Does Your Firm’s Digital Marketing Follow Ethics Rules?
As lawyers, we are all about the rules. After all, that’s what we do – we help others understand what the law is. When it comes to marketing our practice, however, we sometimes forget the ethics rules that place parameters on the marketing, both online and offline, that we as lawyers do.
That is why it is always a good idea to refresh ourselves on the ethics rules so that our online and offline marketing efforts do not run afoul of the applicable ethics rules in the jurisdictions in which you practice. In fact, with the rapid-paced changes in the online marketing strategies available to law firms these days, it can be hard to know when a certain practice is a ‘no-no’ under applicable ethics rules.
Accordingly, this blog will give you a quick refresher on some of the basic principles you should consider when reviewing your firm’s website or other online marketing approaches. Of course, every State will have different ethics rules, but this general 8-point list of principles should start you on the right path to evaluating your basic online marketing strategy.
We at Oamii, providing digital marketing services in West Palm Beach, Florida, and elsewhere, care about digital ethics rules because many of our clients are law firms just like yours. Whenever we advise our law firm marketing clients on the latest marketing trends, we do so with an eye towards ensuring that your firm’s online presence does not cross any ethical lines.
For more information on how Oamii can cater to your firm’s specific needs for digital marketing services in West Palm Beach and elsewhere, please fill out our online contact form, or call us at 561-228-4111 today.
8 Ethical Online Law Firm Marketing Principles to Keep in Mind
Every state has different ethics rules. You should, from time to time, refresh yourself on the applicable rules in the places you practice. Yet, because there is some commonality among most States, this list of principles should help keep you away from some common ethical marketing pitfalls.
1. Lots of Ethics Rules for Traditional Marketing Apply to Online Marketing as Well
One of the biggest principles to remember is that most, if not all, of the ethics rules with regard to law firm marketing that apply in the traditional legal marketing world, apply with equal force in the world of online marketing too. Thus, if you are mindful of the ethics rules that control print ads, mailings, and paper newsletters, then you essentially know what rules to apply to your website, emails, and e-newsletters as well.
2. You are Not an Expert or Specialist, Unless You Really are an Expert or Specialist
On your website, content is king. You likely are writing content to discuss issues in the law and show off your knowledge of certain legal issues and cases. That is a great way to market your firm. However, you have to be careful about telling the world that you are an “expert” or a “specialist.”
While you are an expert on the law compared to a person who does not have a J.D., the terms “expert” or “specialist” connote having something more, like a special certification in a particular legal area where such expertise is recognized. Perhaps a patent attorney is certified as an expert in a certain scientific area, but typically lawyers should not describe themselves as “experts” or “specialists” unless there is real support for the claim.
3. Avoid, or Be Ready to Back Up, Comparisons to Other Attorneys
Statements in marketing materials that measure one lawyer’s services against another’s do not comport with most, if not all, ethics rules in the 50 States. Even saying something like your firm has “the most experience” can cross the line into an inappropriate comparison.
Most States allow discussions about recent court victories as well as testimonials on a firm’s website (be careful, however, there are a few States that do not allow testimonials). That said, be sure that your website or other marketing pieces about your legal successes do not give the impression to the public that you are guaranteeing a certain level of success on any case. Writing a clear disclaimer can go a long way to staying away from any ethical gray area for statements that may create expectations of success in future cases.
5. Stay Local to Where You Practice
Even though you may be admitted in only one or two jurisdictions, if your website presents your firm as having a nationwide practice, then you may have to grapple with 50 different sets of State ethics rules. Be sure that the content on your website stays specific to the jurisdictions to which you are admitted, so you only have to satisfy those ethics mandates relevant to the States where you practice.
6. Give Appropriate Disclaimers Regarding Fee Arrangements
There are many areas of the law, such a workers’ compensation or personal injury cases, in which it is possible that you may not charge a fee unless you are able to obtain a recovery for your client. Yet, making representations like “you don’t pay a fee unless we recover money for you,” could be considered ethically misleading if there are certain incidental court or other administrative fees that a client is asked to pay. Accordingly, be sure that any representation about fees includes a clear, visible disclaimer that keeps you out of any ethical hot water.
7. Note the Website Design Guidelines
A number of States have specific requirements about the look of your website. For example, a State may require that you include photos of actual lawyers or clients at your firm, rather than using stock photos. Accordingly, keep an eye on the design guidelines that a State may require with regard to firm websites.
8. Outsource, but Review
There is no problem outsourcing your online marketing function to a leading digital marketing service in West Palm Beach or elsewhere, like Oamii. In fact, many firms realize a huge benefit to their bottom line by outsourcing their digital marketing service to an online marketing professional. However, you are ultimately responsible for your site’s content. So, remember to look over the content on your site periodically to make sure that it comports with all ethics rules.
Just to give a disclaimer of our own, remember that this article does not cover all ethics rules, but merely discusses a few important ones. Be sure to consult your jurisdiction’s ethics rules to make sure you get a full picture.