Most attorneys market themselves online either on social media or their own tailor-made websites. The Alaska Bar Rules has regulations for firms wishing to advertise on the Internet. These rules ensure that all attorneys are ethical in their advertisements to both the clients and other rival firms. Failure to uphold these rules can result in some type of disciplinary action by the bar.
For attorneys who are law admitted to practice by the Supreme Court of Alaska and are members of the Alaska Bar Association, any internet marketing efforts must comply with the Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct (ARPC) and Alaska Bar Rules. The Alaska Supreme Court and the Disciplinary Board of the Bar have jurisdiction to resolve disciplinary complaints made against the attorney for bar rules violations and allegations of professional misconduct related to attorney advertising. The Bar investigates misconduct allegations in grievances during the Bar disciplinary proceedings.
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. The main bar rules that apply to attorney advertising can be found in the Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct's section on "INFORMATION ABOUT LEGAL SERVICES" including:
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As a general matter, Alaska Professional Conduct Rule 7.1 prohibits a lawyer from making a false or misleading communication about the lawyer, the lawyer’s services, or a prospective client’s need for services. Communications are defined to be false or misleading if: they contain a material misrepresentation of fact or law; if they are likely to create an unjustified expectation of results; or if they compare the lawyer’s services with other lawyers’ services, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated.
The Commentary to Rule 7.1 explains that all statements about a lawyer’s services must be truthful. It explains further that even truthful statements are prohibited if they may mislead a layperson.
Comment  to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct further explains that an advertisement that truthfully reports a lawyer’s achievements may be misleading if presented in a way that would lead a reasonable person to form an expectation that the same results could be obtained for other clients because each case must be evaluated based on its has unique factual circumstances.
So if the attorney's advertisement contains information about results obtained on behalf of a client, "the lawyer’s record in obtaining favorable verdicts, or client endorsements are ordinarily precluded by Rule 7.1(b)." Id.
A bar rule violation might occur because of a comparison of one lawyer’s services to another lawyer’s services can be misleading if the information would lead a reasonable person to believe the comparison could be substantiated, when it fact it cannot. The Annotation to Model Rule 7.1 explains that the key to avoiding a misleading comparison is the ability to verify the comparison.
In ALASKA BAR ASSOCIATION ETHICS OPINION 2009-2, the Alaska Bar Association Ethics Committee and the Board of Governors approved and adopted an opinion dealing with the "Use of Membership in Lawyer Ranking System In Lawyer/Law Firm Advertising."
The opinion deals with a question about whether it is permissible to reference ranking by a commercial directory using a rating system in a lawyer’s or law firm’s advertising materials, noting that lawyers and law firms increasingly are listing a ranking in commercial publications such as SUPER LAWYERS, BEST LAWYERS IN AMERICA, and other similar rankings in their advertising materials.
The opinion establishes guidelines for including such rankings in advertisements to avoid a violation of the Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct 7.1 and 7.2 while concluding that lawyers and law firms may refer to a listing in SUPER LAWYERS, BEST LAWYERS, or another commercial directory for ranking attorneys so long as the reference includes the publication name, date, and the practice area, if one was specified, in which the lawyer was ranked or selected. The opinion provides that a lawyer shall utilize essentially the following format when including a lawyer’s professional ranking in advertising materials:
Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct - Visit the website for the Alaska Court system to find the Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct and the section on communicating information about legal services. These bar rules apply to all forms of attorney advertising including the website, blog, or social media platforms including Rule 7.1 on Communications Communications Concerning a Lawyer's Services, Rule 7.2 on Advertising, and Rule 7.3 on Direct Contact with Prospective Clients.
Adopted Ethics Opinions- Visit the website of the Alaska Bar Association to find the ethics options listed in chronological order. These opinions were approved by the Alaska Bar Association Ethics Committee and adopted by the Board of Governors. The opinions discuss topics such as sharing office space with non-lawyers, the propriety of the names of law firms, the use of legal assistants, and the propriety of "referral fees". Find information on ethics guidance for attorneys including the contact information for the Bar Counsel. Find the standing policy on informal ethics guidance in Alaska.
Use of Membership in Lawyer Ranking System In Lawyer / Law Firm Advertising - This opinion was Adopted by the Board of Governors on May 5, 2009. Alaska Bar Association Ethics Opinion No. 2009-2 discusses the proper way to reference rankings in commercial rating systems, such as Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers, in a lawyer's advertising materials.
Lawyer Legion is an online directory that helps the public find an attorney in Alaska for their case.
No marketing company can give you legal advice. But you should choose a marketing company focused on attorneys and law firms who understand the issues unique to this profession.
Our parent company, Internet Lava, LLC, builds websites and internet marketing strategies for lawyers across the United States. Contact us to find out more about the advertising and marketing services we can provide for your law firm.
This article was last updated on Friday, May 31, 2019.