It’s a common maxim among digital marketers that “If you’re not online, you don’t exist.” The premise is simple: because the internet is the first stop potential clients go to evaluate their options, any business operating in today’s marketplace needs to have a website.
This is no less true for law firm websites. In fact, many firms already know this. They may even have a team dedicated to building out their firm’s website and keeping it up to date. But lawyers and law firms need to be cognizant of the rules governing digital marketing in their jurisdiction, as many professional organizations often classify firm and lawyer websites as legal marketing and/or advertising.
Areas of Special Consideration
When deciding what content to include on a firm’s website, legal professionals should give special consideration to the following areas:
- Advertising of prices and fees;
- Client endorsements, lists, and cases;
- The representation of services and abilities;
- Promises about potential case outcomes;
- Emotional appeals; and
- Awards and rankings.
Many professional codes of conduct have historically contained robust guidelines around print media and other forms of traditional advertising. With the prevalence of digital marketing, however, these rules have often been extended to non-traditional outlets like social media, Google ads, and a firm’s website.
For example, the Law Society of Alberta’s Code of Professional Conduct states:
“The advertising rules…and their primary goal is to protect the public from misleading, confusing or deceptive advertising. As a “catch all”, the rules also state that advertising must not bring the profession or administration of justice into disrepute, and marketing must be in the best interests of the public and consistent with high standards of professionalism. Lawyer advertising rules do not, however, purport to regulate or define “good taste”.
The rules apply to all forms of communication in which lawyers offer or market their legal services. Print ads are no longer the primary focus, as lawyers advertise on YouTube, social media, television, radio, and sporting venues, to name a few.”
As with other aspects of legal marketing, the code is focused on ensuring that lawyers do not misrepresent themselves or their firm in a way that misleads the public or encourages them to make a decision of legal representation based on unwarranted claims.
Applying the Guidelines to a Law Firm Website
Guidelines around legal marketing should be taken into consideration when developing a firm’s website—whether that means a practice area description, lawyer profile, or content-driven section, such as for news items or blog posts.
For example, a lawyer profile may include awards or cases that will need to be evaluated before posting online. Likewise, claims to advanced knowledge in a specific practice area should be able to be independently verified through concrete, previous experience in the area claimed. Content, such as news, insights, and blogs, should omit references to firm clients or cases, unless permission has been obtained.
Gone are the days of clients choosing lawyers based on flipping through the phone book. Today’s firms require an acquaintance with both digital marketing tactics, such as websites, as well as an awareness of the marketing and advertising guidelines set forth by professional regulatory bodies. When developing a website, ensure compliance with the rules in your jurisdiction by treating digital outreach the same as traditional legal advertising.