.
The following are generally permitted provided the marketing also complies with the general standards for accurate, truthful statements and other requirements of Rules 7.1- 7.5.
- Including case results on your website or other marketing materials, provided they are factually accurate and contain an appropriate and “prominently displayed” disclaimer.
- Using client testimonials that discuss results, so long as there is no reference to specific dollar amounts, you include an appropriate and conspicuous disclaimer and you obtain the client’s consent before posting.
- Using client testimonials with “soft endorsements” about the attorney’s level of service, attentiveness, responsiveness, even without any disclaimer.
- Requesting that clients post reviews or testimonials on social media and similar sites.
- Accepting or sending an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, a “like” on Facebook, or similar invitation to or from a judge, unless you are in proceedings before the judge at the time it is sent.
- Accepting a social media endorsement or recommendation from persons other than judges, as long as they are truthful and not misleading.
- Sending a social media endorsement or recommendation for a sitting judge, unless you are appearing before the judge at the time.
The following are generally prohibited by the RPCs or Ethics Opinions.
- Posting client testimonials that reference verdicts or settlement with specific dollar amounts.
- Accepting a social media endorsement from a sitting judge, even if the person became a judge after you accepted the endorsement.
- Accepting an endorsement through LinkedIn or other social media platform for an area of law in which you don’t practice, as it could be misleading.
- Giving anything of value for an online endorsement or recommendation.
- Using reviews for hire to post testimonials, reviews or other endorsements that are not based on truthful and real experiences.
- Asking or allowing a client or other person to post a review, testimonial or other endorsement containing language that you could not post yourself.
- Responding to a negative client review online by breaching client confidentiality.
If you are going to have an online presence, make sure to check your website and social media profiles regularly. It’s easy to post them and forget about them. You must maintain current and accurate information on a website, online profile or social media platform over which you have control to avoid making false or misleading communications. If you claim your profile on AVVO or other similar platform, you are deemed responsible for the accuracy of information contained on the site. If there is an improper testimonial and you have any ability to control the website or content of the social media platform, you should take steps to address it.
The above is intended to be a very general overview of important issues in online marketing and is not a comprehensive discussion of issues in this area. The bottom line: before marketing online, it is essential to review the rules, opinions, authorities cited above, or seek advice about ethical compliance. Deanna Brocker and Doug Brocker