Basic Ethics For Lawyer Advertising

Basic Ethics For Lawyer Advertising



Basic Ethics for​ Lawyer Advertising
Lawyers have several sets of​ rules to​ consider when creating advertisements .​
The FTC regulates all advertising in​ every state; each state may have its own regulations governing advertising; and​ the​ attorney ethics rules of​ the​ state in​ which you are advertising will regulate lawyer advertising .​
a​ review of​ FTC rules can be seen at​ www.ftc.gov/bcp/guides/guides.htm .​
Most rules are just plain common sense and​ are meant to​ protect the​ public .​
Some state lawyer ethics rules go further .​
For instance, some rules are meant to​ protect the​ image of​ lawyers.
In the​ past, lawyer ethics rules have been more restrictive, however, they have been slowly eroded by both State and​ U.S .​
Supreme Court decisions .​
Because they have been losing ground, state regulating bodies have have become complacent .​
Consequently, lawyer advertising has continued to​ evolve and​ today there are many lawyers advertising without even thinking about ethics rules .​
It is​ at​ this point that the​ enforcement wave may return .​
Where the​ violation is​ minor, it​ is​ unlikely that any action will be taken, but when a​ lawyer advertisement contains a​ major ethical violation, authorities will have no choice but to​ attempt to​ exert their control .​
If they do nothing, there will be no need for​ rules .​
They may as​ well take their chances in​ court.
Ethics rules have been slow to​ keep up with changing times .​
I​ believe that some ethics rules, such as​ requiring that your local office address appear in​ the​ advertisement, may become unenforceable and​ should be eliminated .​
This rule may have originally intended that clients should have the​ means to​ find your office address if​ your telephone number changed or​ to​ determine if​ your office was geographically convenient for​ them .​
This rule no longer makes sense .​
Use of​ a​ toll-free telephone number ensures that your telephone number will never change even if​ you move your office .​
According to​ Nielsen/Net Ratings, in​ February 2004, 74.9% of​ households had Internet access .​
Telephone companies are now offering high-speed Internet access and​ electric utility companies are now able to​ offer high-speed Internet access simply by plugging into an​ electric socket .​
According to​ New American Library, computers are now outselling TVs .​
In a​ very short time, every home in​ the​ US will not only be able to​ have Internet access, but high-speed Internet access and​ can easily access a​ lawyer's web site and​ determine the​ office address .​
Lawyer advertisements can include a​ web site address where a​ potential client can find the​ lawyer's contact information .​
Requiring the​ lawyer's office address in​ a​ TV commercial, effectively prevents smaller lawyers from joining group advertising where smaller budgets are combined to​ effectively compete against wealthier lawyers .​
There simply is​ not enough room in​ the​ TV commercial to​ list the​ address of​ every lawyer.
With regard to​ the​ public's need to​ know if​ a​ law office is​ near them, this is​ the​ least important qualitative factor that a​ client should consider .​
Instead of​ looking for​ a​ lawyer who is​ a​ couple of​ blocks away, a​ potential client should look for​ other factors such as​ experience with the​ client’s problem, personality, etc .​
Many times, clients and​ patients are willing to​ travel from the​ suburbs to​ the​ city to​ find a​ lawyer or​ doctor because of​ the​ perception that professionals in​ the​ city are more competent .​
Additionally, upon making a​ call, the​ caller can simply ask for​ the​ address of​ the​ office.
For your state’s ethics rules, see ABA Links to​ State Ethics Rules Governing Lawyer Advertising, Solicitation and​ Marketing at​ www.abanet.org/legalservices/clientdevelopment/adrules.html# .​
For a​ list of​ resources and​ articles on ethics and​ lawyer advertising, see www.hurt911.org/lawyer-advertising/lawyer-advertising-tips-articles.html
Below is​ a​ short list of​ what I​ believe are some of​ the​ most important ethics rules to​ consider when creating attorney advertising:
1) Referrals: if​ you pay money to​ anyone and​ a​ client is​ referred to​ you, you are probably obtaining an​ illegal referral, unless the​ referral is​ from a​ Bar Association .​
Advertising involves a​ risk .​
The risk is​ that you may pay for​ advertising and​ may not sign up any clients .​
If you are offered a​ guarantee that you will sign up enough cases to​ cover the​ cost of​ advertising, this guarantee turns your advertising campaign into an​ illegal referral system .​
If you are considering working with an​ advertising agency that offers a​ guarantee, have an​ ethics lawyer review the​ guarantee before you work with that agency .​
If you work with an​ advertiser or​ an​ agency, make sure you are actually paying for​ advertising and​ not for​ the​ cases .​
Beware of​ advertising schemes where someone offers to​ send you clients which have been obtained without advertising and​ offers to​ bill you on their advertising agency bill head for​ advertising services or​ consulting services .​
