Before an attorney launches a new website or internet marketing strategy, it is important to understand the bar rules for attorney advertising found in the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct. The rules found in Chapter 7 deal with the way attorneys communicate information about their legal services to the public. Additional information can be found in the comments to each rule and the advisory ethics opinions interpreting the rules.
Any failure to follow these rules might subject an attorney to disciplinary action. Although the rules in the State of Ohio 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.
At Lawyer Legion, we developed this online attorney directory to help the public find a lawyer in the State of Ohio. This online attorney directory also provides information on legal organizations and lawyer referral services located throughout the state.
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 services we can provide to your law firm.
Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct - Visit the website for the Ohio Supreme Court to find the latest version of the rules. This link provides the rules that became effective on February 1, 2007 and were last amended effective June 1, 2014. Read the rules on information about legal services including Rule 7.1 for Communications Concerning a Lawyer's Services, Rule 7.2 for Advertising and Recommendation of Professional Employment, Rule 7.3 for Direct Contact with Prospective Clients, Rule 7.4 for Communication of Fields of Practice and Specialization, and Rule 7.5 for Firm Names and Letterheads.
Ohio Ethics Advisory Opinions- Search through the Advisory Opinions that provide advice for attorneys on the application of the Ohio Code of Professional Responsibility.
In general, all advertising and communications made by an attorney or law firm are governed by the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct. Advertisements and communications include all electronic communication, such as content published on the internet and websites used to market and advertise for the lawyer's firm, as defined in Rule 7.2 of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct.
According to Rule 7.2, all communications and advertisements must contain at least one lawyer's or law firm's name and office address that is responsible for the content. This does not mean the attorney or law firm must write the content themselves, but they must state their name and that they are responsible for the content.
According to Rule 7.1 of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, an attorney is prohibited from making or using a false, unverifiable or misleading communication about the attorney or their services. In order to determine if a communication is false or misleading, the bar rules state a false or misleading communication contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law or omits a fact that is necessary to make the statement not misleading when taken as a whole.
Beyond the general requirements that an attorney's website communications do not contain any false, deceptive or misleading statements, Comment 2 of Rule 7.1 states that attorneys must also make sure that even true statements do not create a substantial likelihood that would cause a reasonable person to create a specific conclusion about the lawyer or the lawyer's services.
Additionally, Comment 4 to Rule 7.1 states that certain characterizations of rates or fees can be misleading. Terms that are discouraged include:
Additionally, under Rule 7.4 (e) of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, an attorney must not state or imply in any communication that they are a specialist, certified or specialized in a particular field of law, unless:
Also, Rule 7.5 of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct contains important restrictions on the name of the law firm on any website, advertisement or communication. For instance, a solo practitioner should not use the phrase "and Associates" because it may be misleading to the public in believing that the lawyer has an employment relationship with another attorney.
Comment 3 to Rule 7.1 of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct also states that past case result, testimonials, or any other advertisement that reports on a lawyer's achievements on behalf of another client may be misleading if presented in a way that would create an expectation that the same results would be obtained for another client in a similar situation.
Testimonials on an Ohio attorney's website or other internet marketing material are often problematic because a former client will naturally attempt to compare their attorney to other attorneys. Often, former clients are overzealous in their description without providing enough information that puts the comment in the proper context. Although many attorneys like to hand pick testimonials to include on the website, the attorney should be aware that the testimonial or past case result may be perceived as misleading.
On the other hand, using a verifiable discussion of past case results is important to the public. By seeing the types of cases the attorney has taken in the past, the viewer can quickly get a general idea about the attorney's experience. When a past case results page is completed correctly, no other page on the website is more effective for helping the public understand the scope of services provided by the attorney.
Potential clients are often looking for an attorney with experience handling their particular case in their particular jurisdiction. The case results information is critical to making that determination to the extent allowed under the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct. Additionally, adding information about past case results is also an effective way to attract clients with similar problems.
Appropriate disclaimers may help the viewer understand the limitations to certain communications, according to Comment 3 of Rule 7.1. Since even truthful limitations may be considered misleading if they create an unjustified expectation in the mind of a reasonable person as to the results the attorney could achieve for a particular situation, it is important to provide a disclaimer on the attorney's website.
An appropriate disclaimer is generally displayed in a manner that is conspicuous and in the same font size as other text on the website. The disclaimer should state the information on the website is not legal advice, that results are not typical, and the information should not be construed that a certain result will occur in a similar situation.
This article was last updated on Wednesday, October 10, 2018.