There is no arguing that marketing is essential for reaching potential new clients. However, advertising as a lawyer means following the rules or suffering the consequences.
From social media to law firm websites, connecting with clients digitally has become the norm for lawyers. No matter what platforms make up your digital marketing strategy, understanding—and following—the lawyer advertising rules and responsibilities is crucial to the success and reputation of your firm. If you work with a marketing firm, be sure they know your profession’s rules and policies on advertising and promoting your legal services.
According to the American Bar Association (ABA) Rule 7.2 on Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services, lawyers can communicate their services through any platform, but there are stipulations regarding claims.
Rule #1: Avoid using the word ‘expert’
It’s generally against the ABA Rule 7.2 to call yourself an “expert” or “specialist.” Only lawyers who are actually certified as an expert by an ABA-accredited organization can use the term. Instead, try using terms such as experienced, skillful, or seasoned to demonstrate your expertise. Using phrases like “Expert Divorce Lawyer” can be a violation.
Rule #2: Refrain from using misleading claims
To state the obvious, you never want to communicate an outright lie in your marketing. But, misleading proclamations about you or your services are also a big no-no. Everything you claim, from the results you’ve received to legal fees, should be transparent and accurate.
Avoid making any claims or statements that cannot be quantified—for instance, using superlatives such as “the best,” “the most,” or “the lowest” could be construed as deceptive. Instead, highlight aspects that make your firm unique or share awards you’ve won. Publishing a phrase like “Boston’s Best Defense Lawyer” in your Google ads can lead to trouble.
Rule #3: Location matters
Conducting business remotely these days has become the norm. However, you may still need a physical office address to market in the exact location (city, town, or county) of your advertised legal services.
Rules related to a geographical office location may require a business address in your marketing content. Be sure to post a physical office address on your law firm’s website if this policy exists in your specific jurisdiction.
Rule #4: Always use your name
ABA Rules state that “A lawyer or law firm may use a domain name that does not include or embody the firm’s name or that of any individual lawyer, under certain conditions: the web site bearing the domain name must clearly and conspicuously identify the actual law firm name; the domain name must not be false, deceptive or misleading; the name must not imply any special expertise or competence, or suggest a particular result; and, it must not be used in advertising as a substitute identifier of the firm.”
You are not allowed to practice under a trade name or a firm name containing names other than those of one or more of the lawyers in the firm. To stay within ethical marketing territory, avoid misrepresenting who you are. For example, using the domain “BestLawyersMassachusetts” and then using those words in other advertising is a violation.
Rule #5: No quid pro quo
The ABA Rule 7.2 (b) isn’t shy when noting that lawyers cannot compensate anyone for recommending their services in any way. In other words, you cannot pay or compensate clients in exchange for testimonials, client reviews, or recommending your legal services.
This does not mean you cannot request clients to review your legal services as long as you don’t promise them anything in return. Additionally, there is only so much you can do when someone chooses to write a glowing review of your legal services, but be careful when sharing these client reviews. Avoid sharing or actively disseminating anything, including reviews, that can be considered misleading.
Rule #6: Know the difference between soliciting and marketing
Advertising targeted to a specific person or group is considered soliciting and is unethical according to ABA Rule 7.3. This is a grey area especially with the targeting features and functionality available with today’s online and social media advertising services.
However, marketing your services to a general audience through communication made by or on behalf of your law firm is acceptable. Marketing messages directed to the public are not considered a direct solicitation.
Rule #7: Recognize what can and can’t be included
When marketing your firm, there may be requirements for information that must, and must not, be included.
For example, certain identifying information, such as the name of at least one lawyer, may be required in your marketing message in your specific jurisdiction. Law-related or legal industry publications, accolades, or professional association memberships may be allowed. If you have received honors, awards, or recognition they often must be presented with a date of the award and name of the source presenting the recognition. Avoid displaying and promoting false claims from Internet scams that state things like you have been selected as “The Top Bankruptcy Attorney”.
Rule #8: Keep a record of your marketing content
Both physical and digital marketing materials may be required to be saved for a specified amount of time.
For example, some states, like New York, require lawyers to keep copies of digital marketing communications for at least one year. Some regulations require law firm websites containing advertising to preserve content at least every 90 days.
While some of these rules go without saying, such as not lying in your marketing, others aren’t so black and white. You should always refer to current ABA rules and look to your state’s bar association for the most up-to-date information.
Marketing your firm is a must. However, avoiding unintentional unethical marketing requires constant diligence and an understanding of effective, ethical marketing strategies.
Knowing the legal marketing rules in your jurisdiction and practice area can help you advertise your services ethically to attract leads and continue growing your firm. Be sure to work with a marketing firm who knows the ethical and legal obligations of your profession to avoid a run in with your Bar’s disciplinary authority.