Back in the day attorneys were not allowed to advertise as they are today. With the increase in advertising freedom, we have also seen an increasing variety of marketing styles and approaches. While there are specific rules in regards to legal advertising, there isn’t anything that really governs good taste and class other than one’s own conscience.
In this post, we will go over the legal aspects of law firm marketing and advertising and also share some examples.
First, let’s look at what the American Bar Association says, The American Bar Association (ABA) Rule 7.2 on Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services specifies what a lawyer or law firm may or may not do regarding marketing and advertising. Let’s take a brief look.
In general, it’s best to stay away from such claims entirely to be on the safe side. In order to be able to legally claim “expertise”, you must be officially certified by an American Bar Association organization in your state or U.S. Territory.
You can state that your law firm specializes in a specific area such as family law or criminal defense but you cannot claim to be an expert without ABA certification in that area of practice. In some states, there is a minimum number of years you must be in practice in a particular specialty with other attorneys and judges vouching for your experience and knowledge.
It’s very easy to get yourself in deep water if you stray from sticking to the facts. While some may consider an embellishment just stretching the truth a little, where the ABA is concerned it may be a violation. Some examples include exaggerating your experience, case results, or how much you charge for your legal services.
Some states are more stringent than others but in general, it is best to avoid using descriptions such as, “the best”, “the most experienced”, or “the lowest fees”. Terms like these are very subjective and are more opinion than fact. While it is likely against the advertising rules to claim to have the lowest fees, you can state what your payment plans are.
Over the last couple of years, the COVID epidemic made it a necessity to operate businesses remotely and in many areas, law firms are no different. The evolution of cloud-based client management and payment software has made it not only easy but effective to operate remotely. However, some local municipalities and state governments may require you to have a physical location in the same area you are soliciting business in. Florida is one such state that requires a physical location in accordance with Rule 4-7.12(a)(2),
Some also require your law firm to list its physical address in any advertising as well as post it prominently on your website.
So, the main difference between advertising and solicitation is that advertising is legal as long as you go by the guidelines, while solicitation is not allowed. So what makes an advertisement a solicitation? What separates the two is the method of targeting. Advertising that speaks more in generalities about a law firm or the firm’s areas of practice is allowed as long as you stick to the ABA rules. When an advertisement targets a specific person or group of people it can be considered a solicitation.
The ABA Rule 7.3 states that attorneys may not target specific people or groups with the goal of financial gain for the firm.
As long as you keep your advertising to branding and generalities without targeting specific people you are generally safe. There is no prohibition on performing search engine optimization, also known as SEO, to increase your website’s rankings in search results.
Certain jurisdictions have their own requirements so be sure to check with the ABA in your local area to make sure of what the rules are where you practice. In general, these are things you want to include:
You definitely want to avoid the following to keep yourself out of trouble with the bar.
Testimonials are always recommended but advertising rules must be followed in your ads and on your website itself. ABA Rule 7.2 (b) states that no one may be compensated by a lawyer or law firm in exchange for a recommendation or referral.
It’s probably a good practice to keep ard copies of client testimonials on hand in case they are ever questioned. Be careful with testimonials that could be considered misleading or anything that could make a potential client expect a certain result in their case.
In some areas brand name advertising is allowed and in others, it is not. In Arizona, I’ve seen attorneys advertise themselves as numerous brands. One that runs constantly where I live calls himself “The Anti Lawyer Lawyer.” Another firm bills itself in ads as “The Husband And Wife Law Team.” While these may be catchy and attention-getting, in some areas, like New York, they are forbidden.
Because every jurisdiction has different rules it is up to you to know what they are for your area. Some require both digital and physical copies to be kept for a specific amount of time.
In New York, for example, Rule 7.1 requires lawyers and firms to keep copies of advertisements for at least three years after their initial dissemination, and copies of ads in computer-accessed communications for at least one year. For law firm websites containing advertising, New York requires that the site’s content (initial or after any major redesign or content change) be preserved at least every 90 days.
Now, that we have had a brief look at some of the advertising rules that attorneys and law firms are required to abide by, let’s also look at some examples of advertising that some clients may find offensive, while others may like them.
Here’s one I mentioned above, “The Anti Lawyer Lawyer.” I find him kind of comical but some demographics may find him offensive and personally, I think it’s a good practice to try not to offend anyone.
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