One-third of law firm clients start their search for an attorney online. Your website is essential for making an excellent first impression and introducing your legal services to ideal clients. Optimization and web design are key for a good user experience, but it's also important to think about ethics rules for your law firm website.
The best law firm websites balance the firm's positioning while avoiding any ethics problems. Since it's your chance to put your best foot forward with potential clients, you want to ensure your website is as compelling as possible.
Publishing a site without evaluating local, state, or national bar association guidelines could lead to serious problems for your law practice.
Attorneys must be familiar with some ethical restrictions on law firm websites. Many of these considerations are unique from other business owners, so it's important to do your research before copying any marketing ideas taken from companies outside the legal industry.
The major attorney advertising compliance issues are covered in ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4, and 7.5.
Most state bar associations consider a law firm website a form of advertising. Your site should comply with all advertising-specific requirements.
If you can't say or do something on billboards or other ads, your website should be no exception. There are several other legal marketing considerations to be aware of when creating or updating your website.
Use Disclaimers on Your Site
Two important disclaimers may be relevant for a law firm website: one relating to legal advice and another regarding the location of the law firm's office.
Most state bar associations require lawyers to add disclaimers on website pages that explain that content is informational only and is not intended as legal advice.
Your state bar might require that this disclaimer appears on all site pages either as a conclusion to any published content or in the footer. The primary purpose of these disclaimers is to clarify to all visitors that anyone who visits your site or even contacts you via a form or email does not interpret those communications as the existence of an attorney-client relationship.
Certain states or other jurisdictions require lawyers to disclose the location of their law firm office.
Usually, it is sufficient to include this information on a contact page or the footer of your homepage. This is especially important for lawyers with virtual addresses to pay attention to since you may be required to publish the physical address of the firm's office on the site.
Review state bar rules to verify your compliance in this area since a location disclosure may not be required for those law firms that don't use a staffed office three or more days a week. Include your general contact information, like your phone number, for ease of use on your site, too.
In addition, each state bar association may require its own specific language on law firm website disclaimers. California's attorney advertising rules require a statement saying, "This testimonial or endorsement does not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter" per Rule 1-400, Standard (2). This is very important to consider when you repurpose client testimonials or reviews from other places.
Review Website Registration Requirements
Certain states require lawyers not just to abide by ethical rules around materials on the website but to go one step further in registering the website with the bar association.
Kentucky and Texas, for example, require that each solo lawyer website or law firm website be formally registered with the bar association.
Other states like Pennsylvania do not agree with mandating lawyers to register their websites.
Be mindful of these potentially different requirements, especially if you have offices in multiple states.
Select Stock Images Carefully
An important copyright note first: never use "royalty-free" stock images on your law firm website, blog, email newsletter, or social media posts.
In many cases, these are not truly free as they may require credit given to the original image owner. Further, many of these are not professional or unique enough for a law firm website.
When selecting stock images for any marketing purpose, carefully choose and pay for those with commercial rights. Certain images with editorial licensing rights won't allow your use of those photos on anything besides a social media post, so it's better to err on the safe side.
There are many sites where you can select original, commercially licensed stock images, such as:
Avoid using stock images that every other lawyer has on their website. If you’re searching for popular terms like "car accident" or "divorce," try to go deeper into the results than the first page on these stock photo sites.
Certain bar associations may also require a disclaimer when you use stock images on your website. The purpose is to clear up any confusion that the people featured in such images are not actual clients of your law firm.
Know What You Can and Cannot Say
Perhaps the most confusing and also the most important factor in law firm website ethics rules has to do with misleading statements. American Bar Association Rule 7.1 is key here.
Here's how that's defined:
A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer's services. A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.
This is the biggest gray area for law firm ethical boundaries, so it requires careful review of all imagery and content on the site to make sure nothing could appear misleading to a client.
Here are some examples of statement types that could be considered misleading to potential clients:
- Claims that you're the "number one" or "best" law firm
- Anything hinting that you guarantee/promise case outcomes
- Terms such as "I specialize in X area of the law" or "I'm an expert"
- Claims that a lawyer is board certified if he/she has not received this designation
While it may be acceptable to use the word "focus" to describe your emphasis in a particular practice area or to use past case results as marketing material for future clients, do so with caution. If you have received an appointed specialization by a state bar or other association, you may reference that.
