Before you redesign your law firm's website or start a new internet marketing campaign, you should pay attention to the bar rules that apply to attorney advertising including Rules 7.01 through 7.07 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct ("TDRPC"). The Texas State Bar promulgates the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct under the authority of the Texas Supreme Court.
If an attorney violates the bar rules, then the attorney might be subjected to disciplinary action. The most common bar rule violations related to attorney advertising include:
The Bar Rules for attorney advertising by Texas Attorneys cover online communications on a website, blog, or social media platform because the rules “govern all communications about a lawyer's services.” See Rule 7.02 & cmt. 2. For this reason, lawyers should assume that every online communication that mentions the lawyer's services will be considered to be advertising under the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.
The State Bar of Texas Lawyer Advertisement and Solicitation Review Committee (Advertising Review Committee) can report to the appropriate grievance committee any lawyer whom it finds has disseminated an advertisement or writing that violates any portion of Part 7.
To protect yourself from a possible bar rules violation, you should read the bar rules in their entirety before launching a new website or internet marketing campaign. The company you choose for your internet marketing and website design should also be familiar with the rules.
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Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct (TDRPC) - Visit the website of the Texas Center for Legal Ethics to find a PDF file listing the general rules of professional conduct and ethics that apply to all licensed Texas lawyers. (Tex. Disciplinary R. Prof. Conduct (1989) reprinted in Tex. Govt Code Ann., tit. 2, subtit. G, app. (Vernon Supp. 1995)(State Bar Rules art X [[section]]9)). The State Bar of Texas can be contacted at:
1414 Colorado St.
Austin, TX 78701
Texas Bar Advertising Review- Visit the website for the State Bar of Texas to find the advertising review rules and submission requirements as listed by the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct (TDRPC). Texas lawyer solicitation communications and advertisements must be reviewed by the Texas Advertising Review Department. The department is responsible for reviewing attorney and law firm advertisements and solicitation communications as required by Part VII of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. Communications can be filed either before dissemination OR concurrent with dissemination. Preapproval review time is 25 days, or filing concurrent review time is 40 days.
Required Attorney Advertisement Submissions- Find information on what Texas attorney advertisements must be submitted for review. Read the specific Advertising Review Rules, Interpretive Comments, and Opinions. If an ad comes to the attention of the Texas Bar that has not been filed and it is not exempt from the rules, the State Bar may assess a $250 fine and a $100 review fee for failure to comply with the filing requirements. A violation of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct occurs when the attorney fails to file a non-exempt ad.
Texas Bar Rules for Websites, Banner Ads and Web-Based Directories - Review the PDF file of every requirement Texas lawyers must follow for computer-accessed communications, including computer communications, websites, blogs, social media and attorney directory organizations.
Interpretive Comments on Internet Advertising - Read the interpretive comments by the State Bar of Texas on Texas lawyer internet advertising. These comments are not rules but are intended to assist in the interpretation of the TDRPC.
Texas Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism - Visit the website of the Texas Center for Legal Ethics was created in 1989. The non-profit corporation promotes the values listed in the Texas Lawyers’ Creed of Professionalism. TCLE offering courses, speakers, symposia, and CLE seminars for the legal community and others to promote the practice of law by Texas lawyers in an ethical and professional manner. Find resources on legal ethics and professionalism in Texas, including opinions from the Supreme Court Opinions of the Ethics Committee and the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure.
In Texas, attorney advertising is regulated by the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct in Rule 7.01-7.07.
The Texas Disciplinary 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, many of which are explained in greater details below.
In general, TDRPC 7.04(b)(1) requires at least one attorney's name to be published or broadcasted who is responsible for the content on the website. This does not mean the attorney must write the content, but they must state their name and that they are responsible for the content. This statement must be displayed conspicuously and in a language that is understandable to an ordinary consumer.
Additionally, under TDRCP 7.04(j), a website advertising an attorney's services must disclose the city or town where the lawyer's or firm's principal office is located. The attorney cannot advertise any other office besides the principal office unless:
Under the TDRCP, the homepage of an attorney's or law firm's website in Texas is subject to a strict filing requirement. This requirement state an attorney must submit to the State Bar of Texas two printed copies of the attorney's homepage, also known as the "initial access page," two copies of the completed application form and a $75 payment must be submitted.
Failure to file a non-exempt page of the lawyer's website is a violation of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. The Texas Advertising Review Committee can impose a $225 fee and a $75 review fee for an advertisement not properly submitted under the filing requirement.
Additionally, the Texas Advertising Review Committee in Texas could forward the advertisement to the Texas Bar's Chief Disciplinary Counsel for possible disciplinary action by the Texas Bar.
And "substantive" modification, such as a deletion, addition or edit to the website, must be resubmitted with a new application and $75 fee. If an ad or writing is non-exempt, the failure to file such ad or writing is a violation of the advertising rules even if the ad or writing complies with the rules in all other respects. In other words, any change in the text of a previously filed advertisement or written solicitation letter necessitates a new filing.
The State Bar of Texas Advertising Review Department has stated social media profiles that have limited access, such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, do not need to be filed for advertising review under most circumstances.
According to TDRPC 7.04(a), no Texas lawyer is permitted to claim they are a "specialist" in a practice area, except in limited circumstances. For example, an attorney who is admitted to practice before the United States Patent Office may use the terms, "Patents," "Patent Attorney" or "Patent Lawyer."
Similarly, Rule 7.04(b)(2) states attorney may not assert on their website they have any special competence, certification, or specialization unless it is a truthful statement. This means Texas lawyers may not claim the lawyer or the law firm "specialize" in a certain practice area or is "certified," unless the lawyer or the entire law firm has a Certificate of Special Competence by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in the area advertised.
Under Rule 7.04(q) of the TDRPC, every disclaimer or disclosure must be presented with equal prominence, legibility and in the same manner as the content on the website being disclaimed or disclosed so the viewer's expectations are not misled as to the attorney's skill and the results the attorney can achieve.
In addition to the preceding rules, a Texas attorney's website must not include information that is false or misleading under Rule 7.04(m) of the TDRPC. False or misleading information includes self-laudatory statements, such as "Best Lawyer," "Most Experienced," "Lowest Legal Fees," "Will Achieve These Results," etc.
False or misleading statements about the attorney, the attorney's results or the law firm's services are not permitted on the website unless the statement can be validated by provable facts.
Under the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, a lawyer is prohibiting from comparing “the lawyer's services with other lawyers' services, unless the comparison can be substantiated by reference to verifiable, objective data.” Id. at 7.02(a)(3).
The Comments to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct uses the following statements as examples of content that can be deceptive or misleading to prospective clients, including:
The Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct in Texas prohibit a lawyer from making any “reference in a public media advertisement to past successes or results obtained unless,” among other things, the following conditions are met:
See Rule 7.02(a)(2).
If you are an attorney licensed to practice in Texas, read all of the applicable bar rules related to attorney advertising before launching a new website or creating content on a blog or social media platform. The main rules for attorney ads can be found in Rules 7.01 through 7.07 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.
The attorney should understand the rules in order to verify that any attorney advertisements are in compliance.
This article was last updated on Friday, June 14, 2019.