Follow the ABA’s Advertising Guidelines Online – Here’s How
Sharing information on social media sites as well as personal and professional blogs, especially for those in the legal industry, is often a double-edged sword. Here are some important things to watch for.
The American Bar Association’s (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct serve as a model for the ethical rules governing lawyer conduct online in most states. Rule 7.1 of the ABA Model Rules outlines the parameters for communication and advertising regarding services lawyers provide. Legal blogs can be deemed advertising, depending on their content and the way the message is conveyed, so you will want to consider them carefully as you plan your content marketing strategy.
On the most basic level, the message from the ABA is simple: don’t make any misleading statements about you, your firm, or your case results.
Subsequent rules (7.2, 7.3, and 7.4) flesh out the details surrounding advertising and what is or is not permitted. While the ABA Model Rules provide overall guidelines for blogging, social media, and other marketing activities, you should always be aware of any specific advertising rules in your state or jurisdiction.
Below, we’ve outlined some of the most important things to consider for managing your law firm’s digital marketing properties in an ethical, professional way.
A little common sense goes a long way if you’re debating whether to post or not to post. Here are 5 tips for marketing yourself or your firm on your blog.
Don’t make false statements:At LaFleur, we work closely with our clients to understand their practice areas as well as national, state, and local regulations to avoid any misrepresentation of their firm or the law. You should too.
Don’t misconstrue facts:Being vague when explaining the details of a case or situation could possibly be interpreted as a misrepresentation of the actual events. Say what you mean to say, and say it clearly. It also doesn’t hurt to mention that not all cases are the same.
Don’t betray confidence:Don’t share client information that violates the agreement you have with them or compromises their anonymity. If you want to share someone’s story, ask them if it’s okay.
Don’t be overzealous:Excessive celebration rules apply! A recent California Bar ethics opinion laid out a perfect and hilarious example. Did you win a case? Wonderful, share the details and the facts, but don’t make specific remarks regarding the quality of your service. Shameless self-promotion is a blatant advertisement, and it doesn’t bring anything of value to your blog or your website.
Don’t make false promises.Don’t promise results. You may be very successful, and you might even be the most successful lawyer in your area, but that doesn’t mean every case you handle is going to be a win.
If you operate a personal blog on non-legal topics, you need to be aware that what you say personally can affect you professionally, regardless of content or ABA Model Rules. Again, common sense applies. While your personal blog is just that, you still want to make sure you represent yourself in a manner that is consistent with your professional reputation.
One of the most popular social media sites for lawyers, LinkedIn would seem like a safe space for candid expression. Unfortunately, there are some ethical issues you could be faced with if you aren’t careful. For instance, on “Company Pages,” sharing your expertise or specialization can be considered misleading. For example, listing specific practice areas the “Specialties” field could potentially violate rules that prohibit lawyers from stating that they specialize in an area for which they have no certification.
Facebook and Twitter
Guidelines for social media use for attorneys varies from state to state and site to site. And opinions about what constitutes ethical professional conduct on social media are constantly evolving. Given this turbulent environment, here are some general guidelines to remember for your use of social media as a lawyer.
- Your social media profiles can be considered legal advertising. As such, your profiles may also be subject to any professional rules and standards governing attorney advertising.
- Don’t follow judges on Twitter or add them to your friend list on Facebook. Connecting with them may suggest a position of influence or conflict of interest. The ABA has issued a formal opinion addressing social media participation for judges as well.
- Don’t connect with opposing parties in order to gain access to their social media content. However, posts that are publically accessible are almost always fair game.
- Always maintain strict confidentiality concerning your cases and your clients.
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A Case Study in Pushing the Rules on Your Legal Blog
One recent blog post caused a bit of an uproar for one Michigan attorney, and it illustrates how fine the line is between what’s ethical and what’s not. We recommend that you always err on the side of caution and professionalism. But sometimes there are important reasons to push the rules to their limit.
Steven Gursten, the head of Michigan Auto Law, shared a blog post critiquing Dr. Rosalind Griffin’s expert testimony in a case. Dr. Griffin conducted an Independent Medical Exam (IME) on a client of Mr. Gursten’s who was injured in a trucking accident. Attorney Gursten received the judge’s permission to record the IME, and he noted discrepancies between Dr. Griffin’s deposition testimony and the recorded information.
Dr. Griffin, who also happened to be a member of the state attorney discipline board, filed a grievance against Gursten, alleging that the statements made on the blog “misrepresent my credentials, my testimony, and my character.”
The Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission ultimately dismissed the grievance against Mr. Gursten, citing U.S. and Michigan Constitutional grounds. Calling it a 1st Amendment win, Mr. Gursten’s follow-up blog post notes some interesting points regarding the free speech rights of attorneys and sharing issues of Public Concern. It’s well worth a read, and something to consider when you are deciding to hit “publish” on that blog post.
LaFleur: Legal Marketing Experts
Online marketing and advertising for lawyers is complex. At LaFleur, our organization began by exclusively working with attorneys, and we have helped lawyers across the U.S. to build new websites, manage legal blogs, and stay at the forefront of social media marketing. We work closely with our clients to make sure all of our content represents them accurately, professionally, and ethically.