Before you redesign your law firm's website or start a new internet marketing campaign, it's important to pay attention to the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct related to internet marketing. Those who violate Pennsylvania Bar rules might face possible disciplinary action.
The first step to Internet marketing is understanding the applicable bar rules for attorney advertising by reading each rule in its entirety. Additional information can be found in the comments to each rule and the advisory ethics opinions interpreting the rules. Although the rules in the State of Pennsylvania 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.
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Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct - Visit the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania website. Find the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct were adopted by Order of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania dated October 16, 1987 and effective April 1, 1988. This version of the text contains recent revisions & amendments through November 21, 2013. The physical address of the Pennsylvania Judicial Center is located at:
601 Commonwealth Avenue
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Pennsylvania's Rule 7.2 for Attorney Advertising - Visit the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's website for the Pennsylvania Code. Read the rules drawn directly from the official Pennsylvania Code full text database with the provisions amended October 22, 2013 and effective in 30 days later under 43 Pa.B. 6641.
Pennsylvania Bar Association Website - This link is to the Pennsylvania Bar Association's website, which provides information pertaining to the Pennsylvania Bar Association and includes helpful information, such as answers to frequently asked questions, county bar services and ethics opinions. The Pennsylvania Bar Association is located at:
Pennsylvania Bar Association
100 South Street
Harrisburg, PA 17101
Phone: (800) 932-0311
The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania - This link provides information on the regulation of the legal profession in Pennsylvania, and provides answers to frequently asked questions, in addition to links to various rules, such as the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Pennsylvania Bar Association Task Force on Lawyer Advertising - This link is to a report on the Pennsylvania Bar Association Task Force, which was created to improve the quality of legal advertising and make the legal profession appear dignified when dealing with the public.
Pennsylvania Bar Rules Information Center
Guidelines on Pennsylvania Bar Rules
For any Pennsylvania attorney or law firm considering launching an internet website marketing campaign, the first step requires understanding the bar rules that apply to legal advertising and communication with prospective clients.
In general, an attorney's marketing and advertising website should convey enough information to attract potential clients and convince the clients to contact the law firm or lawyer for a consultation. The website should also be designed in a way provides the viewer with helpful information to answer their general legal questions.
According to Rule 7.2 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, an attorney is permitted to advertise their legal services through the use of electronic communications, including websites, internet profiles and social media profiles. Additionally, the attorney must keep a copy of any advertisements, including websites, two years after it was last used.
Under Rule 7.2 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, the name of at least one attorney who is responsible for the content is required to be on the website. The attorney does not have to write the content, but they must state their name and that they are responsible for the content. Additionally, the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct require the attorney's website to disclose the city or town where the attorney's principal office is located.
False or Misleading Information on Pennsylvania Attorney Websites
According to Rule 7.1 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, an attorney may not make false or misleading communication about themselves or their services. Specifically, the rule states a communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits any fact that is necessary to make a statement not materially misleading.
Additionally, the comments section to this rule states that an attorney should also not make truthful statements that are misleading. A truthful statement is considered misleading if there is a substantial probability a reasonable person would create a specific conclusion about the lawyer or their services that is unsubstantiated.
Under Rule 7.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, an attorney may not describe themselves as a "specialist," except in the following situations:
Pennsylvania Past Case Results on Law Firm Websites
According to the comments section of Rule 7.1 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, past case results on an attorney's website may be misleading if they are presented in such a way that would make a reasonable person form an unjustified expectation that they would receive the same results in their case. Therefore, a disclaimer about past case results is essential on an attorney's website that state the results are not typical and do not indicate the outcome for any case.
Potential clients generally look at past case results as soon as they have found the website in order to obtain verifiable facts about the type of cases the attorney has taken in the past, in addition to the results of those cases. Therefore, the use of disclaimers is imperative on an attorney's website in order to avoid any violation of the state's bar advertising rules.
Bar Rules Related to Pennsylvania Internet Website Chat Rooms
Many attorneys are becoming more concerned about social media, legal forums and directories, in addition to website design and marketing. The limitations on what is acceptable concerning social media in Pennsylvania are not generally clear. As the social media revolution continues to evolve the way we communicate, attorneys can inadvertently run afoul of solicitation and communication bar rules. Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other methods of internet marketing are increasingly important for search engine optimization. At the same time, Pennsylvania attorneys need to understand the limitations imposed on these types of communications.
For example, in Opinion 98-6, the Philadelphia Bar Association acknowledged that attorneys could not engage in any activity that would be improper solicitation. The Committee further stated that conversation interactions with prospective clients on the Internet does not constitute an improper solicitation, but any case involving this type of interaction may involve into an interaction that could be characterized as an improper solicitation.
This article was last updated on October 10, 2018.