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As is with any business, attracting new customers is an integral part of growing any law firm. However, it’s important to follow some basic ground rules to ensure you don’t get yourself on the wrong side of the law.
There’s no question that technology has changed legal advertising and marketing in a major way. Not long ago, plastering partner attorney faces on giant billboards, TV commercials and in print media was the only way to get your firm’s name out there. In today’s digital era, an attorney equipped with a well-optimized website and ‘People First’ content stands a superior chance of ranking prominently in local searches. Strategic and consistently maintained SEO services often yield a higher ROI than PPC or other paid advertising forms.
Before using your preferred advertising strategy, it’s important to note the rules and regulations that govern lawyer advertisements and follow them to the letter.
In this article, we’ll cover a few important rules and regulations that you need to abide by.
That said, you should also familiarize yourself with the specific laws governing your particular jurisdiction.
Rule #1: Never say you’re an “expert” (even if you are)
In this industry, it’s common to come across lawyers who oversell themselves. As a general rule, you should avoid calling yourself an expert unless you have the certification to prove your credentials.
A lawyer should avoid calling themselves a specialist in a particular practice unless they have received certification in that particular area.
In California, for example, for you to be considered an expert in a particular area, you should have practiced law for a set number of years, with a portion of that being dedicated to practicing in your specialty case type.
Interestingly, other states are starting to adapt and change their regulations regarding how lawyers can represent their expertise. For instance, Florida has recently updated its rules, reflecting a more nuanced approach. For more details, see the Florida Bar’s official guidelines.
In short, you can call yourself a specialist or expert (or say, for example, you ‘specialize’ in a certain area of law). However, if someone complains that you’re not actually a specialist (like a client suing you for malpractice), you’ll have to ‘prove’ that you are in fact a specialist. The courts don’t explain what kind of proof you need, but relevant CLEs, years of experience, etc., will probably get you there.
As a reminder, in most states, you still can’t market yourself as an expert or specialist unless you have a bar certification.
This statement underscores the importance of not only adhering to state-specific regulations but also being prepared to substantiate your expertise, should it ever be called into question. Always stay informed of your state’s rules to navigate these nuances in legal marketing successfully.
Rule #2: Avoid making intentionally misleading or false statements
When conducting legal advertising, you should not provide false information such as lying outright or enticing clients to sign up for your services by providing false statements regarding the fees you charge and the services you offer.
Even if you have the figures to back this up, using superlatives such as “the best” or “the most affordable” can be construed as providing false information, which can get you in trouble with your local bar association or the American Bar Association (ABA).
Instead, you should provide useful information to potential clients. For example, you could state that you provide a free consultation if this is true.
Moreover, you could be found guilty of breaking advertising rules if you provide information that’s accurate but you leave out information that makes a statement inaccurate. For example, if you state that you provide free consultation, but you limit this free consult to 5 minutes and charge a client for the remainder of the time, that’s interpreted as providing false information.
Rule #3: Identify whether you need an office address
Nowadays, it’s possible to conduct business entirely online thanks to cloud-based technology. Check your state’s rules that pertain to lawyer advertising to determine whether a physical office address is required.
In Florida, for example, you need to have a physical location in the same place to advertise your legal services.
Rule #4: Solicit testimonials the right way
Testimonials are arguably one of the most powerful methods of advertising. When done correctly, testimonials have the potential to bring in more business. However, it’s important to abide by the rules and regulations.
For example, it’s unethical to pay for positive testimonials on your website. Instead, you should only request past clients to write a testimonial which they should do on their own accord without monetary or other incentive.
A client testimonial is permitted in most states as long as it is truthful and not misleading.
Rule #5: Don’t solicit your services directly
There’s a thin line between advertising your services (which are allowed by the ABA) and unethically soliciting for services. These 2 methods are used to retain existing customers or reach a new client base. However, they differ in how they work.
Attorney advertising is used to communicate the services that a lawyer provides, while attorney soliciting is a form of advertising that’s targeted at a particular group which can be against bar rules.
A lawyer is not permitted to solicit by person-to-person contact with someone who is potentially in need of legal services if the lawyer’s significant motive is for pecuniary gain. The exceptions are if the injured person is a lawyer; a family member, close personal friend, or has a prior business relationship with the lawyer; or if the person routinely uses services that the lawyer typically offers for business purposes.
However, even under those exceptions, the lawyer may not solicit business if the person has made it known that they don’t want the services or if the solicitation involves coercion, duress, or harassment.
Rule #6: Keep copies of the advertisements
Different jurisdictions have different rules governing how long you should keep copies of the advertisements. In the state of New York, for example, you’re required to keep copies for 3 years from the moment the advertisement went live and copies of ads on the computer for an additional year.
For any lawyer keen on outpacing the competition, embracing digital advertising and SEO is no longer an option but a necessity. However, navigating this digital landscape with a deep understanding of the strict rules governing legal advertising is crucial. You want to avoid stepping on the wrong side of these guidelines inadvertently.
By aligning your digital marketing efforts with the established code of conduct, you’re setting up your business for takeoff and attracting new clients and doing so ethically and within the rules. This approach ensures you stay in good standing with your bar association while giving your business the digital boost it needs.
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