What's in this article?
Have you ever heard the following phrase?
“I’m a lawyer. I can’t advertise my services online or else I’ll get in trouble with the American Bar Association.”
Does this sound familiar?
Throughout the years, Kaleidico has spoken with numerous lawyers who were unsure about concentrated marketing efforts. In particular, they were afraid raising ethical issues and breaking rules set forth by the American Bar Association’s Rule 7.2.
I can understand their apprehension. There are many rules lawyers must follow as they market their services.
These rules extend to their company websites, social media accounts, email marketing campaigns, and practically every other step along the way.
In this guide, I’ll break down Rule 7.2 and other legal marketing regulations, and explain what types of marketing strategies are allowed, and which aren’t, so you can begin to create a strategic (and legal) marketing plan for your form.
Disclaimer: I am a marketing writer, not a lawyer. Be sure to read the specific rules for yourself. I’ve placed links throughout this article to the ABA’s website for additional research.
Or if you’re feeling overwhelmed and just want to talk to somebody, contact Bill Rice, Kaleidico’s CEO. He has decades of experience in digital marketing for all sorts of industries.
What are the Legal Regulatory and Ethical Requirements in Sales and Marketing?
Business ethics isn’t an oxymoron.
It’s in every business’s best interest to properly communicate their goods and services in a truthful way. That avoids misleading customers.
This is especially true in today’s Yelp and Google review-based world. People are all-too-happy to complain about how they were misled by unethical practices.
Every industry has its own rules and regulations when it comes to marketing ethics. However, the following rules are pretty standard across the board:
- Offering bribes, gratuities, or excessive gifts are prohibited
- Dishonest marketing and false advertising
- Selective marketing (more specifically, discriminating against certain types of people based on race, mobility, religion, or sexual orientation)
- Lying to customers or misrepresenting services and capabilities
- Price gouging
- Falsifying figures or misusing statistics
- Unethical data collection
- Bait and switching
Many of these rules seem pretty straight forward. However, a few stand out to me as a marketer, particularly the “selective marketing” bit.
In marketing, you want to be selective in targeting your specific audience segment. But you must make sure not to do it based on discrimination.
If there’s a target demographic you’re after, particularly based on education level, income level, marital status, geo-location, etc., that’s fine.
However, you cannot discriminate against people based unfairly on their race, mobility, or orientation. In fact, Google and Facebook don’t allow for specific race targeting in ads for this very reason.
What Does the American Bar Association Say about Marketing and Advertising?
Advertising legal services online comes with additional rules and ethical obligations set forth by the American Bar Association.
After reading Rule 7.2: Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services: Specific Rules, here are my comments. I won’t include all of the rules because many of them deal with client referrals rather than marketing.
The following are the rules that specifically apply to online marketing and advertising that are relevant to this article:
You cannot pay somebody to recommend a lawyer’s services. One interpretation of this that comes to mind is that you can’t pay people to give you positive reviews online.
I’ve seen a lot of shady Amazon sellers use this tactic — “Give us a 5-star review and we’ll give you a free product.”
Don’t do this, it’s so misleading. Especially for people like me who buy a product because it was a 5-star rating, only to realize it was all a big sham.
Lawyers can pay for advertising and communications, such as directories, online directories, newspaper ads, TV ads, radio ads, domain names and websites, sponsorship fees, Internet and group ads. In addition, lawyers are legally allowed (and encouraged) to pay professionals to generate these ads for them.
A lawyer can give a small gift as a token of appreciation to their clients, however, there can’t be any strings or favors attached to this gift.
A lawyer can pay other people for generating client leads (that’s us, Kaleidico) as long as the lead generator does not recommend the lawyer (remember the earlier rule about paying for recommendations.)
Any communication about a lawyer or law firm’s services must include the lawyer’s or law firm’s name and contact information, which may include a website, phone number, email address, or a physical location.
There are additional rules set forth by Rule 7.2 that I encourage all of you to read, specifically regarding referrals between lawyers or from legal service plans.
What are the Three Types of Laws that Affect Legal Marketing?
Legal marketing is held to a different standard than other industries.
In particular, there are three types of legal marketing regulations you need to be aware of.
These rules also extend to ongoing email marketing campaigns after your lead has submitted their contact information.
Before you start asking for information from your web visitors, read through this list and follow the recommended actions to make legal marketing legitimate and well, legal.
Privacy and Data Collection
Let’s start with Privacy and Data collection. As your website will generate a lot of user data, there needs to be rules with how you use that data.
Have you noticed how every popular website you go to these days has a pop-up to make sure you understand the website’s policies about collecting your data?
This is because of the California Consumer Privacy Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2020.
California lawmakers concerned about web users’ privacy finally said, “You know what? Maybe instead of placing cookies and tracking users all over the web, we should at least ask them first.”
