Advertising is an excellent way to introduce your firm to prospective clients.
But advertising isn't just about unique law firm branding, keeping up with the nuances of law firm website SEO, or understanding paid ads on Google or social media.
Each of these elements might show up in your law firm ads, but they're still governed by attorney advertising rules at the national and state level.
Attorneys advertising rules in New York are complex. Familiarize Yourself With the Rules and Keep Your Business on Solid Ethical Ground
Overview of New York Attorney Advertising Rules
The New York State Bar Association outlines its standards for attorney ethics in its Rules of Professional Conduct.
These rules exist to protect the public and maintain professionalism in the practice of law in New York. This document covers a wide variety of topics exhaustively, including a detailed chapter on attorney advertising.
Importantly, Rule 7.1 lays out the state bar's definition of advertising.
Advertising, under Rule 7.1 (a), is public or private communication made on behalf of or by a law firm or lawyer about that person/firm's services, with the primary goal of getting someone to retain the firm. This rule excludes communications to current clients or other lawyers as ads.
New York's rules on attorney advertising cover important topics in successive subsections like:
- General rules about ads
- Rules on payments for referrals
- Rules on solicitation and employment recommendations
- Rules on identifying your practice or specialty
- Rules on professional notices and branding.
Each other rule further defines what New York lawyers can and cannot do in their communications with potential clients.
Rule 7.1: Advertising
Rule 7.1 covers New York’s general regulations for attorney advertising. This includes several core requirements for ads and law firm websites.
For the purposes of this and other attorney advertising rules, consider your entire law firm website an advertisement that must comply with the following rules:
- There may be no statements or claims that are deceptive, false, or misleading
- Inclusion of the principal law office address, firm name, and telephone number of the firm
- A statement that this communication is a form of "attorney advertising"
For the last rule, there are some exceptions and some specifications.
All ads except those on the radio, television, billboards, directories, newspapers, magazines, or other periodicals must include the phrase on the first page. Any electronic mail ads must include "attorney advertising" in the subject line. Most law firms cover this on their website in the footer across all pages to keep things simple.
You must include a minimum of one lawyer's name or the law firm's name, location, and telephone number on all forms of advertisement. This is usually the name of the lawyer responsible for reviewing and signing off on the ad.
Ads can include information like:
- Names of clients represented, so long as written consent was obtained
- Legal and nonlegal education
- Legal fees for initial consultation, where applicable
- Include paid endorsements or testimonials without disclosure of that nature
- Include portrayals of fictitious law firms
- Use actors to portray lawyers, firm members, or judges without disclosure
- Be made to look like legal documents
Lawyers must keep all ads on file for no less than three years after their initial use. This excludes computer-based communications, which you must keep for at least one year.
Rule 7.2: Payment for Referrals
Rule 7.2 covers payment for referrals and recommendations in attorney advertising.
A lawyer cannot give anything of value or compensate someone for obtaining employment by a client or recommending the firm to a client unless the lawyer is paying reasonable fees or dues for a legal assistance organization or as a referral fee to another lawyer.
Additionally, lawyers can refer clients to a nonlegal professional or professional service on a systematic basis. This is true so long as the referral does not include any reward, tangible consideration, or monetary award for the same.
Lawyers can cooperate with certain legal assistance offices. This includes things like a legal aid organization, public defender's office, non-profits, bar association-approved or sponsored organizations, and military legal assistance offices.
Rule 7.3: Solicitation and Recommendation of Professional Employment
Rule 7.3 governs solicitation and communication in attorney advertising. These rules relate to when a lawyer can and cannot attempt to solicit clients.
The bar defines solicitation as any advertisement initiated by or on behalf of a law firm or lawyer that is directed at a specific group of recipients (or those person's family members/legal representatives) with the primary purpose of getting that group member to retain the law firm.
A lawyer cannot engage in solicitation in person or through telephone contact or any computer-based application unless the recipient is a relative, close friend, existing client, or former client.
A lawyer cannot engage in solicitation through any form of communication if:
- The recipient has asked for communication to cease
- The solicitation involves duress, coercion, or harassment
- The lawyer knows or should know that the recipient cannot exercise reasonable judgment
- The lawyer expects but doesn't disclose that services will be handled by another attorney
Ads intended for specific groups must be filed with the attorney disciplinary committee of the judicial department or district where the law firm maintains its primary office. If there is no such office, the filing must be made in the jurisdiction in which the solicitation will be sent.
That filing must include:
- A copy of the ad/solicitation
- A transcript of any audio part of any radio or television solicitation
- An English translation if the ad is in any other language
There are a few other specific rules associated with solicitations that only apply based on the type of ad sent.
For example, law firms cannot send written solicitations by a method that requires the person to travel to any location beyond where they typically get personal or business mail or through a method that requires a signature.
Lawyers cannot send solicitations about a specific event (such as major accidents leading to personal injury or death) before the 30th day after the date of the incident. This holds true unless a filing is required within 30 days, which would change this block to no earlier than the 15th day after the incident.
If you provide any retainer agreement example with an ad, it must be marked in red ink with the words "SAMPLE" in the largest font used on that entire solicitation. The words "DO NOT SIGN" must fill the client signature line on any document like this.
