Support for New ABA Model Rules 7.1-7.3 Can Spur Success

ABA Model Rules 7.1-7.3

It’s no secret: for any organization, smart marketing finds creative ways to deliver the right message to the right people in the right way. For law firms in particular, clear, cohesive marketing initiatives can significantly increase awareness and understanding of a firm’s practices and professionals and expand their book of business. For current and potential clients, accurate, truthful, and transparent advertising communications can help them make more informed choices regarding their legal services providers.

So why doesn’t this happen more often? In many states, the arcane state bar rules that continue to govern law firm communications act as barriers to all of these outcomes. Fear of noncompliance needlessly restricts opportunities for law firms and — perhaps most egregiously — prevents vulnerable and underserved individuals and groups from gaining access to much-needed legal services.

The solution lies in state-by-state adoption of the most up-to-date ABA Model Rules that govern how attorneys and their firms market and advertise their services. For several years, the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) has supported the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL), which worked alongside the ABA’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility to shape and bring these updated rules to fruition.

We are now encouraging you to contact your state bar delegate and express your opinion on adoption of these new guidelines.

We are now encouraging you to contact your state bar delegate and express your opinion on adoption of these new guidelines.

New Rules Acknowledge New Realities

New technologies, expanding social media, and targeted advertising have permanently changed modern communications. Advertisements that may once have had limited geographical reach can today be seen by almost anyone, anywhere in the world. Now more than ever, even the most sophisticated and savvy consumers depend on law firms to deliver outreach that is truthful, transparent and — most of all — informative. The new ABA Model Rules do just that.

Nearly two years ago, the ABA passed new rules (7.1-7.3, formerly 7.1-7.5) that address marketing and advertising issues relevant to how firms market themselves in today’s business climate. These updates include guidance for communicating with clients or prospects across state lines, use of social media for marketing purposes, and how client results are publicized. Without question, the new rules ensure attorneys do not mislead or over-promise results to their clients. They also set parameters around truthfulness in client communications and advertising. Most important, they recognize the new realities of today’s messaging platforms.

Clear Benefits to Firms, Lawyers and Clients

The new ABA rules give every law firm and lawyer an opportunity to showcase their offerings particularly in the face of increasing (in variety and complexity) communications channels. They promote consistency, reliability, and clarity from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and minimize confusion regarding the types of services they provide, how they provide them, and who can benefit.

Today, for example, more and more firms and lawyers rely on social media and streaming video to share news and information about their cultures, practice offerings, and community-service activities. For potential clients, social media is easy to access and monitor. However, the old rules simply cannot accommodate the intricacies and nuances of this new format, and self- or firm-created “standards” can lead to inconsistency, inaccuracy, or a lack of clarity across the legal industry.

Whether a firm is exploring or actively using websites, blogs, professional directories, client alerts, articles written for news outlets and industry organizations, and other platforms to reach potential clients, the new rules provide clear guidance and standards. And with the elimination of the once-requisite “Attorney Advertising” label — which can prevent or stifle communications that might otherwise provide greater access to legal services — firms can make connections with and better inform individuals and groups who in the past may have had limited awareness of the resources available to them.

For the legal marketers in your firm, adoption of the new rules means communications can be more direct, consistent and cost-effective. Every firm will know – without question – what is permissible, what is not allowed, and what is standard operating procedure.

Every firm will know – without question – what is permissible, what is not allowed, and what is standard operating procedure.

Finally, the new rules recognize that the legal marketing landscape will continue to evolve along with ongoing technological, business, and economic developments. Clarity and consistency do not equal calcification; instead, as new platforms are developed, law firms will have the necessary guidance to make effective decisions about tomorrow’s advertising practices.

Please Act Now

Your help is needed to make needed change in your state. While legal advocacy groups such as APRL and the LMA can help explain and promote the benefits of adopting the new ABA Model Rules, individual lawyers and firm leaders can help to advance the adoption of the rules by contacting their state bar delegates to voice their support. A simple phone call can go a long way.

Once state adoption is complete, the rules will assist and protect everyone, including clients and lawyers alike. We urge you to contact your state bar delegate and express your opinion on adoption of Rules 7.1 – 7.3.

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