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Have you heard the myth that attorneys can’t advertise? Fortunately, it’s just that — a myth. In the past, attorney advertising rules were strict, leading to a general perception that lawyers could not participate in promotional activities.
Today, it is widely recognized as an essential part of legal practice — as long as firms follow the rules and guidelines in place.
Attorney advertising rules help law firms reach new clients without compromising their reputation and landing their lawyers in hot water.
The rules encompass various forms of marketing, including print, TV commercials, and online advertising.
In our simple guide, we will explain the existing attorney advertising rules — including ethical considerations and regulations — and offer tips and guidance to help you confidently create a strategy that works for your firm.
Can attorneys advertise their services online?
Yes, lawyers and law firms can advertise online. From law firm websites to social media, lawyers everywhere advertise online more often every day.
Bar associations have realized the only way a law firm can survive is through new business. Advertising is one of the most effective ways firms can do just that.
The ultimate goals of a well-rounded law firm marketing strategy include the following:
- Raise awareness about a firm’s legal services
- Establish its reputation
- Acquire new clients
Attorney advertising doesn’t have to be intimidating or complicated.
What you need to know about attorney advertising rules
The first thing you need to know is Rule 7.2 from the American Bar Association (ABA) titled: “Communications Concerning A Lawyer’s Services: Specific Rules.”
These rules specify what lawyers can communicate about their services via any platform.
As with many forms of advertising, you can’t say or promise whatever you like. Plus, there are specific rules and ethics for each area of the U.S.
Following the attorney advertising rules for your region is more than just a good idea; it’s also mandatory.
In the “ABA Aspirational Goals for Lawyer Advertising” preamble, the association makes the following points:
- Advertising can help people to better understand the legal services available to them and how to obtain those services
- It is the legal profession’s responsibility to inform the public about the availability of legal services and how to obtain and use them
- Undignified advertising can detract from the public’s confidence in the legal profession
- Advertising by lawyers should help the public understand its legal rights and should uphold the dignity of the legal profession
Any law firm considering advertising should review the ABA rules in detail and connect with your state’s bar association.
Read on for seven attorney advertising rules that can help you connect with new clients and grow your firm’s profits.
1. Watch the word “expert”
“Expert” can be a loaded word when advertising your law firm.
Even if you or your firm has a significant amount of expertise in a particular area of law, it’s often against the rules to use the term. The same goes for the word “specialist.”
When can you use these terms? The key is receiving a formal certification or accreditation from an ABA-accredited organization that has been authorized by the state, district, or territory in the U.S. (e.g., California).
It’s acceptable to say your firm is focused on a particular area of law (medical malpractice) so long as you don’t use the words “expert” or “specialist” or similar synonyms (specialty, expertise, etc.).
Facts and accuracy are a big part of attorney advertising rules. Like most other ads, you’re not allowed to deceive or mislead the public with your claims or product.
Be truthful about what potential clients might expect from your services. For example, know the difference between a “cure” and a “treatment.” A “cure” is permanent but a “treatment” may not be.
Omitting details can also land you in trouble. If you offer a free ten-minute consultation, saying “free consultations” can be considered misleading. Be precise in your advertising content.
An attorney ad featuring someone’s picture or endorsement should have the person’s permission to use in your ad.
The same goes for quotes from people outside of your staff or employed by your law firm marketing agency. Get permission and get it in writing.
There are “fair use” doctrines under U.S. copyright laws that allow limited quotations from copyrighted works, even without specific authorization from the copyright owner.
Excepting brief quotes from service reviews, you should always seek permission from owners or direct sources to quote protected materials.
For more information about fair use doctrine and aspects of copyright law and practice, check out The Copyright Handbook: How to Protect and Use Written Works, by Stephen Fishman (Nolo).
Positive reviews and recommendations from past clients can help attract potential new clients. However, it’s essential to learn and adhere to your jurisdiction’s correct attorney advertising rules before using testimonials.