These privacy notices usually disclose the following:
- Which kinds of information the website is collecting from the user
- How that information will be shared, if shared at all
- Ways the user can review or change their personal information on file
- The policy’s effective date and a detailed description of the recent updates or changes in the policy
Because most popular websites are based in California, these data notices are very apparent across numerous websites.
However, if your company is not based in California and isn’t marketing to California businesses, your website doesn’t technically need a cookie notice, unless you plan on using retargeting ads.
One reason I bring this up is that legal marketers can benefit from “retargeting ads.” These ads place tracking cookies into the browsers of visitors.
You know how when you visit a website and then see ads for that website later on a different website? That’s a retargeting ad, and technically they’re legal for law firm marketing, depending on your jurisdiction.
If you’re asking yourself, isn’t that considered “cookie stuffing?” The answer is no, retargeting ads are not illegal. They’re available through Google Ads and Facebook Ads, which have powerful retargeting capabilities.
In fact, the NYC Bar Association had an ethics committee review whether or not online retargeting ads were allowed. They decided they were as long as the ads weren’t deceptive marketing and the website disclosed to users that data is collected for advertising purposes.
Once visitors land on your website (either because of content marketing, PPC ads or SEO), your goal is to collect their contact info to generate a case lead. But visitors may be wary of filling out sensitive information through a contact form.
You can quell their fears by securing your website with Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protection. This type of protection makes it impossible for hackers to “spoof” your website. Spoofing is when hackers create a nearly identical version of your website and redirect your web visitors to that website so they can collect their information.
SSL certification is available for all websites and is definitely recommended for legal websites. In fact, they’re so common that Google usually warns people before entering websites that don’t have SSL protection, just in case.
One final note on privacy: Your visitors have trusted you with their personal contact information and personal life situations. Make sure you use a trustworthy storage system to prevent a data leak of your customer’s sensitive information.
One more final note on privacy: If your law firm uses social media, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, there are additional rules you must follow. Again, there are many rules and ethical norms, but here are a few that I’ve cherry-picked, that lawyers are prohibited from doing:
- Making comments or responding to messages that could indicate the establishment of an attorney-client relationship.
- Revealing any confidential client information in response to negative reviews with the client’s informed consent.
- Contacting a represented person through social networking websites
Intellectual Property Issues
Here’s a field that many of you are already aware of — trademarking specific words, names, designs, and logos.
Essentially, you want to protect your own brand, and ensure that you’re not ripping off any other firm’s brand.
For these reasons, it’s recommended that you trademark your logo just to protect yourself and make sure you’re not stepping on anybody else’s toes.
Next, you may consider getting a Copyright of your website’s language and text.
(In my opinion, getting a Copyright for a website’s copy seems a bit overkill, however, I’m not a lawyer, as I’ve already stated, so you can be the judge on this one.)
One simple way to get this legal stuff out of the way is to have a little checkbox in the contact forms or progressive style forms available on your website.
Your claims in your advertisements, whether they’re Google Ads, landing pages, emails, or blog posts “must be truthful, cannot be deceptive or unfair, and must be evidence-based.”
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) prohibits false or misleading advertising.
Be careful that your law firm isn’t exaggerating its high success rate or making promises that can’t realistically be met, or else it may be considered false advertising.
Also, you should only consider yourself to be a “specialist” or expert in fields that are your official practice area that have been certified by an approved organization. Stating otherwise, or “over-hyping” what you actually do, is misleading marketing.
My takeaway: be clear, honest, and realistic in your descriptions of your products and services. Don’t try to over-exaggerate or mislead customers. And if something seems like a gray area in advertising — avoid it.
Once a prospective lead fills out their contact form, enroll them in a drip campaign.
That essentially means sign them up for automatic emails so you can stay in touch with them until they’re ready to work with you.
The following are the rules you need to follow so your helpful emails aren’t construed as “electronic spam” per the CAN-SPAM Act (nice name).
These rules include:
- You must allow your email recipient the ability to “unsubscribe” or “opt-out” from receiving emails. (This is usually a small link in the footer of the email that gives them this option)
- Don’t use false or misleading information in your email’s title header
- Disclose your office’s physical location and address in these emails
- Must be clearly obvious if the email is an advertisement or solicitation
- Must include a return email address (so they can contact you if they want to)
- You must not continue sending emails to people who have opted out
You’ll notice emails must include an “opt-out” option, however, you can send marketing emails regardless if they opted-in to receive the emails or not.
Generate More Case Inquiry Leads with Kaleidico
Kaleidico is a lead generation agency for law firms, mortgage lenders, and fintech.
We’re experts at helping law firms generate more qualified case inquiries to fuel their business.
Our team members specialize in web design, web development, branding, SEO, PPC, content marketing, and lead generation. We’ll use our experience working with the legal industry to help inform your marketing decisions.
Are you an attorney looking to improve your firm’s web presence while following the legal regulatory and ethical requirements in sales and marketing?
Schedule a short call with Bill Rice, Kaleidico’s CEO, and the rest of our team, and we’ll help transform your website and digital marketing strategies to bring you more cases.