We’ve been talking about this for a while, and the time is finally here: The State Bar of California has updated 70 of its Professional Rules of Conduct, several of which pertain to attorney advertising (specifically online marketing).
While many lawyers and law firms are still operating in the pre-digital age (if that’s you, we can help), a large percentage of law firms and legal industry businesses have moved into our digital age. The future of law is online, so read on for how to drive business through your website, social channels, and online advertising, ethically.
The new California Rules of Professional Conduct, effective November 1, 2018, acknowledge that social media is an effective business development tool for lawyers and, as a result, requires changes to the way lawyers use social media.
New Rules of Attorney Advertising
- When communicating about your services, you’re only responsible for what you say. Under new Rule 7.1, lawyers are not responsible for what others say about them. Some things do not change, however, and lawyers still cannot make false or misleading statements about themselves or their services.
- The lawyer advertising rules apply to social media advertising. New Rules 7.2 and 7.3 address the rules of attorney advertising in California. When directing your law firm’s advertising to a particular person, you need to make it clear that you are advertising. If the advertising is going to the general public, it is not necessary to add the advertising disclaimer.
- You can “specialize in” even if you’re not a certified specialist. Under new Rule 7.4, an attorney does not have to be a certified specialist by the Board of Law Specialization to state that his or her practice “specializes in” a particular area. Of course, it is critical that you continue to avoid claiming that you’re a “certified specialist” if you’re not.
What Qualifies as Attorney Advertising in California?
When is a lawyer or law firm’s statement advertising? According to the State Bar, when it includes a call to action. Let’s look at these examples provided by the State Bar…
“Case finally over. Unanimous verdict! Celebrating tonight.”
- NOT Advertising. “It is not a message or offer “concerning the availability for professional employment.” It does not include a call to action.
“Another great victory in court today! My client is delighted. Who wants to be next?”
- Advertising. The third sentence “suggests availability for professional employment.”
“Won another personal injury case. Call me for a free consultation.”
- Advertising. The second sentence concerns professional employment. It is irrelevant that it is a “free” consultation, as communications aren’t limited to messages seeking money for services.
“Just published an article on wage and hour breaks. Let me know if you would like a copy.”
- NOT advertising. The attorney is simply relaying information regarding a published article and is offering to provide copies to interested individuals.
Under the new Rules, the standards in former Rule 1-400 have been removed as “not necessary to regulate inherently false and deceptive advertising.” And the record-keeping requirement was eliminated as “increasingly burdensome” and “seldom used for disciplinary purposes.” In other words, no need to keep physical copies of your website for two years.
Is your online marketing in line with these new rules? For a more in-depth analysis of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorney Advertising as they pertain to your practice, feel free to reach out. Additionally, our founder, attorney Kristen Marquis Dennis, is available to present to your firm or legal organization on these new rules. Her presentation qualifies for 1 hour of MCLE ethics.