Be aware that your state bar may also prohibit specific language or image use. The attorney advertising rules for New Jersey say that lawyers are not allowed to use animations or music in their ads, for example.
A good rule of thumb for lawyer’s website content is that any claims made on your site should be truthful and verifiable. When it doubt, don't use it.
Retain Ownership and Review Rights Over Published Content
In addition to being aware of misleading statements on your website written by you, extend that to all content ever published on your law firm website.
The managing partner should review and claim ownership of all written content on the site, even if that content is written by someone else in the firm or a freelance writer. Ultimately, the lawyer is responsible for content published on all law firm pages, including the blog.
While using in-house staff, marketing agencies for attorney websites, or freelance writers to craft content is an excellent strategy to save time and produce content in line with SEO best practices, you should always sign off on this content to verify that it's both legally accurate and in line with state bar ethics rules. Some agencies, like Rankings.io, go an extra step to have all content reviewed by lawyers before it's published.
If you outsource content writing or editing to others, be sure to reference state and ABA ethical marketing rules in your editorial guidelines.
Having a Compliant Website is Just the Beginning
A compliant website is important, but it's just one of many marketing challenges law firms face and the bare minimum for an attorney website.
Your website should also be designed and optimized for user experience. Your website must also be attractive to viewers and optimized to rank in search engines if you hope to acquire new clients, so don't overlook design and technical aspects. Basic principles of good website design do apply.
Clients expect websites that are well-designed, easy to navigate, and load quickly. Even a one-second delay in loading any page on your website could impact the client experience. For each second it takes for your full website page to load, your conversion rate drops by 4.42%. Those seconds matter and this means regularly testing your website for performance issues. Work with a web developer or marketing agency to look for all ways to maximize website speed.
There are several common culprits for slow page loading, including:
- Too many files or images/videos that are uncompressed
- Using old HTTP versions instead of HTTP2 (Check what you're using on WebPageTest)
- Slow server issues (Use the resource above to check for Bytes In of 2 MB or less)
- Third-party resource problems (e.g.,Google Analytics/Mailchimp/Active Campaign)
Your website is your law firm's online presence, and it communicates your level of professionalism, too. This means using recommended security practices that protect your firm and also instill confidence in your website visitors.
An SSL certificate is a must-have for a law firm website. Simply put, you can tell the difference between a website with an SSL certificate and one without it by looking for an "S" after the HTTP in the browser. An HTTP alone means the browser is not secured, opening your website to possible hackers. This is a problem for visitors, who may see a "this website is not secure" message, and for ranking your website in Google. An SSL certificate is basic security worth investing in when you buy or renew your domain name.
You should take all reasonable steps to comply with the best practices for the Americans with Disabilities Act so that your website is accessible and inclusive for all. WEBaim completed an annual review of one million websites to review for potential accessibility issues and found that over 98% of websites don't follow basic compliance guidelines.
Here are some things to keep top of mind for website builders when it comes to accessibility:
- Choose texts, fonts, and spacing that are still readable for visually impaired viewers
- Avoid poor color contrast
- Always include alt text descriptions for any uploaded images
- Make search functions easy to see and use
- Verify responsiveness across device types (such as tablets and mobile devices)
Learn more about how to create an ADA-friendly website here.
Lawyers see the best results when their sites follow the legal industry's rules and web design best practices.
For example, here are the local map pack rankings for a personal injury lawyer's website two days before we redesigned it to follow the principles we talked about above:
The site only appeared in Google Maps in a small area. It was almost invisible to searchers outside of that zone.
These were the local search rankings three weeks after we relaunched the site:
Working with someone who understood the professional rules of conduct and the way search engines work made a huge difference for this firm. They now reach people across New Yor City.
Get More High-Value Traffic to Your Law Firm Website
Your website communicates your unique value proposition to prospective clients and sends signals to search engines like Google that help your website rank. When you follow best practices for both law firm SEO and ethical rule compliance, you set yourself up for future success.
Rankings.io approaches all aspects of our work with ethics in mind, including building out a clean, white-hat digital marketing campaign. We also use best practices throughout all SEO campaigns to ensure you have the best possible chance of earning high-quality traffic from prospective clients for your law firm.
If you want to make sure that your website works for you 24/7 with a comprehensive content marketing strategy, contact Rankings.io today for a consultation about SEO services and law firm marketing.