Online Law Firm Marketing: Are Attorneys Complying With ABA Ethical Rules?

Law is a profession ripe with tradition. This profession is one of the few self-regulating professions and is governed by a myriad of professional rules, ethical opinions, and applicable common law. It is well-known that, historically, the law itself has slothfully adjusted to incorporate technological advances within its parameters. This is true regarding the ethical rules of professional conduct. Yet, as more and more legal professionals are now turning to the internet to market their practice through legal websites, blogs, and other social media outlets, there will become an increased need for further regulation regarding ethical advertising on the internet.

The American Bar Association (“ABA”) has draft model ethical rules for states to adopt and lawyers to follow. Today, these rules are called the Model Rules of Professional Conduct (the “Rules”) and were adopted by the ABA’s House of Delegates in 1983. These Rules were modified from the Model Code of Professional Responsibility. Additionally, the precursor to both was actually the 1908 Canons or Professional Ethics.

As noted, the Rules are not actually binding on an attorney until their state has either adopted them or some other related professional rules. Presently, all states except for California have adopted the ABA’s Rules at least in part. Most of the states have adopted the ABA’s Rules in full with slight modifications or additions to them. Other states, like New York, have adopted the ABA’s Rules but included somewhat substantial modifications.

The Rules and each state’s compilations do include provisions related to advertising and solicitation. Depending on the state, the distinction between each of these terms could be minimal or significant. Generally, “advertising” refers to any public or private communication made by or on behalf of a lawyer or law firm about the services available for the primary purpose of which is for retention of the lawyer or law firm’s services. In contrast, “solicitation” is a form of advertising, but more specifically is initiated by or for the lawyer or law firm and is directed to or targeted at a specific group of persons, family or friends, or legal representatives for the primary purpose of which is also for retention of the lawyer or law firm’s services.

Even though the Rules do address advertising and solicitation to the internet, they are unsurprisingly lacking. These gaps are somewhat filled by ethical opinions or case law. But this generally means that an attorney has already gone through the litigation process and, unfortunately, likely been subjected to discipline.

However, the Rules do provide a fairly strong foundation for an attorney or law firm read over. Even if your state’s professional rules do not adequately present internet marketing provisions, you may still consult the ABA’s Rules for guidance.

Within the Rules, the primary place to look is Rule 7. This rule pertains to “Information About Legal Services” and houses the majority of the applicable rules to internet marketing for attorneys. Duly note, that there still will be other provisions scattered throughout the Rules which apply to marketing. This is just the most applicable concentration of provisions an attorney should consult first before looking for those ancillary sections elsewhere.

Rule 7.1 is the first and more overarching provision an attorney should be concerned with. This section is entitled “Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services” and prohibits a lawyer from making “false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A “false or misleading” communication is further defined in the rule and Comments as one that “contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.” Most pertinently, Comment 1 expressly states that Rule 7.1 does apply to a lawyer or law firm’s website, blog, or other advertising because it states that this provision “governs all communications about a lawyer’s services, including advertising permitted by Rule 7.2.”

Under Rule 7.2, which is entitled broadly as “Advertising,” allows attorneys to advertise “through written, recorded, or electronic communication.” Comment 3 confirms that “electronic media, such as the Internet, can be an important source of information about legal services.” Thus, this only solidifies the fact that 7.2 and, therefore 7.1, apply to internet legal marketing.

In addition, Comment 2 for Rule 7.2 provides further information regarding what can actually be included in these advertisements; for our purposes, websites and blogs. It permits the following: Information concerning a lawyer’s name or law firm, address, and telephone number; the kinds of services the lawyer will undertake; the basis on which the lawyer’s fees are determined, including pricing for specific services and payment or credit arrangements; a lawyer’s foreign language ability; name of references; and a catch-all for all other information that might invite the attention of those seeking legal assistance.

However, there is a caveat! First, your state may actually have additional requirements. For instance, New York only permits foreign language ability if “fluent” and not just as for a general ability. Therefore, you might be complying with the persuasive ABA Rule, but in violation with the mandatory state rule (in this case, New York). Second, this Comment is also misleading. Sub(c) under Rule 7.2 actually requires that a communication–such as an advertisement which we now know includes an attorney or law firm’s website–to contain the name and office address of at least one lawyer of the firm or the actual firm itself.

