California Bar Rules for Lawyer Advertising

The State Bar of California does not yet have rules specifically written for the content on an attorney's website. The content on the website, however, is generally considered to be an advertisement that is subject to the advertising and solicitation rules as set out in the California Rules of Professional Conduct. You must tread carefully when advertising online as a Californian attorney. 

It's highly advised that you study the Rules of Professional Conduct concerning attorney advertising. Certain conent may sound misleading or have a false disclaimer, which can result in an disciplinary action. Attorneys who wish to redesign their websites or start a new online marketing campaign must be aware of what statements are prohibited by the Bar. Despite these restrictive rules, you can still market effectively. Understanding how search engines function, social media platforms, and regularly posting can give you the presence you want. 

California Bar Rules Resources

California Rules of Professional Conduct - Read the rules of professional conduct for California attorneys, including information on attorney advertising and solicitation rules. Find Rule 1-400 for Advertising and Solicitation and Rule 1-500 Agreements Restricting a Member's Practice.

State Bar Formal Ethics Opinion 2001-155 on Attorney Internet Advertising - The formal ethics opinions for attorney and law firm internet advertising and website marketing from the Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct of the State Bar of California.

California Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1-400 - Read Rule 1-400, which governs communication and solicitation advertising rules for lawyers and law firms.

California Bar Ethics Opinions - COPRAC is a standing committee of the State Bar Board of Trustees. The Committee's primary responsibility is to issue advisory ethics opinions related to the California Rules of Professional Conduct. Read the complete text of advisory opinions regarding the ethical lawyer conduct in hypothetical situations throughout California. Although the opinions issued by the State bar of California Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct are not binding, they are frequently cited by the California Bar Court Review Department, the California Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court.

Promoting Business under the Advertising Rules - Article by Robert K. Sall published in the Los Angeles County Bar Association explaining bar rules in California for advertising.

Advertising in the Electronic Age - Article by Wendy L. Patrick publish in the California Bar Journal, an official publication of the State Bar of California. The article discusses the emerging issue of advertising online and maintaining a website for the law firm.

California Bar Rules Information Center

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California Bar Rules Guidelines

The California Rules of Professional Conduct govern attorney and law firm content published on the internet and attorney or law firm advertising or marketing websites. These rules state general requirements all lawyers and law firms must abide by when engaging in advertising and solicitation.

Although California's Rules of Professional Conduct do not specifically state website marketing is included in the advertising and solicitation rules, the State Bar Formal Ethics Opinion 2001-155 addressed online advertising.

According to the Formal Ethics Opinion 2001-155, an attorney's website is governed by rules regulating attorney print advertising in the California Rules of Professional Conduct. The Formal Opinion also states an attorney's website is not considered a solicitation, but is considered a communication.

A communication under the California Rules of Professional Conduct is any message or offer regarding the availability of professional employment made by a lawyer or law firm to any prospective, former or present client, including any advertisement, regardless of the medium, directed to the public.

All attorneys in California must comply with Rule 1-400(F) of the California Rules of Professional Conduct, which states an attorney must retain recordings or copies of communication for two years to make available to the State bar of California, if requested. Formal Opinion 200-155 states this applies to all pages on the website, in addition to every website revision.

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Prohibited Statements on California Legal Websites

According to Rule 1-400(D)(6), an attorney or law firm in California is not permitted to claim they are a "certified specialist"in a practice area unless the attorney has a current certificate issued by the Board of Legal Specialization, or any other entity that has been accredited by the State Bar and designates specialists under the Board of Governors' standards.

Additionally, Rule 1-400(D)(1) states that no solicitation or communication made by an attorney in California for advertising purposes may contain a statement that is untrue.

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Disclaimers on California Law Firm Websites

In general, it is good practice for every attorney or law firm to have a disclaimer or disclosure on their website to prevent false expectations of the viewer.

Additionally, under Rule of the California Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1-400(D)(4), the attorney's communication or solicitation must clearly, expressly or by context indicate the information is merely a communication or solicitation, so the viewer does not misconstrue the information as a legal relationship or legal advice.

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False, Deceptive or Misleading Information on California Websites

The communication or solicitation on an attorney's website may not contain any information that is false, deceptive or that is likely to be perceived as confusing, deceptive or misleading to the public. The attorney website also cannot leave out any facts or information that are necessary to make the information not misleading to the public under Rule 1-400(D)(2-3).

Generally, false, misleading or deceptive information contains statements about fees, services, results or self-laudatory statements. Terms that may indicate a phrase is deceptive or misleading include, "best,""most,""lowest,""will,"and/or "better."

Article last updated on Thursday, October 11, 2014.