Several lawyers and​ doctors, I​ have spoken to, mistakenly believed that if​ they have a​ bill for​ advertising, it’s legal .​
These schemes are clearly illegal in​ addition to​ violating ethics and​ can result in​ an​ arrest and​ conviction .​
Know who you’re doing business with and​ live by a​ simple rule: if​ you’re trying to​ make something look like something else, it’s probably illegal.
In some states, such as​ New York, if​ telephone calls are answered in​ a​ central office, no person can decide which calls go to​ which lawyers .​
For instance, if​ the​ agency or​ call center receives telephone calls from callers requesting different services such as​ bankruptcy, criminal, divorce, and​ personal injury, a​ referral may made when the​ operator decides which lawyer to​ send the​ call to .​
Even if​ all calls request personal injury services and​ an​ operator is​ able to​ decide whether to​ give the​ call to​ lawyer a​ or​ lawyer B, a​ referral would be made.
2) Disparaging Other Lawyers: Advertising which includes a​ remark disparaging other lawyers is​ probably one of​ the​ quickest ways to​ get into trouble .​
Not only is​ it​ unethical in​ most states, but lawyers who view your disparaging advertising will likely report you.
3) Misleading Advertising Claims: Claims should be carefully examined to​ avoid being misleading .​
Claims implying that your law firm can get more money or​ that your law firm is​ powerful are misleading .​
Even a​ claim that you are a​ big-city lawyer, while it​ could be true, can be considered misleading as​ an​ implication of​ power or​ competency due to​ your location .​
In states, such as​ New York, where the​ lawyer is​ required to​ charge the​ client for​ expenses, stating that there is​ no fee unless you win will not only violate ethics but subject you to​ a​ lawsuit.
4) Claiming to​ be an​ Expert: Most states prohibit lawyers from stating in​ their advertising that they are an​ expert or​ that they specialize in​ a​ particular practice area, unless the​ lawyer is​ board certified .​
Where the​ lawyer is​ not certified, some states, like Texas, require that the​ lawyer state that he or​ she is​ not certified (this rule should also be eliminated).
5) Vanity Telephone Numbers and​ Web Site Domain Names: Some vanity telephone numbers and​ web site domain names can violate legal ethics .​
Make sure that your vanity telephone number or​ web site name avoids use of​ certain words which could potentially create an​ incorrect expectation in​ the​ mind of​ the​ consumer or​ violate one of​ the​ other ethics rules .​
Both vanity telephone numbers and​ web site domain names should not imply that you are better than another lawyer, that you can accomplish something for​ the​ audience that may not actually occur or​ that you are an​ expert.
Use of​ words such as​ BEST, TOP, FOREMOST, LEADING, WIN and​ similar words in​ a​ vanity telephone number or​ web site domain name would likely create a​ misleading expectation in​ the​ mind of​ the​ consumer and​ will violate ethics rules in​ most states .​
The question is​ by who’s standards are you the​ best or​ leading and​ in​ what? 1-800-WIN-XXXX may be good for​ a​ casino, but when used for​ personal injury will imply that the​ person who becomes a​ client of​ the​ firm will win money when, in​ fact, that may not happen and​ even if​ it​ does, it’s an​ award for​ just compensation, not a​ winning .​
Laura Hodes in​ her article for​ the​ ABA Journal entitled Vanity Phone Numbers Make Your Firm Less Forgettable, quoted Will Hornsby, an​ expert on lawyer advertising and​ staff counsel in​ the​ ABA Division for​ Legal Services, who said that while there is​ nothing unethical about vanity numbers, 1-800-I-WIN-CASES would be unethical because it​ is​ making an​ unsubstantiated claim, creating unjustified expectations that can be true but still be misleading.
6) Trade Names: Most states do not allow lawyers to​ use trade names .​
While a​ 1-800 vanity phone number can be branded in​ advertising so people remember how to​ call you, it​ should not become your trade name.
7) Verdict Results: if​ you advertise previous settlements or​ verdict results, most states will require a​ disclaimer that prior results are not predictive of​ future outcomes .​
Claims must be true and​ you should be able to​ prove it.
8) Use of​ Actors in​ the​ Commercial: Some states prohibit lawyers from using an​ actor in​ the​ commercial to​ portray a​ lawyer and​ have strict regulations regarding the​ use of​ testimonials, and​ the​ portrayal of​ clients.
9) Dramatic Accident Re-creation: Some states prohibit use of​ dramatic accident recreations in​ the​ commercials.
10) Jingles: Some states prohibit use of​ jingles in​ commercials.
11) Office Address: Most states require that your main office address appear in​ your advertising.
12) Copy of​ Advertisement: Some states require lawyers to​ keep a​ copy of​ the​ advertisement for​ certain period of​ time .​
Some states require lawyers to​ submit a​ copy of​ their advertisements for​ prior approval.




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