Rules vary from area to area. ABA Rule 7.2 offers good practice advice, noting lawyers aren’t allowed to compensate people for recommending their services in any way.
Anyone who recommends your legal services should be doing it on their own accord.
5. Treat your competitors fairly
If your ads compare your services or goods with those of another law firm or company, keep them accurate and fair.
You’re not allowed to malign the reputation or services of another firm by giving misleading or false information.
When you finish your ad content, check it carefully to ensure every statement is wholly accurate. Then, check it again.
6. No direct solicitation
There’s a distinction between advertising your legal services and soliciting them. The former is allowed, whereas the latter is generally forbidden.
What’s the difference? Both tactics are trying to retain business for a law firm or lawyer, but they differ in how they are targeted.
Advertising is a form of communication made by or on behalf of a law firm or lawyer about their available services.
Solicitation is an ad made by a law firm or lawyer targeted specifically towards a group or person. This type of targeting may be considered unethical.
According to ABA Rule 7.3, a law firm or lawyer cannot direct any form of advertising communication to a specific person who may need legal services for a certain issue and offers to provide legal services for that issue.
Rule 7.3 specifies that lawyers cannot solicit their services towards a targeted individual or group if their goal is financial gains.
So long as the advertising communication is directed toward the general public, it’s not considered a solicitation.
7. What can and can’t be included in ads
These rules vary from area to area in the U.S., but the following are some examples:
- Awards or publications: Legal industry or law-related accolades or publications may be allowed
- Memberships: Memberships in current bar associations or similar professional association memberships may be allowed
- Identification details: Certain information to identify yourself may be required for the attorney advertising rules in your jurisdiction. Some states like Florida require ads to feature at least one attorney or law firm name. Other states like NY require ads to be explicitly identified as advertisements (i.e., must be labeled with “Attorney Advertising”)
- Pricing and rates: Often, you can post the hourly or fixed rates you charge
- Pending matters: For example, NY’s rules of professional conduct specify to avoid including testimonials from clients who have pending matters unless you have received, in writing, informed client consent
- Fake documents: Don’t include fake legal documents in any of your attorney advertising
We can’t stress enough the importance of understanding the unique laws in your area. Many local bar associations have pages on their websites explaining the region’s advertising rules.
The ABA strongly encourages using advertising and marketing professionals to help identify appropriate audiences and craft effective messages.
What does legal marketing look like in 2023?
The dominating marketing medium today is digital marketing.
While there is still a place for billboards, TV and radio ads, and old-fashioned face-to-face marketing in your community, the reality is that most of your clients today are going to be searching for you online.
Digital marketing has become the primary means for law firms to promote their services because it is more personalized, more targeted, easier to track, and easier to meet your clients where they are.
Not sure where to begin with your digital marketing strategy?
Now that you know the attorney advertising rules, let’s take a look at all the digital tools and platforms you can use to bring your needed legal services to the public.
As the ABA says, when it’s done right, advertising can help the public to better understand the legal services available to them and help them obtain those services.
In the marketing world, this translates into positioning yourself as the trusted expert. While you might not be able to tell your potential clients that you’re an expert, you can show them.
Here’s how to execute your digital strategy in a way that satisfies the rules yet gets your powerful message across to those who need it most.
Determine your target audience
Wait, don’t the rules say that attorneys cannot solicit their services? Won’t targeting them break the rules?
Good catch, but remember the difference: Solicitation is targeted to a specific person, while advertising is directed to the general public.
Determining your target audience involves several pieces:
- Define your practice area: Recognize the specific areas of your practice, which will help you to better understand the needs, challenges, and pain points of your audience
- Describe your ideal client(s): Consider the behaviors, characteristics, and demographics of your clients to create a clear picture of the types of legal challenges they may face
- Perform market research: Market research will help you zero in on the greater trends and behaviors of your specific practice areas
- Create client personas: Once you have all your data, you can put together specific client personas that detail the demographics, motivations, and challenges of your ideal clients
Once you have created your client personas, you can create content for campaigns that will speak to their unique needs and goals.
