Staying Inside the Lines: Marketing Ethics for Lawyers

Staying Inside the Lines: Marketing Ethics for Lawyers

There are many different marketing tactics that lawyers practice to find new and prospective clients.  As experts in the law, they tend to be pretty well-informed about what is acceptable and what isn’t in the world of marketing.  There are some surprising facts, however, that you should be aware of as a lawyer representing either yourself or your firm. As the marketing landscape continues to evolve in both the digital space as well as the material world, it’s important to stay on top of both the guidelines and the laws that protect consumers. A quick rundown of the marketing ethics guidelines for lawyers can provide you with the right knowledge to stay inside the lines when you are reaching out for new business.

The Governing Bodies

As with most codes of conduct in law, marketing ethics are run by the American Bar Association. The ABA oversees the Rules of Professional Conduct for each state, which addresses both advertising and solicitation. However, the RPCs for each state do not actually provide any authority over attorneys for their behavior on marketing ethics. That is reserved for state law.

Usually, there is a big overlap between the state’s laws and their RPC, but it is incredibly important to know whether or not your state has its own set of laws that you must adhere to. Virginia was the first state to bring disciplinary charges against an attorney due to violations of the state’s provisions in regards to the attorney’s blog – even though it lined up with the RPC guidelines of the commonwealth. This was in 2012, and it’s beginning to happen more often as digital marketing becomes more prevalent.

The Rules

Again, all states Rules of Professional Conduct are different, but they all have very similar guidelines, and they provide the definitions and rules for attorney advertisements and solicitations in a clear way. These definitions include:

  • What is an advertisement?
    • Any communication for the primary purpose of gaining or retaining clients
  • What is considered solicitation?
    • An advertisement initiated by or on behalf of a lawyer or firm that targeted at a specific audience
  • What materials may I send to prospective clients?
    • No sensitive or illegitimate information
  • What information must be included?
    • Proper contact information; statement of advertisement (for written advertising)
  • What information is prohibited?
    • Testimonial or endorsement from a current client regarding a pending matter; compensated testimonial without the disclosure of compensation; use of fictitious reenactments with disclosure of fictitious re-enactment; use of hidden meta tags or computer code
  • What kinds of solicitation practices are prohibited?
    • Real-time engagement with a potential client without their expressed consent
    • Ulterior motives
    • Suspect of the potential client’s mental capacity.

The State

This is merely the broad strokes of marketing ethics, and luckily, a lot of it comes down to common sense and reasonable lawyering practices. But again, it’s important to check with your state’s laws if you have any uncertainties.

It is also important to stay up to date on new developments. Over the past few years, several states have updated or modified their laws and guidelines in regards to marketing for attorneys. For example, Nevada has adopted substantial changes to the ethics rules that govern advertising for lawyers. Florida and New York have also enacted changes that have diverged fairly dramatically from that of the ABA’s guidelines. Ethics committees in several states are continuing to issue opinions that attempt to apply the rules to the virtually endless different aspects of digital marketing, such as daily deals, question-and-answer sites and recommendation requests.

Just be sure that you are staying on top of the current ethical conventions of your marketing practices – and understand that this is only an overview. It’s important to give the right overview and roadmap to those lawyers who have questions about their marketing strategies, and for them to know where to look. Remember: your state makes the rules, and it’s your responsibility to stay aware of the new developments in your state’s considerations. With the rapidly changing world of digital marketing, make sure that you are following the rules while you are gaining new customers.

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