With few exceptions, the majority of all advertising is done online. This switch has leveled the playing field for small businesses, like legal startups or law firms. While the added convenience, low cost, and accessibility of digital marketing is nice, this can also cause major ethics issues.
The regulation of lawyer advertising has been a touchy subject for the American Bar Association (ABA) since the start of the 20th century. In 1908, ABA condemned lawyer ads in its Canons of Professional Ethics, stating that only business cards were permitted for marketing purposes.
It wasn’t until 1977 that a Supreme Court case, Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, declared that truthful advertising and marketing items were protected under the United States Constitution.
Since then, many restrictions on commercial speech have been lifted, such as prohibiting lawyers from advertising themselves as a trial specialist, newspaper ads, or solicitation letters.
In the modern era, it’s hard to find a lawyer that doesn’t have their own website. You can even hire a digital marketing agency for law firms if you want to outsource your advertising strategy.
Lawyers are in a highly competitive field, so they’ll often scope out innovative, new, or possibly unscrupulous tactics to attract clients. ABA has strict rules that state what a lawyer should and shouldn’t say, which can land attorneys in trouble if they follow general marketing advice.
In legal advertising, you’ll come across the following problems and ethical issues:
Attorneys must remember that they aren’t privy to the same marketing rules as most other businesses. Read the Lawyer Marketing: An Ethics Guide by the ABA for more information.
Due to a lawyer’s ethical obligations, they have to place limits on how to market themselves. Some of these limits include adding disclosures to their statements, excluding their law firm win record, prohibiting overly zealous client testimonials, not using specific words, and much more.
Here are some other tips lawyers can use to market themselves ethically:
Remember that everything you do online has a permanent digital footprint, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you want to avoid future ethics issues, stay educated and informed.