A Legal Ethics Reminder

Gyi Tsakalakis
May 10, 2011

In light of this recent South Carolina attorney disciplinary matter, it's worth taking a moment to think about the intersection of practicing law, marketing, ethics, and the Internet.

Lawyers are different. They are bound by rules of professional responsibility. They provide an extremely important function in our society. However, like other professionals, they have a right to advertise. But this right isn't without limit. Every lawyer should be intimately familiar with their state's rules of professional responsibility. In particular, those regarding communications about a lawyer's services & advertising.

Here are some excerpts from the ABA's Model Rules:

Information About Legal Services
Rule 7.1 Communications Concerning A Lawyer's Services

A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer's services. A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.

Information About Legal Services
Rule 7.2 Advertising

(a) Subject to the requirements of Rules 7.1 and 7.3, a lawyer may advertise services through written, recorded or electronic communication, including public media.

(b) A lawyer shall not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer's services except that a lawyer may

(1) pay the reasonable costs of advertisements or communications permitted by this Rule;

(2) pay the usual charges of a legal service plan or a not-for-profit or qualified lawyer referral service. A qualified lawyer referral service is a lawyer referral service that has been approved by an appropriate regulatory authority;

(3) pay for a law practice in accordance with Rule 1.17; and

(4) refer clients to another lawyer or a nonlawyer professional pursuant to an agreement not otherwise prohibited under these Rules that provides for the other person to refer clients or customers to the lawyer, if

(i) the reciprocal referral agreement is not exclusive, and

(ii) the client is informed of the existence and nature of the agreement.

(c) Any communication made pursuant to this rule shall include the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content.

It's also important to keep in mind that the person responsible for complying with these rules is ultimately the lawyer. If you read the South Carolina reprimand, you will see that the lawyer in that matter claimed that he hadn't reviewed the materials posted on his website.

If you hire someone to design & develop your website, or other marketing & advertising materials, make sure that you, or someone at your firm that you trust with your professional reputation & license, has editorial review of everything done on your behalf online.

Gyi Tsakalakis
Co-Founder of AttorneySync
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