Bar Rules for Attorney Advertising
In most states, attorney websites are considered advertisements, which are subject to regulation by the state bar association. Typically, the state's bar rules or rules of ethics and professional conduct have specific provisions that govern law firm and attorney website advertising and marketing.
Since an increasing number of attorneys and law firms use the internet to advertise their practice, complying with the state bar rules has become more important, despite the fact that many website design and marketing companies fail to comply with these guidelines.
Attorneys can break these bar rules without being of aware the violation because they did not actually create the website. Although the rules slightly vary in each state, there are a few general guidelines every attorney should follow no matter what state they're in.
- Language Prohibited in Attorney Website Marketing
- False or Misleading Statements on Attorney Websites Are Forbidden
- Attorney Must be Responsible for Website Content
- Disclaimers Required on Attorney Website
- Attorney Websites Must Have an Office Location or Address
Law firm websites must avoid terms like "expert," "specialist," or "specialized." 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.
If a lawyer is certified by the Board of Legal Specialization in their state or some other type of permissible specialization in their state, they may say so. 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 one's services. 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 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.
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.
Many jurisdictions have some requirement for the geographic location of the attorney's office or law firm. 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 October 9, 2018.