Understanding your target audience unlocks every other aspect of digital marketing, from content creation to networking, collaborations, and paid advertising.
But first, let’s talk about your website.
Create a website
Step 1 is complete: You have defined your target audience.
Use this information to determine your website goals: Are you trying to showcase your services? Generate leads? All of the above?
Create a simple website that is easy to navigate and contains only the essentials, including:
- About page
- Practice areas
- Attorney profiles
- Client testimonials
- Blog page
- Contact information
You can build a simple website on your own using a website builder platform that contains customizable templates, or you can hire a professional web developer.
Together, you would work to determine the design and layout, the colors, logos, and other features.
Your website is a critical piece of your digital marketing strategy — think of it as the digital version of your physical office.
As such, it needs to convey the same feelings you want clients to feel in your physical space.
Again, make sure you understand the rules involved and include any legal disclaimers or jurisdiction-specific rules surrounding the content or language.
That means no mention of you being an expert, promoting services you don’t offer, or making false claims about your services.
Fortunately, there are numerous things you can say about yourself that don’t involve misleading language. Start with a strong mission statement that explains your firm’s purpose, core values, and commitment to clients.
Launch pay-per-click (PPC) ads
Your website is essential because everything else will be directed back to it — including your paid advertisements. That’s why it needs to be in the best possible shape.
Pay-per-click (PPC) ads are a common advertising model where you’ll pay a fee each time your ad is clicked.
PPC ads drive traffic to your website so you can increase your law firm’s visibility and generate more leads.
The most popular platforms for PPC campaigns are Google Ads, Microsoft Advertising, and Facebook (Meta) ads.
Google Ads, for example, rely heavily on keyword research, which can get complicated. So while these campaigns are easy to set up, they’re not exactly easy to get right.
Set up a Google Business Profile
Google Business Profiles is a simple and free yet powerful digital marketing tool.
All you have to do is create or claim a profile for your business, and fill it out completely.
- Law firm name
- Address and service area
- Contact information, including phone number and website URL
- Business category and description
- Operating hours
- Photos and videos
- Other relevant links (appointments, specific website landing page, etc.)
- Business attributes
A complete profile that is regularly updated and optimized will boost your online visibility and attract more clients.
Remember to provide accurate, truthful information, obtain permission for the use of photos, and include all required identification details for your area.
Ratings and reviews on your Business Profile also help to boost your ranking and visibility.
Check your local rules to understand what’s allowed prior to requesting reviews from previous clients. Generally, you can ask past clients to leave a review as long as you’re not offering them any compensation and they are choosing to do it themselves.
One method for requesting reviews would be to send out an email targeted to past clients that list the platforms where they could leave you a review, and let them know they are welcome to leave one.
This way, you’re not specifically calling out a platform for them to use. You also may want to include language on how honest reviews can be helpful to others who are seeking similar services.
Get on social media
Leverage your target audiences again as you decide which social media channels you want to focus on.
Some of the best social media channels for law firms include Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and TikTok.
As you prepare your content for each channel, keep these tips in mind:
- Keep the attorney advertising rules in mind for your jurisdiction — there are specific rules to keep in mind for social media use, including guidelines surrounding confidentiality and conflicts of interest
- Determine which channels your target audiences use the most (these may be different for each client persona)
- Create a content schedule for regular posting
To help law firms make the most of social media marketing, JD Supra published a post about the most common mistakes lawyers make on social media.
Here are a few “do’s” to keep in mind as you build a successful social media strategy:
- Do respond to comments people make on your posts — engagement is an important factor on social platforms
- Do post consistently
- Do provide helpful information and resources
- Do select the right platforms wisely
- Do align your content with the platform and audience
The idea is to shift the focus more to building trust and relationships rather than excessive self-promotion.