Rule 7.3 is entitled “Direct Contact with Prospective Clients” and deals more so with solicitation–as opposed to advertising–to prospective clients. But, if the attorney or law firm has a mailing list or sends out a newsletter via e-mail, this rule can also be applicable to past clients are well! The rule prohibits in-person and live telephone calls to prospective clients, which includes “real-time electronic contact[s],” that involving advertising an attorney’s services in hopes or retention. Further, this rule requires that every e-mail sent must include “Advertising Material” at the beginning and end of the transmission. Moreover, this rule provides an exception for family, close friends, or past clients,

That is, unless another exception applies. Rule 7.3 still prohibits a lawyer from sending, for example an e-mail newsletter, to another person if that person has either 1) “made it known” they do not want to be solicited or if the communication 2) contains “coercion, duress or harassment.” Meaning, if a past client tells you they want to be unsubscribed from an e-mail mailing list, and you fail to do so, you will be in violation of this rule just as much as if you directly communicated with a prospective client!

Additionally, you may be able to extrapolate this rule to other aspects of social media. There is a seasonable argument that an attorney who directly sends a Facebook Friend message or “Friend Request” to the prospective client hoping for them to “Like” the attorney’s professional page might constitute a violation of this rule. Even if it does not generally violate this rule, if the prospective client rejects the first request and the attorney sends a second “Friend Request,” is the attorney now in violation of this rule? Arguably it would appear so!

Finally, the last rule that really applies directly to internet marketing such as attorney websites and blogs is Rule 7.5; “Firm Names and Letterheads.” Even though it does not appear that this rule applies, looking at the Comments clearly shows that it does. Specifically, Comment 1 directly remarks that firm names include website addresses. Further, it refers back to Rule 7.1 and reminds us that website addresses cannot be false or misleading. In effect, this means that an attorney or law firm cannot make their domain name “http://www.WinEveryTime.com” or something of that effect.

Yet, the Comments do permit trade names in a website address such as the example “Springfield Legal Clinic.” But duly note, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that state legislation may prohibit the use of trade names in professional practices if they deem fit. So this is another state-specific area for the attorney or law firm to review.

In conclusion, even though law has typically lagged behind in adopting such advancements like technology, there are still ample provisions in the ABA Rules to guide an attorney or law firm to comply with internet marketing. More and more legal professions will branch out on the internet, which will create a greater need for more ethical regulation. Yet for now, with the ABA Rules as a guidepost, a profession should understand their obligations in creating, managing, and promotion their legal practice on the internet through websites and blogs.

Do You Know Qualities of the Best Law Firms?

How do you know that your attorney will provide you with confident legal representation? A responsible legal attorney will ensure that he will do the best for you.

Here’s a look at the Qualities of the Best Law Firms:

Effective Leadership

An effective leader is one of the key factors in determining a successful law practice. A good leader will have a commitment to serving its clients, and a vision for the firm’s direction. He will have a desire to find the best people, believing both in the clients and the brand of the firm. Effective leaders have a good understanding of the legal work, an awareness of the employees’ total job satisfaction, and overall satisfaction of its clients. Good leaders always remain cognizant of the factors such as success and growth associated with the firm.

Compassion for its Clients

The best law firms have qualified attorneys that listen to the clients concerns, and show empathy towards their situation. They are also concerned towards their overall goal through representation by the firm. Some attorneys look at their clients and see the opportunity to bill the total fee they will earn for a huge settlement. These attorneys lack the basic ethical consideration and compassion for its clients. The attorneys of the best law firms always act in the best interest of the clients and take good care of them. Some law firms even recruit brand new attorneys and start the legal process afresh with them.

Focus on a Specific Area

It is the quality of the best law firms to focus on a particular area of law. Laws are complex these days and these can change depending on the new case handed down by superior courts. The best law firms are aware of recent changes in their area of specialization. They can change strategy and become the power to their clients by exhibiting their knowledge in a particular area of law. A lawyer who claims to practice in all areas is not the right choice. With a narrow focus, a lawyer can represent your case instantly.

