Getting the word out about your law firm is one of the best ways to grow your law firm.
Across the country, the ABA’s rules determine the rules for attorney advertising. State bar association rules may further modify the ABA’s rules.
Attorneys in California can advertise but must take their state’s rules into account. This is true whether they are advertising themselves or working with a law firm marketing partner.
What Rules Govern Attorney Advertising in California?
The State Bar of California sets the rules for attorney advertising in the state in its Rules of Professional Conduct. These rules are in addition to the national attorney advertising rules set out by the ABA.
California’s current rules went into effect on November 1, 2018, after the CA Supreme Court approved them that May. These rules replaced the previous ones governing California Lawyer's conduct from 1992 to 2018.
For lawyer websites and other advertisements, look to Chapter 7 of the 2018 Rules. These rules correspond to and replace the previous rules found in section 1-400 of the 1992 Rules.
Rules 7.1 through 7.5 contain important considerations for lawyer advertising. This includes lawyers who have websites and engage in law firm digital marketing tactics.
These rules cover general compliance issues when involved in advertising and solicitation.
Although the rules don't call out online marketing for lawyers specifically, they still apply. Lawyer websites are subject to the same rules for print advertising in California. They are not considered solicitations on their own but are instead classified as a form of communication.
Breaking Down Chapter 7 of the California Rules of Professional Conduct
Chapter 7 covers many aspects of how a lawyer markets their law firm to prospective clients. It includes guidelines for things like communication about legal services, advertisements, and soliciting.
It also covers disclaimers, fields of practice, and claims made about specialization. Finally, the rules cover the use of firm names and trade names.
Rule 7.1: Communication Regarding Services
Rule 7.1 sets standards around false or misleading communications. California lawyers must make honest and fair statements about their services in anything considered communication or advertising.
This rule also offers the biggest gray area since the key phrase is "not misleading." Even some factual statements in law firm advertising could still be considered misleading.
Consider a popular concept for personal injury lawyers: “No settlement or verdict in your favor? No fee.”
A client may interpret it that they owe no money if that lawyer loses the case, even though the client agreement could include a clause detailing the client's responsibility for ongoing case expenses.
Similarly, firms often advertise their years of experience as a distinguishing factor. Stating that the firm has "decades of experience" when all the lawyers are starting their careers and it's only been open for five years is misleading.
Another area where 7.1's requirements are especially important relates to testimonials, endorsements, and case results. While these really help sell your services to potential clients, each one should go through a careful review process in your firm.
A case result for a prior client could be seen as misleading if it's shared in a way that would lead a reasonable person to assume an unjustified expectation that they will get the same results. Statements that make it seem like a promise or guaranteed win or outcome with specific dollar amounts can be misleading.
Rule 7.2: Advertising
One of the most important components of the California Rules of Professional Conduct is 7.2 since it applies broadly to many advertising materials. There are four aspects to this rule:
- Attorney ads must name a minimum of one lawyer's name
- The address of that party must also be included on any ads
- Certain written ads require the words "advertisement" or "solicitation" on them
- Lawyers cannot promise/give anything of value in exchange for a recommendation
The purpose of mandating one lawyer's name and address is to show who takes responsibility for the ad.
Although a disclaimer on your website isn’t required, it is a proactive step to take for law firm digital marketing. Many California lawyers use a disclaimer across their website to ensure it's clear they do not guarantee results.
Rule 7.3: Solicitation
Rule 7.3 outlines what is classified as a solicitation for clients.
California lawyers are forbidden from soliciting in person, over the phone, or through electronic means for the purposes of their own financial gain unless the person you're contacting is a lawyer or has a close family or previous professional relationship with the attorney.
Further, a lawyer cannot solicit employment through recorded, electronic, or written communication if the person being contacted has made it known they do not wish to be contacted by the attorney or in any case in which the solicitation is considered coercion or intrusion.
Anything you send to someone as a means of soliciting business must include the word "advertisement" on the outside of the envelope.
Rule 7.4: Fields of Practice and Specialization
Lawyers typically avoid using words like "specialize" when referencing their legal practice. In many states, these words can only be used when the lawyer receives an official designation for their practice area.
In California, you cannot call yourself a certified specialist in your practice area unless:
- You are certified through a Board of Legal Specialization
- You name the certifying organization in your marketing
The 2019 California Rules of Court state in Rule 9.35 that a certified specialist refers to someone who has a certificate on file from the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization or other approved third party.
There is more leeway when it comes to clarifying your practice area. You can state that you do or do not practice specific fields of law so long as doing so does not violate the above-mentioned rules.
Rule 7.5: Using Firm Names and Trade Names
Lawyers cannot use any trade name, company name, or firm name that goes against Rule 7.1.
Attorneys also cannot use any professional designation or trade name that implies or states a relationship with a charitable legal services organization, public service organization, or government agency unless that is factually accurate.
A lawyer also cannot indicate that they have any established relationship with a private company unless that is a fact.
All of these rules have important implications for any online advertising and third-party websites for a law firm.
How These Rules Apply to Online Advertising and Lawyer Websites
Your law firm website and online advertising initiatives can help attract and convert potential clients. Every communication you put out there must be in line with California's attorney advertising rules to stay in good standing.
The rules apply to the content on your website, law firm social media marketing, paid ads, and other digital or printed materials.
Using a disclaimer on your website is one way to clarify the intention of your marketing statements. An in-house review to verify truthful and accurate information on your website is another important step.
Reviewing any materials discussing past case successes is also important. Testimonials are a powerful way to get clients for your law firm but could be considered misleading if you're not careful.
Staying Compliant with California’s Attorney Advertising Rules
California's rules on attorney advertising are straightforward guidelines. Following certain best practices ensures your law firm won't run afoul of them when advertising your legal services.
These practices include:
- Reviewing new advertising and marketing materials for accuracy
- Training staff on advertising rules and ethical guidelines
- Discussing best practices and ethical issues with any outsourced marketing team
It can be hard enough to come up with new ideas to market your law firm. Working with a law firm marketing agency makes it easier to complete all the to-do list items for your advertising.
A marketing partner with law firm expertise saves you time that's better spent on legal work. Someone with experience will understand the best ways to market your legal services. Most importantly, they'll do so in a way that fits California's compliance rules.
Review Your Website and Marketing for Compliance
If you haven't looked over your marketing materials lately, now's a good time to make sure you're in compliance.
Making sure your advertising is professional, truthful, and ethical is ultimately up to you. Staying informed of changes and adjusting to them is also in your control. By understanding the rules and following best practices, you'll have an easier time.
One way to take some of that burden off your back is by outsourcing your advertising. Working with someone who understands your business and the rules governing it is key.
A law firm marketing expert, like the ones at Rankings.io, understands what it takes to effectively and ethically manage your law firm marketing.
If you know it's time to hand off your law firm marketing plans to a qualified expert, schedule a call with Rankings.io today. Let us show you how we can help take your firm to the next level.