Content should be more informative and authoritative rather than just posting about yourself and your website.
That being said, let’s dig into your content strategy.
Create high-quality content
Have you heard about thought leadership?
It’s a major trend right now with a lasting impact — and Google is even programmed to look for it. The idea is to craft content at a higher level that showcases your expertise and challenges the norm.
It takes time to achieve thought leadership, but you can reach it over time by consistently producing high-quality, relevant, thoughtful content across channels.
While the goal of content marketing is ultimately to attract more eyes, more leads, and more conversions, at its core, content creation is about helping others get the services they need.
Attorney advertising rules regarding content
The ABA makes clear its goals for lawyer advertising: “It is also the legal profession’s responsibility to inform the public about the availability of legal services and how to obtain and use them … When properly done, advertising can also be a productive way for lawyers to build and maintain their client bases.”
Let’s face it, many people come to an attorney without a clue about how the process works, what’s expected of them, what you do, or what will happen.
This creates a prime opportunity for you to reach your future clients by giving them the information they need.
Content marketing ideas for lawyers include:
- Blog posts and articles that answer client FAQs, discuss legal topics, and offer tips
- Legal guides and ebooks that provide in-depth information on legal topics
- Case studies that showcase how your firm has helped others
- Engaging videos that inform, explain, answer questions, or involve discussions with other professionals
- Visual content that places complex subjects in easily digestible formats
- Podcasts that engage and enlighten audiences
- Online workshops that provide spaces for interaction, walking through complex subjects, and answering questions
One of the most helpful pieces of content you can create is a thorough FAQ page on your website that digs into your past and current clients’ most-asked questions.
This is an invaluable resource that could potentially drive a lot of traffic if you optimize it with relevant keywords and include calls-to-action (CTAs) throughout.
Optimize your content
As the name suggests, search engine optimization (SEO) involves optimizing a website and your content to improve its ranking on search engines like Google and Bing.
SEO helps you attract organic, non-paid traffic through the use of relevant keywords or phrases and appealing to algorithms that scan your content and websites for quality and relevance.
SEO involves the following:
- Keyword research to identify relevant keywords and phrases your target clients will use when they search for your services
- Incorporating these keywords into your content naturally, including in headings, descriptions, and URLs
- Creating high-quality content that is easy to read and includes photos, videos, bullet points, headers, and subheaders
- Ensuring your website is mobile-optimized
- Ensuring your website is user-friendly, fast to load, clearly structured, and easy to navigate
If you are just getting started, you can incorporate SEO into your content and website as you build them out.
Otherwise, plan to review your current website and content and optimize it where necessary.
This might include placing keywords throughout your homepage and landing pages and updating previous blog posts with relevant keywords and improved structure.
Also, make sure your past content meets all current advertising rules and regulations.
Leverage email marketing
The average expected ROI for email is $40 for every $1 you spend.
Email marketing is an excellent lead nurturing tool that can help you engage with your past, current, and potential clients.
Tips to start building your email list:
- Create lead magnets, which offer valuable content in exchange for an email address
- Place opt-in forms around your website and among your valuable content to invite users to provide their email address
- Offer a newsletter sign-up on your website
- Promote your lead magnets on social media
- Host webinars or networking events that require an email address for communication
Collecting emails must be done with care and transparency — do not be misleading or deceptive.
Provide clear information on how their email address will be used and explain that by opting in, they are giving their permission.
Once you have collected your emails, you can start dividing your list into segments based on certain criteria, such as location or where they are in the client journey.
Now, you can move on to content. Keep in mind the fine line between solicitation and advertising so you don’t target individuals.
Popular email marketing content ideas:
- Write a weekly or monthly newsletter that contains industry news and breaks down complex topics
- Share recent blog posts or videos
- Create an email series that covers certain topics at various levels of detail
- Promote upcoming workshops or webinars
- Set up email drip campaigns based on certain triggers, such as welcome emails or nurturing clients who have not yet reached out
Email might seem like a lot of work, but setting up drip campaigns can save you time in the long run.
