Marketing a law firm effectively is an important piece of any successful and growing law practice. No matter whether you are running radio, television, print, or online advertisements, new business is vital. But before you run any advertisements of any kind, you must check the ethical rules in your jurisdiction as it relates to what you can and cannot say. There are rules surrounding law firm advertising requirements, including disclaimers and notices in television, print, and radio ads.
The reality is that the rules in each state can vary and can contain specific requirements. Many lawyers might have paid little attention to these requirements when they were simply an associate attorney at another law firm because they likely were not responsible for the firm’s advertisements.
However, if you have started a law firm, or have become fully or partially responsible for advertisements at a law firm, you want to know the requirements backward and forwards in terms of advertisements. The reality is that lawyers are heavily regulated in terms of what they can and cannot say — and the notices/disclaimers that are required. This is unlike a few other industries.
The Model Rules of Professional Conduct have requirements contained in Rules 7.1 through 7.5 as it relates to law firm advertisements. For example:
- Rule 7.1 contains various requirements concerning any communication regarding a lawyer’s services.
- Rule 7.2 deals with specific requirements regarding any advertisements.
- Rule 7.3 deals with the prohibition on soliciting clients.
- Rule 7.4 talks about communication regarding the fields of practice and specialization.
- Rule 7.5 talks about firm names and letterheads.
These rules can vary significantly, however, by state and can contain different requirements. For example, in Missouri, most advertisements have to contain the disclaimer: “The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements.” Some states also require various other notices/disclaimers, including the name of a lawyer or law firm responsible for any advertisement. Any lawyer responsible for law firm advertising must know these rules backward and forwards.
There are also some potential ambiguities contained in the rules as well. For example, where is the line in terms of whether a particular advertisement (and the language used) creates an unjustified expectation about the results a lawyer can obtain? For this reason, it may be important for a lawyer to get the advice of a lawyer with lots of experience in ethical issues before running law firm advertisements — or even particular advertisements.
When in doubt, a good rule of thumb is to an error on the side of caution with advertisements. Even if you do not believe that a certain disclaimer or notice may be necessary, it is probably safer to simply include it. Further, it is also safer to stay far away from any lines before running any particular advertisements.
It is vital as well that you ensure that any advertisers that you work with, know all the ethical requirements. The same is true as it relates to anybody within your law firm that is assisting with advertising.
Certainly, advertising a law firm effectively is simply critical to its success. Do not let the law firm advertising requirements dissuade you from marketing effectively. At the same time, you want to be sure you are playing by the rules.
If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below.