The Ethics of Internet Marketing for Your Law Firm
When it comes to starting your own practice or building your book of business in the practice that you have already established, there is one thing that you must do – market yourself.
It is likely that marketing for lawyers is still a challenge because up until the 1970s, lawyers were not actually able to market their practices. For many years, marketing was seen as slightly unseemly and verboten in the legal industry. However, over the last five decades, the necessity of marketing in a very saturated legal market has become clear.
Now, experienced professionals recommend that lawyers – particularly those focused on building their book of business – spend at least 20 to 25% of their total working hours on marketing activities. Otherwise, you are not giving your marketing process the attention it deserves.
One-quarter of your time sounds like a considerable commitment, yet the reason for it is sound. You need to make sure that there are clients coming in the door. Because otherwise, you may eventually end up with no cases on your docket.
The key, however, in this highly regulated legal industry is to make sure that you market yourself – online and off – ethically. Accordingly, in this article, we will give you a few reminders on what ethical considerations you need to keep in mind with your digital marketing.
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1. Your Firm Name
Before jumping into some digital marketing ethics, when it comes to naming your firm there are some marketing considerations you must honor. Make sure that your firm name does not imply a connection with a government agency or charity. The “Certified IRS Professionals” would be out of bounds because it implies a connection with a government agency, and the “John Smith, Esq. Legal Clinic,” sounds like a charity.
Also, do not use the name of a lawyer who is holding public office, and only use “The Law Offices of John Smith” if you truly have more than one office. Otherwise, “Office” should be singular.
2.Puffery vs. Misleading Statements
The ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct 7.1 states that lawyers should not make false or misleading communications about his or her services. When you put content online when marketing your firm, you may feel the pull to state that you are the “expert” or “specialist” in a certain legal field. That can be construed as misleading unless you truly have special certification in a particular field that permits you to call yourself an “expert.”
Accordingly, while you might think that stating that you are the “top patent attorney” in your region is mere puffery, it will likely be considered to be a misleading statement that runs afoul of Rule 7.1.
3. Referrals and Referral Fees
It might be worth your time to look at the New York State Bar Association’s Ethics Opinion 1131, dated August 8, 2017. It is a very important opinion because it talks about digital referrals.
You most likely have heard of the website “Avvo,” which is considered the “Yelp for attorneys.” For some time, Avvo was having lawyers pay Avvo’s website for leads, and Avvo would prominently display a lawyer’s information (with placement at the top of the search page or highlighted in some way) if the lawyer paid a premium. That practice was found to be unethical.
While it is worthwhile to read the full NY State ethics opinion to understand the full extent of the ethical requirements, this leading ethics opinion noted that a lawyer may pay a for-profit online s