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Guest Post: State Bar Regulations on Lawyer Advertising

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The following is a guest post by Kelly Spradley, VP of Marketing and Sales at Impirus Legal Websites.

Florida is not looking too sunny for lawyers today. The Florida Bar recently announced that Florida attorneys must put website testimonials, laudatory statements, and past results behind a disclaimer page. Many Florida lawyers currently have testimonials directly cited on their websites, even though the rule went into effect on 1/1/2010. The testimonials will need to be concealed behind a disclaimer page, but it is not clear as to how rapidly it needs to be done. Although Florida lawyers will need to comply with the new rules, they do not have to submit their websites for review.

This is in contrast to Texas where websites do have to be submitted to the State Bar for review. A criminal defense law firm in Houston was recently reprimanded for not submitting its website for review. Lindeman, Alvarado & Frye’s website contained images which were not appropriate for a criminal defense firm. The firm has since removed the images, and paid a $300 fee to the Texas Advertising Review Committee for a belated review.

The Houston firm was having its site revamped, which brings up a point about re-submission to the State Bar of Texas. If a website initially passes muster with the State Bar of Texas Advertising Review Committee, does it need to be re-submitted for review every time the website is updated? This would be a great time and financial constraint on Texas lawyers, as websites today are no longer static advertisements. Some websites are frequently edited, as blog posts or articles are added.

The Texas State Bar does post this question and answer on its site:

“Do I have to submit my advertisement for review every year?

No. Once an ad has been approved by the ARC, the lawyer is not required to resubmit an advertisement unless a substantive modification is made to the ad. According to the ARC, a simple change of street address or numeric phone number does not constitute a substantive change. However, any other addition, deletion or text edit requires that the ad be submitted with a new application form and filing fee.”

According to that answer, it seems as if you do have to re-submit your website each time you add an article or blog post. But an email from Gene Major at the Texas State Bar explains that you do not have to re-submit your website (or blog) if you are adding articles that are educational in nature.

The Texas State bar also requires that internet videos be submitted for approval. The cost is $75 for review. This form of advertising could get expensive. Submit a couple of videos, and you’ve spent more on advertising reviews than on the purchase of a video flip camera.  Lee Rosen is fortunate to live in North Carolina. He markets his law firm with educational videos. The videos are prominently placed on video sharing sites like YouTube. He doesn’t have to submit each video for review as the North Carolina rules state:

“Although prior review of an advertisement is not required by the Rules, the ethics staff of the Bar will provide an advance informal oral opinion on whether an advertisement complies……”

AND

“A lawyer may display truthful information about the lawyer’s legal services on a World Wide Web site accessed via the Internet.”

North Carolina seems to be pretty progressive. But if you cross the border into South Carolina, you do need to submit your websites and videos for filing to the Commission on Lawyer Conduct.

Do you know the advertising rules in your state? The ABA offers this page with a link to each state’s rules.http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/clientdevelopment/adrules/states.html Even if you read your state’s rules, though, you might be left with a lot of questions. Most of the rules do not address advertising with Pay-Per-Click ads, blogs, podcasts, social media sites, and other internet forums.

The people in charge of creating the advertising rules for each state need to update the rules for modern technology. They need to consult with lawyers who are using the internet to advertise, as they are developing the rules. Furthermore, once the rules have been re-defined for the age of the internet, they need to be clearly stated.

Internet marketing is a very effective form of marketing for lawyers, and is typically an affordable form of marketing for solos and small firms. However, when the state advertising rules are not up to date, are cost prohibitive, or are murky it is difficult for lawyers to fully capitalize on internet marketing strategies.

What do you think? Are your state rules on advertising reasonable? Is it easy to stay in compliance with the rules? Do the rules need an overhaul for Web 2.0?

Resources used to write this article:

http://www.floridabar.org/tfb/TFBLawReg.nsf/e0f40af2c23904c785256709006a3713/f0f34ceae87853cc85256b2f006c8848?OpenDocument

http://www.floridabar.org/TFB/TFBResources.nsf/Attachments/C103D838A491419E8525769D005665AF/$FILE/Guidelines%20for%20Firm%20Websites.pdf?OpenElement

http://www.distasiolawfirm.com/testimonials.aspx

http://www.law.com/jsp/lawtechnologynews/PubArticleLTN.jsp?id=1202436082095&No_Defense_for_Law_Firm_Web_Images

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