In most states, attorney websites are considered advertisements, which are subject to regulation by the state bar association. Typically, the state's bar rules of ethics and professional conduct have specific provisions that govern website advertising and marketing for lawyers and law firms.
Complying with the state bar rules for advertising your practice is essential. Although many website design and marketing companies do not understand the rules, the attorney still has an obligation to make sure their website complies.
Attorneys can break these bar rules without being aware of the violation because they did not actually create the website. These problems can be avoided if you hire a company that pays attention to the bar rules in your state.
Although the rules slightly vary in each state, there are a few general guidelines every attorney should follow. Visit the links below to find out more information on the bar rules for attorney advertising in your state.
If you are preparing to launch a new website or start a new internet marketing strategy, the first step is reading all of the bar rules that might apply.
In most states, ABA Model Rules 7.1 and 7.2 serve as the foundation for the advertising rules that apply to attorneys. Those rules prohibit an attorney from making false or misleading advertisements and paying for recommendations.
The rules also require the attorney to include name and contact details for at least one lawyer responsible for its content. The best practice is to list the attorney that is responsible for the content and that attorney's address in the footer of the website.
The most common bar rule violations involve problems with adding case results or testimonials to a website or social media platform. Nevertheless, when done correctly, adding case results and testimonials that can be independently verified is an extremely effective marketing tool.
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Most state bar associations prohibit attorney advertisements, including websites, from using false or misleading information or making material misstatements.
The most frequent violation occurs when attorneys use terms like "expert" or "specialized" in a specific area of law when they are not qualified to do so.
For this reason, law firm websites should be careful when using terms like "expert," "specialist," or "specialized."
However, websites cannot make general statements that the law firm is board certified. Additionally, a lawyer can say they are available to practice in certain areas of the law, but they generally cannot claim they have special competence or experience in a legal area.
False or misleading information also includes making self-laudatory statements about the law firm, the attorney, or the services provided. Impermissible self-laudatory statements on attorney websites often include the words "best," "better" or "cheapest."
Statements comparing one attorney's services to that of another are not allowed unless they can be factually substantiated by verifiable data. The problems most attorneys run into when making self-laudatory statements are when they use terms describing their fees, their abilities or skills, and the results they have obtained in the past.
All communications on an attorney's website about their services must be truthful. Other states consider years of attorney experience, client testimonials, endorsements, or even past case results to be false and misleading for advertisement purposes.
Generally, advertisements in the public media must contain at least one named attorney who is responsible for the content of the advertisement. Many states require the name of the lawyer or law firm responsible for the content on the website to be clearly displayed somewhere on the website.
Other states require the name of the responsible attorney to be on the initial access page of the website, or the homepage. To avoid a bar rule violation, it is generally good practice for attorneys to put their name on every page of their website.
As a practical matter, a well-designed website will list the name of the firm, address, and phone number at the bottom of each page. A disclaimer in the footer can also provide the name fo the attorney responsible for the content. From the perspective of optimizing the website for the search engines (sometimes called "SEO"), listing this information on each page of the website is also the best practice.
Attorney websites in many jurisdictions must state the content provided is merely legal information, and not legal advice. One general disclaimer on the website is considered sufficient in many states. However, an attorney's website should ideally have a disclaimer on every web page that the content is merely legal information and should not be construed as legal advice.
Many states also prohibit attorney statements that could give a reader or potential client an unjustified expectation about the results a lawyer is able to achieve for a particular type of case. Therefore, in jurisdictions that allow case results in attorney advertisements, a statement disclaiming results are not typical would be appropriate on the web site.
Your internet marketing company should help you develop a disclaimer for the footer of the web page. Some interior pages on the website might need additional disclaimers.
The bar rules in your jurisdictions might have specific requirements for what you can say about where your law firm is located. The most restrictive states require the geographical location or city or town where the lawyer's principal office is located to be on the initial access page - also known as the homepage. Links on the homepage to another page on the website with this information are usually not considered sufficient.
Other states require law firms to not advertise other office locations on their website unless these locations are staffed at least three days per week, the advertisement clarifies the days and times the attorney will be at that office, or the advertisement states meetings are by appointment only.
This article was last updated on Friday, July 19, 2019.