10 Ways to Meet Ethical Obligations in Online Marketing for Law Firms

Ethical Obligations in Online Marketing

Attorneys must abide by the rules of professional conduct in their respective states when doing marketing. The American Bar Association’s rules of professional conduct and the rules of your state are likely to be fairly similar, but not in all cases.

Therefore, you need to check your particular state’s rules to make sure you abide by them.

Below is not a comprehensive list but rather a starting point to illustrate some of the ways you can avoid ethical issues.

  1. Include a disclaimer on your website
  2. Every single page of your website needs a disclaimer to comply with State Bar rules. It should contain statements such as:

    This website is an advertisement
    This website does not contain legal advice
    Using this website and its content does not form an attorney-client relationship
    Note that any verdict, settlements, testimonials, or case studies do not guarantee future results.

    If you have pages translated into other languages, those pages need a disclaimer in that language.

    You are responsible for the content on your website (not anyone you have hired to help you create it).

  3. Be careful with what you claim on your bio
  4. Your bio and even your business card could be used against you if you break the rules of ethics. If you are bragging about cases you have won, make sure you get your client’s consent before adding this information to your bio.

  5. Be ethical when naming your firm
  6. Most states use the ABA Model Rule 7.5, which says that the names of law firms can’t be false or misleading. If you are just a solo practitioner, don’t include “and Associates” in your name. If you use a practice area in your name, make sure that you have experience in that area.

    You should also avoid implying that you are connected to a government, public or charitable agency.

    There are some states that have unique rules. Have you heard of the anti-AAArdvark rule? It is designed to dissuade lawyers from using silly names just to get a priority listing in directories.

    Check with your state before going through the great expense of designing your logo, buying a domain name, and implementing all of your marketing.

  7. Use social media, but use it carefully
  8. Social media changes all the time and it’s hard to keep up, but do not use commercial speech without a disclaimer, do not publish a client’s information, and avoid comparative speech.

    Social media should be more about engaging and highlighting your firm’s personality versus aggressively giving sales pitches. When you are sharing team photos and helpful content, you are less likely to run into ethical issues than if you are directly selling your services.

  9. Take ownership of your directory listings
  10. When you claim a directory listing, you become responsible for it, but not claiming your listings will put you at a significant disadvantage because they are very powerful ways to market your firm.

    Be careful not to call yourself an expert or specialist in your company description in directories. If you are recognized by your bar as an expert, then it’s fine, but if not you could be committing an ethical violation. If you use commercial speech, make sure to add a disclaimer. Do not state that you practice in an area of law that you don’t practice.

  11. Manage your online reviews
  12. When you have access to control reviews, you are responsible for them. You don’t control them on Yelp and Google, so you shouldn’t have issues with what people put up on those sites.

    Make sure that when people review your firm, they don’t use comparative speech, give any guarantees, or share any confidential details about cases.

    Never pay for reviews, mainly because it’s cheesy but also because the review sites might ban you. You also can’t pay your clients to leave reviews for your firm. Making up fake profiles is a very bad idea.

  13. Adjust the mobile-responsive version of your website to include a disclaimer
  14. Make sure that the mobile version of your website doesn’t fail to include your disclaimer. Sometimes things are omitted to make the mobile version cleaner and simpler, and your digital marketing agency might not be aware that you can’t drop the disclaimer.

  15. Avoid extraordinary claims
  16. Don’t claim to magically be able to guarantee results or that you are better than another firm if you can’t back it up with proof.

  17. Get consent for case studies
  18. Ask for consent from a client before writing case studies or providing examples of where you have been successful.

  19. Back up your website and all marketing materials

You are most likely responsible in your state to keep a copy of your marketing materials for a period between two and five years. Make sure you or your hosting company makes a backup of your website on a regular basis.

Conclusion

Digital marketing is here to stay and so it’s wise to read about and implement the best practices for avoiding ethical issues and complying with your State Bar rules.

Once you know the key compliance areas, there is plenty of great work to be done, like sharing helpful content, raising your ranking in the search engines, and increasing the odds that people get to know and like your firm, as well as highlighting the practice areas you focus on the most.

Just because you can’t make claims about being an expert or specialist doesn’t mean you can’t offer an incredible resource of helpful information around a practice area and become well-known for it.

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