If a solicitation is in writing or sent via a computer and directed to someone specifically, it must disclose how the lawyer learned the identity of the recipient and the possible legal issue.
Rule 7.4: Identification of Practice and Specialty
Rule 7.4 addresses communication of fields of practice and specialization in attorney advertising. This refers to how a lawyer claims and shares their practice areas.
A lawyer can identify one or multiple areas of law in which the individual or firm practices, so long as the firm does not state that they are a specialist or specialize in a particular area unless they have been so recognized.
A lawyer can only use terms such as "specialist" or "certified" in a few situations.
The first is any circumstance in which the ABA or a certification body recognized by the ABA designates the lawyer as a "specialist" or "certified."
The ad must include the statement, "this certification is not granted by any governmental authority."
Another situation where a lawyer may use these terms is when an authority with jurisdiction under the laws of another state certifies them as a specialist in a specific area of law.
In these cases, the lawyer must state, "this certification is not granted by any governmental authority within the State of New York."
Finally, a lawyer can use certain statements in ads that are legible and readable by an average individual in a font size at least two sizes larger than the text used to name the certification.
If they speak the certification aloud in their ad, the lawyer must state it clearly and audibly at a level that is intelligible to the average person. It must also be at a cadence no faster than the statement of certification.
Rule 7.5: Professional Notices, Letterheads, and Signs
Rule 7.5 regulates law firm names and trade names in a variety of ad, solicitation, and communication venues.
Under this rule, a lawyer can use professional cards, letterheads, websites, and professional notices so long as they do not violate any court rule or statute. You can use colloquial trade names such as "New York City Estate Planning Lawyers" or a domain name such as nycestateplanning.com.
A lawyer in private practice cannot practice under a deceptive, false, or misleading trade name or domain name.
Further, terms such as “legal aid,” “legal service office,” “legal assistance office,” “defender office,” and similar phrases can only be used by an actual legal assistance organization.
A law firm cannot use the term "non-profit" or "not for private" unless the law firm meets formal requirements as a non-profit.
A law firm or lawyer in private practice cannot include the name of any nonlawyer in their firm name. Professional corporations can be designated by the initials "PC," and limited liability companies or partnerships can use designations like "LLC" or "LLP."
Finally, a law firm can only use terms like "special counsel" or "of counsel" on their letterhead or professional cards if there is a continuing relationship with another law firm or lawyer beyond as a partner or associate.
How Do New York's Advertising Rules Apply to Attorney Websites?
Attorneys in New York are free to have websites, but these websites are governed by the Rules of Professional Conduct.
As noted above, the rules consider websites a form of advertising. All materials you post on your website must abide by the established rules.
In Rule 7.1, the bar defines computer-accessed communications as anything made by or on behalf of the attorney or firm distributed through mediums like your website.
Law firms cannot use domain or trade names that include words like "legal aid" or "legal services" unless they are a formally recognized organization aligned with those terms.
Both trade and domain names cannot be misleading or false.
For example, domain names like "getyoursettlement.com" or "winningworkerscomplawyers.com" are not allowed as they imply the law firm is guaranteeing results.
You can use more generic domain names so long as these are not false, misleading, or deceptive.
For example, a lawyer in Schenectady who focuses on motorcycle accidents could use a domain name like "schenectadymotorcyclelawyers.com.”
As with all other ads, websites must comply with Rules 7.1-7.5 for the following:
- Ensuring accuracy, avoiding false or misleading statements
- Understanding what qualifies as online solicitation and use of required disclaimers
- Communicating fields of practice and specialization on websites
- Displaying firm names, jurisdictions, and office locations on websites
- Applying ethical considerations for website design, content, and accessibility
As mentioned above, your website must also have a disclaimer with the statement "attorney advertising." Many NY lawyers place this statement in their website’s footer.
Having a well-designed and accessible website goes further than just applying the Rules of Professional Conduct. It's a best practice for drawing in qualified leads through your website.
Best Practices for Complying with Advertising Rules
It's your responsibility to ensure that every ad meets the compliance rules created by the bar and to continue to keep things on file for your records as required. There are a few best practices attorneys can follow to ensure compliance with New York's advertising rules.
Here are some things you can implement across the firm for maximum effectiveness:
- Regularly review and update advertising materials
- Train staff on advertising rules and regulations
- Keep abreast of changes to advertising rules and regulations
- Work with a professional law firm marketer
If you decide to outsource your law firm marketing, make sure your vendor understands your firm's ethical obligations. The right law firm marketing agency will know and understand the bar association rules and will collaborate with you to ensure everything they do stays in compliance.
Ensuring Ethical Advertising in New York
Verifying compliance is an ongoing task. It's something any lead attorney or involved staff member should know, too.
Familiarizing yourself with the rules keeps your business on solid ethical ground. It helps protect the public from being misinformed and maintains a standard of professionalism in New York.
Most of all, it allows you to advertise effectively without the worry of being out of line.
Working with the right marketing partner can ensure your ads comply with New York's lawyer advertising rules. It can also save you time while increasing your chances of positive results.
Rankings.io has many years of experience working with lawyers looking to leverage opportunities for client conversion, like Google Ads for lawyers. Contact us today to learn how we can help.