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Marketing in the Digital Age: An Ethical Trap?

Stephanie Richards

Marketing in the Digital Age: An Ethical Trap?
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Most firms, even solo practitioners, have websites marketing the legal services they offer to the community. The website typically speaks to practice areas and qualifications of the individual attorneys, or the firm as a whole.

Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2(a) indicates that lawyers may market their services through any media. However, subsection (b) of the same rule indicates that there are further considerations governing certain marketing or referral sources.

Referral Services

Specifically, Rule 7.2(b) sets forth the proper way to receive recommendations. Among the factors within the rule, recommendations must be a result of reasonable costs of advertisements or can be through a qualified lawyer referral service. Referral agreements must meet certain ethical obligations set forth in Rule 7.2 The rule allows for lawyers to refer clients to other lawyers or to nonlawyer professionals so long as the reciprocal referral agreements are not exclusive, and the client is informed of the existence and nature of the referral agreements.

Attorney Qualifications

Rule 7.2(c) discusses content of the marketing. Attorneys must be careful not to overstate their qualifications in a subject matter. The language within their websites or marketing materials must be clear. The rule states that attorneys shall not state or imply that they are certified as a specialist unless they have been certified by a specific organization approved by the appropriate authority of their jurisdiction or the American Bar Association. Along with the certification, they must state the organization from which they attained certification. Avoid any language along the lines of being an “expert” in the field.

Website Content

While most firms include the contact information for each of the attorneys within their firm, some firms might consider leaving out contact information for privacy concerns. In some jurisdictions this may be allowed; however, subsection 7.2(d) indicates that any communications made in terms of marketing or advertising must include the name and contact information of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content.

Attorneys (and non-attorney marketing employees within firms) should be familiar with not only their state’s ethical rules, but all rules governing jurisdictions where their attorneys are authorized to practice.

If you are going to include client testimonials or big wins, don’t forget to include a disclaimer! Many states prohibit marketing that could give an unjustified expectation about the results which will be attained for a particular type of case or specific client.

In the digital world we live in, most law firms must be represented on the internet to thrive and generate new client relationships. Being mindful of the model rules regarding legal marketing will ensure your firm reaps the benefits of its web presence without facing the repercussions of posting improper materials.