Let’s take a closer look at the power of video in these strategies.
Make lots of videos
If you’re comfortable in front of a camera, you’re in luck: 92% of video marketers say they’ve gotten a good ROI from video marketing, and video marketers get 66% more qualified leads per year.
If you’d like to try your hand at video, it’s fortunately not difficult to get started. Just grab your smartphone, set yourself up in a well-lit area, and hit “record.”
Video marketing helps lawyers build trust and engagement with potential clients, as well as showcase their expertise.
While research shows that longer videos aren’t necessarily a bust, short-form video is popular right now due to platforms such as TikTok and Instagram.
Before you roll your eyes at the mention of TikTok, here’s an example of a lawyer on TikTok with 9.2 million followers. Erika Kullberg “reads the fine print, so you don’t have to,” and helps consumers advocate for themselves.
Many TikTok users are hungry for information, and lawyers such as Kullberg are leveraging their expertise to educate users on the platform who are searching for this type of content.
Remember to optimize your content with keywords in your titles and descriptions and experiment with different platforms and formats.
YouTube is the most popular video platform and is great for longer-form content, while TikTok and Instagram are best for short-form content.
Today’s content marketing strategies excel when they focus on entertaining, engaging, and inspiring. Remember that your video content isn’t about selling yourself or your services, it’s about providing valuable content that positions yourself as a trusted expert.
Keep your advice and examples general, and include strong CTAs to contact your team for a consultation.
Collaborate with influencers
The goal of influencer marketing is to widen your reach, boost your credibility, and connect with new audiences.
Of course, “influencer marketing” used to look like celebrity partnerships. Today, everyday people are gaining influencer status through their large social media following.
There are various levels of influencer marketing, including nano-influencers with a few thousand followers to mega-influencers with millions of followers.
Generally, the more followers and the higher level of engagement an influencer has, the more you’re going to pay for the partnership.
As a law firm, your highest consideration when choosing a partnership should be whether your audiences, goals, and passions align.
Without these key components in place, everything else will fall flat.
Tips to get your influencer partnerships started:
- Determine which client personas you are targeting with your influencer marketing strategy
- Establish your campaign goals — are you trying to boost awareness of your firm? Increase your number of leads? All of the above?
- Thoroughly research your influencer options to ensure the person is the right fit
- Set a budget
- Start building relationships with your list of influencers to set the stage for your partnership pitch
You also should familiarize yourself with the FTC rules for social media influencers, which aim to stop deceptive ads through partnership transparency. This is commonly exhibited through the use of the hashtags #ad or #sponsored in post descriptions.
Similarly to the attorney advertising rules, the FTC rules for influencers are meant to protect consumers and promote fairness and trust.
Keep the following ABA lawyer advertising goals in mind as you develop your influencer partnerships:
- Avoid inappropriately dramatic music, unseemly slogans, hawkish spokespersons, premium offers, slapstick routines, or outlandish settings, as they do not instill confidence in the lawyer or legal profession and undermine the serious purpose of legal services
- Advertisements developed with a clear identification of your potential audience are more likely to be understandable, respectful, and appropriate to that audience — which will make them more effective
Social media trends can be fun and attract tons of viewers, but make sure you’re choosing the right people to represent you and your firm. Take your time with the process and carefully build relationships with people who really get you the best long-term results.
Brainstorm with AI
Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the world as various industries begin to experiment with the latest tools, including the following chatbots:
- Microsoft Bing
- Google Bard
The biggest considerations for AI tools include understanding their limitations and using the tools safely.
For example, one attorney faced legal troubles after submitting fake research for a brief. The source? ChatGPT.
ChatGPT appeared to have produced several fake cases for the attorney and insisted they were real cases when asked repeatedly. But on the other hand, ChatGPT also has the capability to pass the bar exam.
