Does Your Website Violate State Bar or ABA Rules of Professional Conduct?
Every lawyer and law firm currently in practice should by now have a website. The website should have information on you, the firm history, other attorney bios, practice areas, a blog and other pages you feel are necessary. Your website is also considered an advertisement.
The content on your website is invaluable. This is how and what the search engines use to help prospective clients or attorneys find you in the internet universe.
But do you know if the content violates the State Bar of California Rules of Professional Conduct or the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct?
If you’re not sure, read on...
State Bar of California Rules of Professional Conduct
The rules are found in Rule 1-400 Advertising and Solicitation. The rule uses the word “communication” and defines it as “any message or offer by the or on behalf of a member concerning the availability for professional employment of a member oar a law firm directed to any former, present or prospective client.”
The State Bar adopted the following prohibitive standards for any form of communication which:
- Contains any false statements or anything that is deceptive, confusing, meant to deceive or mislead or an omission of facts necessary to not mislead the public
- Fails to indicate that it is an advertisement or solicitation
- Is sent in a way that involves intrusion, coercion, duress, compulsion, intimidation, threats, or vexatious or harassing conduct
- States that an attorney is a “certified specialist” unless they have a current certificate issued by the State Board of Certification
- Contains guarantees, warranties or predictions regarding the result of representation;
- Uses testimonials or dramatizations without an express disclaimer
- Is sent to a potential client whom the attorney knows or should know that they are not in a physical, mental or emotional state where they can make a reasonable decision about retaining legal counsel
- Is used in “ambulance chasing”, such as at an accident scene, emergency room, hospital or other health care facility
- Falsely states or implies relationships with:
- any government agency or a public or non-profit legal services organization
- another lawyer or law firm as being “of counsel”
- another lawyer or law firm as either a partner or associate
- Does not state the name of the attorney or law firm responsible for the ad
- Falsely states or implies services offered in a language other than English
- Claims “no fee without recovery” and but does not state whether the client is responsible for costs or falsely advertises a specific range or set fee
ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct
The ABA Rules of Professional Conduct include most of the rules and regulations regarding false and misleading communications. Additional rules on attorney advertising are included in the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rules 7.1 through 7.5.
- An attorney or law firm cannot advertise an unsubstantiated comparison of the lawyer’s services or fees with another attorney or law firm, using phrases such as ‘best’, ‘expert’ or ‘highly qualified’
- A lawyer who is admitted to engage in patent practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office may designate themselves as “Patent Attorney”
- A lawyer who is engaged in an Admiralty practice can use the designation “Admiralty” or “Proctor in Admiralty”
- A law firm in more than one jurisdiction may use the same name in each jurisdiction
- An attorney holding public office needs to have their name removed from the law firm name or communicate on their behalf during a period of time in which the lawyer is not actively practicing law with the firm
What Could Happen If I’m Violating These Rules?
California Business and Professions Code §§6157-6159.2 outlines the consequences of violating the State Bar Rules on advertising and solicitations. Anyone can file a complaint with the State Bar claiming false or deceptive advertising. The State Bar determines if the ad is legal under the State Bar and Business and Professions Code guidelines for attorney advertising. If the ad is not, the complainant can file a civil suit against the attorney or law firm. The lawyer and law firm may also receive disciplinary action by the State Bar.
What You Should Do Next…
Donald Rumsfeld said it best (or worst):
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.”
Content writing for attorney websites can be a complex and critical endeavor. You may not have the experience or the time to draft content or fully review your website to see if it falls under the guidelines set forth in the Bar Rules.
WebJuris has over 15 years of experience writing compelling and ethical content for lawyers and law firms. We have complete understanding of all the rules set forth for attorney advertising. With WebJuris developing your content, you can be rest assured that your firm is following all the Rules of Professional Conduct in advertising and solicitation.
If you don’t know what you don’t know, contact WebJuris to handle all your internet marketing needs.