Are your law firm website and advertising materials compliant? In this article, we break down some of the most important ABA Model Rules to know so you can make sure you’re compliant throughout all of your marketing efforts.
- Don’t omit information in your advertising that could mislead someone to believe something that is not true
- Include the name of your law firm, its address and the name of at least one lawyer at the law firm on every piece of advert
- Label all marketing and advertising materials with “Advertising Material”
- Use the term “specialist” only if you’re certified in a specific area of the law or have demonstrated prolonged, exclusive focused on that specific legal area of the law
The rules that dictate what is allowed in terms of attorney advertising are somewhat gray. Ultimately, the bulk of the ABA Model Rules for advertising boil down to being truthful and forthcoming with all information. Yet, there are a few rules we need to dig into:
“A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading”
Basically, don’t advertise something you can’t prove and don’t omit information that could lead someone to believe something inaccurate or untruthful. Just remember, “… the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
“(c) Any communication made pursuant to this rule shall include the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content.”
The “communication” referenced in this paragraph is anything written, recorded, electronic and including public media. Essentially, on any and every form of advertising, include the name of your law firm, its address and the name of at least one lawyer at the law firm. In most jurisdictions, your firm’s website is a form of marketing and advertising, so the same rules apply.
“(a) A lawyer shall not by in‑person, live telephone or real-time electronic contact solicit professional employment when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain, unless the person contacted:
(1) is a lawyer; or
(2) has a family, close personal, or prior professional relationship with the lawyer.”
“(b) A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment by written, recorded or electronic communication or by in‑person, telephone or real-time electronic contact even when not otherwise prohibited by paragraph (a), if:
(1) the target of the solicitation has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer; or
(2) the solicitation involves coercion, duress or harassment.”
Many law firm websites include the very same pop-up chat window that prompts visitors to start a conversation with a representative of the firm. When a website visitor clicks the “Start Chat” button, they’re pulled into a real-time chat. If your website has one of these chat windows, it’s in your best interest to let your visitor know if they are speaking with a third-party representative or automated robot, otherwise, they could be misled into thinking they’re chatting with a lawyer.
“(c) Every written, recorded or electronic communication from a lawyer soliciting professional employment from anyone known to be in need of legal services in a particular matter shall include the words “Advertising Material” on the outside envelope, if any, and at the beginning and ending of any recorded or electronic communication, unless the recipient of the communication is a person specified in paragraphs (a)(1) or (a)(2).”
This is a relatively straightforward one: each and every one of your legal marketing and advertising materials should be labeled as such. This includes your printed materials, newsletter emails and anything digital, including your website. Most developers choose to put information regarding terms, conditions, etc. in the footer.
“(a) A lawyer may communicate the fact that the lawyer does or does not practice in particular fields of law.
(d) A lawyer shall not state or imply that a lawyer is certified as a specialist in a particular field of law, unless:
the lawyer has been certified as a specialist by an organization that has been approved by an appropriate state authority or that has been accredited by the American Bar Association; and
(2) the name of the certifying organization is clearly identified in the communication.”
This rule was put into place around 1980 when several states and institutions began providing specialist certifications in certain practice areas. Provided you are a certified specialist, feel free to use the term.
If you aren’t technically certified, you can get away with using terms such as “concentrate” and “focus” instead. If you’re dead-set on using “specialist,” though, you might be able to finesse it with a comment in rule 7.4:
“(1) Paragraph (a) of this Rule permits a lawyer to indicate areas of practice in communications about the lawyer’s services. If a lawyer practices only in certain fields, or will not accept matters except in a specified field or fields, the lawyer is permitted to so indicate. A lawyer is generally permitted to state that the lawyer is a “specialist,” practices a “specialty,” or “specializes in” particular fields, but such communications are subject to the “false and misleading” standard applied in Rule 7.1 to communications concerning a lawyer’s services.”
Basically, if you do not have a certification but have remained exclusive to a specialized practice area for many years, you should be safe to use the word “specialist.”
Beyond these basic rules, make sure to read through the advertising rules set forth by your state & local bar associations, and any other organizations you’ve joined.
Model Rules of Professional Conduct, American Bar Association, November 18, 2019