Of course, the attorney took full responsibility for not confirming the cases outside of ChatGPT, but it’s a powerful lesson as we collectively navigate these tools in their infancy.
After all, there is a disclaimer at the bottom of ChatGPT’s chat box stating, “ChatGPT may produce inaccurate information about people, places, or facts.”
In addition to fact-checking chatbot results, the key to producing the results you need is asking the right questions.
How attorneys can use AI
If you’re interested in trying out some prompts for AI chatbots, The New York Times tech columnist suggests the following:
- Begin your prompt with “Act as if,” which instructs the bot to act as an expert and gives it a fuller context
- Use “Tell me what else you need to do this,” which will prompt the bot to ask follow-up questions that will help guide its results
- If a chatbot makes a mistake, point it out and ask for it to improve
The ABA did a feature in 2020 on the future of law firms in the age of AI, but this was prior to ChatGPT.
The latest AI tools also include more than chatbots. Tools such as LegalRobot, DoNotPay, and Casetext provide advanced search features and quick access to massive amounts of data, which can help save lawyers time and money.
List your services in online directories
Legal directories such as Lawyers.com, FindLaw, Nolo, and Avvo are simple yet powerful platforms to get more clients.
Today’s directories aren’t just digital phone books, they are robust channels that direct traffic to your website or connect clients directly to you via phone number or email.
For example, Avvo displays reviews, Nolo allows you to publish articles on your profile, and FindLaw is a network of multiple websites.
These features help lawyers build credibility and leverage SEO through local optimization and backlinking opportunities.
While you have the option to create a free listing, a paid listing can give you a bigger boost.
Just like your Google Business Profile, keep all online directories up to date for the best results.
You know your clients best. Depending on the groups you are targeting, where they live, and other essential demographic information, traditional advertising may still be among the best ways to reach them.
Traditional advertising includes the following mediums:
- Direct mail
If you’re a small, local firm, a newspaper, bus bench, or bus advertising can be an effective way to get your name and face into the community.
However, the best marketing strategies are a unique mixture of digital and traditional. As long as your advertising is truthful and transparent, you’ll hit the mark for all avenues and create a powerful strategy.
In fact, research has shown that millennials enjoy receiving and opening direct mail, and feel it is more personal than email.
Performing industry research on your targets can help you discover all the ways you can leverage your marketing mix.
Check out the competition — and do it better
If you’re feeling stuck, it may be helpful to scope out your biggest competitors for inspiration on anything from web design and landing pages to email campaigns and podcast content.
Ideas for seeking inspiration include:
- Follow other lawyers and law firms on Facebook and Instagram, and connect with your fellow professionals on LinkedIn
- Search the word “lawyer” on TikTok and Instagram for top accounts, tags, and content, and read through the comments to see how viewers interact with the content and how the pages respond to the comments
- Search for your clients’ most-asked questions on YouTube and see what types of videos pop up in the results
- Check out which keywords your competitors are using throughout their content and profiles
- Click on the pages’ CTAs and see where they land
The goal is not to copy anybody’s content — you’re performing industry research to see which types of content your audience likes and responds to most, as well as which keywords are performing the best.
However, don’t forget to view it through the lens of the attorney advertising rules — just because something is trending doesn’t mean it was done right.
As long as you keep the ultimate goals in mind to produce truthful, accurate, and transparent content that helps the public understand its legal rights and the judicial process, you can’t go wrong.
Kaleidico can help you follow the rules
Attorneys who advertise are fast becoming the norm. As you can see from these examples, the rules are relatively straightforward and non-intimidating.
As more lawyers use digital communication tools to connect with potential new clients, it’s ideal they are up-to-date with the attorney advertising rules that apply to their ads.
Why make your life more difficult by stumbling into a legal gray area when you’re trying to grow your business?
One solution is to hire legal marketing experts like Kaleidico who have the expertise (yes, we used the word here!) and a proven track record to create effective and ethical advertising for you.