North Carolina Bar Rules for Attorney Websites
The advertising rules for attorneys in North Carolina can be found in North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct. Norh Carolina Bar rules track closely with the Model Rules from the American Bar Association. The rules related to website design and internet marketing can be found at Rule 7.1 through Rule 7.5. Additional information can be found in the comments and the Ethics Advisory Opinions interpreting the rules. Before you redesign your law firm's website or start a new internet marketing campaign, it's important to visit these rules and regulations.
Although the rules in the State of North Carolina are restrictive, an attorney can stay in full compliance while still having an extremely effective internet marketing campaign. Taking an ethical approach to marketing means following the letter and spirit of each rule. Using relevant search engine terms, pariticpating in a lawyer referral service and having a navigable site can help you increase your Internet prescene for your clients.
North Carolina Bar Rules Resources
North Carolina Bar Association Website - This link is to the North Carolina Bar Association's website, which provides information about attorneys in North Carolina, the North Carolina Bar Association, and ethics opinions in North Carolina. The North Carolina Bar Association is located at:
North Carolina Bar Association
8000 Weston Parkway
Cary, North Carolina 27513
Phone: (919) 677-0561
Supreme Court of North Carolina - This link is to the Supreme Court of North Carolina, which is the highest state court in North Carolina and provides opinions on various legal cases. The Supreme Court is located at:
Supreme Court of North Carolina
2 East Morgan Street
Raleigh, North Carolina 27602
Phone: (919) 831-5700
North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct - This link is to the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct, which regulate attorney website advertisement, marketing and communications.
Ethical Considerations for North Carolina Attorneys - This link is to ethics considerations or opinions for attorneys in North Carolina regarding hypothetical legal situations. Although these opinions are not mandatory to follow, they do provide helpful, suggested advice that all attorneys in North Carolina should consider.
- Bar Rules Guidelines in North Carolina
- Self-Laudatory Statements on North Carolina Attorney Websites
- Past Case Results on North Carolina Law Firm Websites
- North Carolina Attorney Website URL Names
Rules 7.2(a) and 7.3(b-c) of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct explicitly state that the general advertising rules in North Carolina apply to internet websites and other electronic communications.
North Carolina law firms are required to avoid ambiguity by identifying on the home page of their internet website the jurisdictions in which the attorneys of the law firm are licensed to practice.
Rule 7.1 of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct addresses communications concerning a lawyer's services, including advertising and marketing.
According to the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct, at least one attorney's name or law firm's name is required to be on the website that is responsible for the content on the website. Additionally, the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct state a website advertising an attorney's services must disclose the office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for the content.
Under Rule 7.1(a), the attorney should be careful to avoid self-laudatory statements that compare the attorney's service with services of another lawyer or law firm, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated.
Additionally, these types of words can be misleading to potential clients who tend to distrust statements such as "best attorney," "premier law firm," or "top lawyer" when they are made on the attorney's website.
Attorneys must also be careful not to use testimonials from prior clients that are misleading or imply that the attorney can obtain similar results for a prospective client.
The North Carolina Bar Association has not explicitly prohibited the discussion of case results on an attorney's website, although these rules may eventually change to become more restrictive. Even under the current Rules, a discussion of past case results could be considered misleading, which is prohibited under Rule 7.1 because this form of communication could likely create an unjustified expectation about results the attorney is able to achieve to prospective clients.
It is often difficult for the attorney to provide a full context for the viewer to understand the results obtained by the attorney for a client in the past. Simple disclaimers can effectively prevent much of the confusion while still allowing the attorney to provide this important information to potential clients.
When selecting a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) name for a North Carolina attorney's website, it is important to consider the bar rules in North Carolina, in addition to ethical opinions. For example, North Carolina Formal Ethics Opinion 8 (2005) addresses the issues of selecting a URL for a law firm website, in addition to when a trade name must be registered with the bar association to comply with Rule 7.5(a).
According to the Rules, a trade name may be used by a lawyer in private practice if it does not imply a connection with a government agency or with a public or charitable legal services organization and is not false or misleading in violation of Rule 7.1. Every trade name used by a law firm shall be registered with the North Carolina Bar Association for a determination of whether the name is misleading.
According to the 2005 opinion, when a lawyer selects a URL for the internet website, the attorney can use a name that is not substantially the same name of the firm. From a search engine optimization (SEO) standpoint, the selection of the URL is an important consideration. Partners can change. The name of the law firm can change. The URL must not change.
Ideally, the URL should use some combination of descriptive keywords that are important to the main practice area and geographical area the attorney wants to target. However, when the law firm selects a URL that is different from the name of the firm, the lawyer has an obligation to register the URL with the North Carolina Bar Association as a trade name. In order to register the trade name, the attorney must provide the North Carolina Bar Association with a form for an application for trade name registration.
Descriptive URL names are generally allowed as long as the name is not false or misleading. The homepage and interior pages of the website should make it clear that the website belongs to an attorney and law firm and not an official governmental entity or non-profit organization.
This article was last updated on October 9, 2018.