Jane Q. Attorney got me $100 million and she’ll do the same for you!
Part of the above testimonial is okay to include in legal marketing, and part of it isn’t. Do you know which is which and why?
While attorneys and law firms can advertise services, there are many rules and regulations concerning ethics and professional responsibility that legal marketing tactics must abide by. The rules come from individual states’ bars to ensure truthful marketing practices. The directives’ overarching goal is to avoid false and misleading communications from advertisements and websites to letterhead and social media.
Until recently, each state had its own unique set of professional rules and responsibilities. Now, nearly all states have adopted the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, including Rules 7.1-7.3 that address communications concerning attorney services. While the rules as written appear brief, there is plenty of additional guidance in the comments. The states’ rules are now more consistent, but you should always check your state bar’s rules, as many have modified the ABA’s Model Rules with additional interpretations and details.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Legal Marketing
Here are six best practices you should adhere to, no matter where your practice is located and what kind of legal marketing tactics you use, to comply with the rules:
Don’t make false or misleading statements: This is the grandaddy rule, as you must ensure that everything you communicate about your services, your results, and even your fees are truthful. Avoid using adjectives like “the best” or “the lowest.” Also, as in the statement above about Jane Q. Attorney, it is acceptable to truthfully report an outcome but avoid using language that would lead people to expect the same results.
Don’t say you’re an “expert” or “specialist” unless you are: Many states have stringent rules around calling yourself an “expert” or “specialist” unless you’ve been certified as such by an organization that is approved to do so by an appropriate state authority or accredited by the ABA. Likewise, avoid saying you have “expertise in” or “specialize in” a specific service. If you are certified, you must include the name of the organization or agency that provided that certification.
Don’t pay for testimonials: Any past or present client who wants to give a public, positive recommendation is allowed to do so, but you can’t compensate them for it. This applies to advertising, websites, and social media. Like No. 1 above, though, testimonials should not include misleading statements that would lead potential clients to expect the same outcome.
Do include contact information: Any communication about a law firm or attorney’s services must include the name of the firm or the attorney, as well as contact information in the form of a website address, a telephone number, and email address, or a physical office location.
Do research on firm name rules: Some states allow law firms to use trade names instead of the more common partner names, so long as the trade name isn’t false or misleading. The name also cannot imply a connection to a government agency, a deceased attorney who was not a former member of the firm, an attorney who is not associated with the firm or a predecessor firm, a non-lawyer, or a public or charitable legal services organization.
Do know the difference between “advertising” and “soliciting”: While advertising your legal services (one: many) is allowed, the rules say it may be unethical to solicit your services to a specific person or group (one: one). There are some exceptions to this rule, including if you have a previous personal or professional relationship with the targeted person or group or if they routinely use the type of legal service being offered by the attorney for business.
While the advertising rules governing law firms are stricter than most businesses, you should not let them scare you away from legal marketing. To be competitive in today’s marketplace, consumers need to hear from you and learn about you. The 21st century has seen an explosion of attorney advertising beyond business cards and listings in the yellow pages, giving attorneys and law firms an excellent opportunity to connect with the people who may one day need them.