Organizational and Transaction Skills

Any attorney firm who wishes to be successful must possess skilled lawyers. The possession of exceptional organizational and transaction skills will enable the law firm to distinguish themselves from the other firms. These skills may vary with the different fields of law. The technical knowledge of lawyers will enable them to succeed. Moreover, this will assist them in retaining clients and winning cases. The practicing attorneys should have a mastery over the rules of evidence, which is an essential part of litigation. A client wants an attorney with a firm and confident determination. With confidence in their law firm, a client’s trust will increase and finally the potential of repeat business is huge.

Honesty and Persuasiveness

The best law firms never misguide their clients with an incorrect answer. Appeasing a client with false statements will cost the firm at the end. Honesty is totally important in maintaining client relations and should be of extreme importance. A lawyer must possess the skills to persuade a judge and the client, and in this situation, the power of persuasion is important. The idea of persuasiveness is the ability to understand and identify the concerns of the audience. It is the attorneys who can interpret the law in order to remain successful.

Clearly Defined Fee System

To avoid any future complications, good law firms always put in writing and explain to the client the method of billing. Many billing disputes arise only due to discrepancy in the understanding of the client regarding the fee matter. A clearly explained fee agreement in the first intake helps to avoid many of the post case disputes.

There a lot of law firms available to select from, however when picking out the best of the lot, it is important you verify the qualities of a professional one. The qualities of the best law firms have been discussed above to enable you to choose the right one.

Unbalanced Scales – Weighing Marketing Options for Your Law Firm

The past few years have not been kind to any business, and law firms have, by and large, been no exception to the rule. People still need attorneys even in a down economy, but the fact of the matter is that they are less willing to spend money on attorneys fees when they have less money to begin with. None of this should come as any surprise, but it is surprising how often law firms and attorneys are at a loss when it comes to ways to find new clients. Unfortunately, this is a class that never gets taught in law school.

If you own or operate a law firm and haven’t had as much new business as you would like, then I want to introduce you to the concept of search engine optimization (commonly known as ‘SEO’). SEO is not the only way to market a legal practice, and although it’s one of the best ways, there are certainly situations where other forms of marketing may work better. Here’s why more law firms should pay attention to search engine optimization:

  1. Inbound Marketing: In the marketing industry, there is a common distinction between inbound and outbound marketing. In general, outbound marketing is an effort by the company in question to reach out to a potential client and initiate a client-relationship (think, for example, of calling a contact who you know might need your legal services). On the other hand, inbound marketing is marketing that aims to make a company visible to any potential clients who are actively looking for services or products offered by that company. The distinction is not always clear-cut, but it’s important for a law firm. In general, attorneys think about going out and networking (which is always an excellent idea), but the results are limited. Search Engine Optimization allows you to reach more potential clients more quickly.
  2. Efficiency: Let’s be frank – your law firm is your business, and you want to control costs like any other business. Advertising – even in print, but especially on TV – gets very expensive very fast. Advertising online is a good and attractive option, but I would argue that the money is better spent on a long-term SEO solution for your law firm. The rankings and traffic that result from good SEO can last for a very long time and can continue to benefit your law firm down the road.
  3. Competition: In today’s market, it’s getting harder and harder to differentiate your legal services from those provided by the attorney or lawyer down the street. Consequently, it’s prudent to take a different approach to marketing than the guy or gal down the street. There are law firms that already engage in SEO, but there are not as many as there could or should be, and you can take advantage of that fact.

Practicing law is not an easy profession, and the demands of the job have only increased over the past few decades. However, finding clients doesn’t need to be the most difficult part of your legal practice. As I mentioned above, search engine optimization is by no means the only way to get your law firm in front of more potential clients. It’s a method that we have helped many firms use to find many new clients on a ongoing basis.

If you want to get started, it probably makes sense to seek the help of a professional, although many SEO tactics can be tackled yourself if you have the time. In any event, I urge you to get started today, even if it’s with a different type of marketing. Your legal practice and career will greatly benefit down the road.