Last Friday, I spoke at the NCBA Law Practice Management & Technology Section’s Law Tech Expo on Digital Marketing and Ethics – How to Stay in Compliance with the NC Rules of Professional Conduct. As a part of my presentation, I shared a checklist for attorneys to use to review their websites for potential ethics violations. That list is included in this post. For additional information on the disclaimers important for your law firm website, visit www.thisbusinessoflaw.com/ethics to download our guide on the topic.
Review your content.
Across all platforms – your website, LinkedIn profile, and other social media sites. Make sure you are not using words like specialize/specialties/specialist (unless you are a Board Certified Specialist) and if you say you are an expert, you should be able to back it up with objective facts. Beware of using language that creates comparisons, or speaks about your practice in absolutes.
Check your testimonials.
Some testimonials require disclaimers. You can follow some general rules. If the testimonial:
- Only references soft skills or service > no disclaimer required.
- Refers generally to results > must be accompanied by a disclaimer.
- Refers to specific dollar amounts > these types of testimonials are prohibited and should not be included in marketing materials.
Update your engagement letter.
Consider updating your engagement letter to include a provision which will allow you to use the client’s name, logo, or other information in your marketing efforts. If you do include this provision, require the client to initial beside it to show they understand and agree.
Review case studies and results.
Even if your representation of a client resulted in a published opinion, you still need client consent to mention it on your website. For any clients mentioned by name, make sure you have informed, written consent from the client.
Ensure you have necessary disclaimers.
Disclaimers are required for several places on your website and they must be “prominently displayed.” Check for these main areas requiring disclaimers:
- Testimonials that refer generally to results.
- All case studies or results.
- Awards listings including Super Lawyers, BusinessNC Legal Elite, Best Lawyers in America, and others. The disclaimer must include a link to a page on the award-issuing website that outlines the objective standards for the award.
- Consider a disclaimer on your website that reminds the anyone emailing you not to include confidential information, because there is no attorney-client relationship.
Review your LinkedIn profile.
Make sure you review your LinkedIn profile for the words noted above. Any “Recommendations” you receive must meet the same requirements outlined for “Testimonials” as noted above. You may connect with clients and judges (though you may want to wait until after you are appearing in front of them.) You may NOT accept endorsements from judges. Further, if you are endorsed by a fellow attorney who later becomes a judge, and you reasonably should have known he or she had become a judge, you must remove his or her endorsement of you. Finally, don’t post endorsements for areas in which you do not practice – this is false and misleading, and therefore prohibited by the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Register your domain name with the State Bar.
Under the Rules of Professional Conduct, your domain name is a trade name and must be registered with the State Bar. (2005 FEO 8) You can register your domain name using the form found here: https://www.ncbar.com/PDFs/10.pdf.
Schedule regular time to review digital assets.
Set a recurring appointment for yourself on a monthly, or at least quarterly, basis to review your website, social media sites, and online review sites. Set up a Google Alert with your name. You can do so here: https://www.google.com/alerts.
Establish online review response plan.
What would you do if someone did post a negative review of you online? How do you thank those who post positive reviews? Do you have a process to encourage happy clients to post positive reviews? These questions are all things to consider for your firm’s online review response plan.
Your Avvo Profile: To Claim or Not to Claim?
The North Carolina State Bar has ruled that once you claim your Avvo profile, you are responsible keeping it in compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct. So, if you would like your rating to go above a “6.something,” you’ll need to claim your profile. This makes you responsible for the reviews people post, and their compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct. For more on Avvo ratings, visit: http://www.avvo.com/support/avvo_rating.
What are your biggest ethics questions around marketing your practice? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or shoot me an email at email@example.com.