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My New Series: An Attorney’s Guide to Ethical Marketing Across the United States

Beginning this week, I will be publishing a series of posts that summarize the legal rules that govern attorney marketing. This series came out of working with a client that wanted to market his law firm aggressively but was afraid the Washington Rules of Professional Conduct tied his hands. In June 2018, I prepared a guide for Washington lawyers on how they could engage in effective marketing yet still comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct. My guide was part of helping him understand that he had a lot of leeway in how he approached marketing and branding his business.

After writing the guide, I became intrigued by the question of how legislatures and courts regulated attorney marketing in the US, where there were critical differences in marketing rules across the states, and whether there were trends in attorney marketing regulations. (As you may expect, finding that sort of thing intriguing doesn’t exactly make me exciting company at a cocktail party.)  This project came out of those questions, and I hope it will help law firms asking the same questions as my client was back in the summer of 2018.

What to Expect

Each post provides a “baseball card” of sorts to lawyers looking for a quick reference on the rules governing how they can market their legal practice. It provides an easy-to-reference link to the governing law (well, laws, in the case of California), and quickly answers the following questions:

  • Can I directly reach out to potential clients in my jurisdiction?
  • Can I use traditional print, radio, and television marketing in my jurisdiction?
  • Can I use inbound marketing in my jurisdiction?
  • Can I use social media marketing in my jurisdiction?
  • Can I use pay-per-click advertising on either search engines or social media sites in my jurisdiction?
  • Do I need to include special language in attorney advertising?
  • Do I need to have an “opt-out” provision for people that don’t want to see my law firm’s ads?
  • Do I need to keep a copy of my ads for a particular length of time?
  • Do I need to use my last name as the name of my law firm, or can I make it something more memorable and appealing to clients? (As someone who grew up with a Polish surname that people found difficult to pronounce, let alone spell, I can understand this desire.)

When appropriate, each post will also provide a short commentary addressing common pitfalls and concerns related to attorney advertising.

Why Publish This Guide

As a former litigator, I understand that while any attorney worth their license could do this research themselves, they find themselves swamped with a million different responsibilities for clients to occupy their billable hours. As a result, a lot of attorneys neglect the marketing of their legal practice because it is just one more thing to do; worse, it is one more thing that happens to be rife with ethical pitfalls and compliance issues.

Marketing in highly regulated professions is a niche in which I specialize. I enjoy the challenge of combining my legal knowledge with my experience in creating psychologically compelling content that persuades people to take action. If you are interested in developing a coherent, strategic approach to marketing your business, or if you have a few questions you need answered about digital marketing, I’m happy to help. We can set up a time at your convenience to go over your questions and concerns. I promise it won’t feel like a pitch for a used car or a timeshare, and, no matter what, you will walk away with marketing intelligence you can use. Here’s a link to my schedule if you want to set something up.

Where to Find Other Posts in this Series

I plan on covering all fifty states and will include analysis and commentary as well. I will collect these posts in the Attorney’s Guide to Ethical Marketing during the process of creating this series, and then release them as a standalone eBook at its conclusion. If you want to be notified when I cover your jurisdiction, subscribe to The Dead Drop, my monthly newsletter has updates from this site and beyond on marketing, law, and the psychology of persuasion.

Jurisdictions Covered

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming
  • Territories
    • American Samoa
    • District of Columbia
    • Guam
    • Northern Mariana Island
    • Puerto Rico
    • United States Virgin Islands
  • Relevant Federal Regulations
  • Comparison with the Model Rules of Professional Conduct and ABA Guidance

Digital Marketing for Washington Attorneys

Television, the Internet, and other forms of electronic communication are now among the most powerful media for getting information to the public, particularly persons of low and moderate income; prohibiting television, Internet, and other forms of electronic advertising, therefore, would impede the flow of information about legal services to many sectors of the public.

RPC 7.2 (Comment 3) (2016).

Few professions are as heavily regulated as law when it comes to advertising in the United States. However, attorneys in Washington State have a great deal of flexibility when it comes to advertising in accordance with the applicable ethics rules. See RPC 7.1–7.5. This piece addresses the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) applicable to digital marketing of legal services.

Under the RPC, Washington attorneys are prohibited from the following sorts of advertising:

  • advertising that misrepresents either facts or the law (RPC 7.1);
  • advertising that makes a true statement that is still misleading (RPC 7.1(2));
  • advertising that states a lawyer can reproduce past outcomes in future cases (RPC 7.1(3));
  • advertising that compares a lawyer favorably to other lawyers without justification (RPC 7.1(3));
  • advertising stating a lawyer can inappropriately influence a government official (RPC 7.1(4) and RPC 8.4(e));
  • claims of special certifications without basis and attribution (RPC 7.4); and,
  • generally, direct contact with most potential clients to seek employment (RPC 7.3).

Thus, many attorneys feel that they can engage in general television and radio advertisements, a basic website, and little else. When considering the high costs of print, radio, and television advertising, many attorneys forego it all together. Similarly, many avoid it because it appears cheap and schlocky.

However expensive traditional media may be for advertising, there are cost-effective options available to attorneys wishing to seek new ways to bring in potential clients.  Inbound content marketing, focusing on informative content that attracts potential litigants or other potential clients, works hand-in-hand with the algorithms that guide Google’s search engine results.  As attorneys publish more information on their practice areas, they become more likely to be found via a Google search, now the primary means that consumers search for professionals.