In his article, Recent ethics opinion: Lawyer websites, Peter Geraghty (Director, ETHICSearch) discusses the recently updated ethics opinion from The ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility.
The opinion sheds light on many ethical considerations relating to law firm website content, communications with website visitors, and warnings and disclaimers.
- Law firm websites may provide biographical information about firm members, general information about the law firm including its history and areas of practice, and may also include information about prior engagements and client names so long as the clients give their informed consent
- Lawyers should also include qualifying language or disclaimers that “may preclude a finding that a statement is likely to create unjustified expectations or otherwise mislead a prospective client.”
- Law firm websites may also provide legal information to the general public. This may take the form of articles about the types of law in which the firm has a concentration, links to blogs or a FAQ (frequently asked questions) post
- Lawyers should provide warnings on their websites that state that the information provided is general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice, and that legal advice cannot be given without consideration of all the relevant facts related to the website visitor’s individual circumstances.
- If a law firm website invites or requests a website visitor to submit information that may begin the discussion of whether to establish a lawyer-client relationship, then the provisions of Rule 1.18 may apply. If there is no such invitation and the visitor nonetheless submits information, the nature of the lawyer’s response will determine whether Rule 1.18 is applicable.
- Lawyers ought to use warnings to limit or disclaim a lawyer’s obligations to a website visitor, the committee stated, but they must be clear and understandable by a reasonable person. Furthermore, if the lawyer acts in a manner that is inconsistent with the warnings or disclaimers on the website, the warnings may become ineffective.
This opinion provides at least some guidance about information that is permissible on a law firm website. Of course, legal professionals should check with their state bars to ensure that their website is compliant in their state. Some states have unique rules specifically pertaining to websites that may not be covered by this opinion.