11/22/10

Check Here: You May Be Violating State Bar Ethics Rules with Law Firm Recommendations on Google Places or LinkedIn

With everyone so excited about the impact of Google Places on law firm web sites positioning in search results, one thing that law firms and attorneys need to remember -- because that internet marketing company may not know, or may not care to bring up -- is that recommendations may be prohibited in their state.

Google Places' new HotPot recommendation service and LinkedIn recommendations may sound good to some lawyers, particularly those in the personal injury and criminal defense practice areas, but beware. Your local solitication rules may apply, forbidding recommendations of legal services online in this manner.

American Bar Association Model Rule 7.1

Lawyers know that every state bar ethical code has its origins in the model originating with the American Bar Association. Each state tweaks the ABA's prototype to serve its own jurisdiction; accordingly, what may be acceptable in Texas may not be okay in Indiana.

We attorneys know this: national marketers and internet search engines may not. Lawyers are responsible for adhering to their own ethical rules or risk sanctioning for failure to do so - it's not the marketing service provider's duty to know these things. It's ours.

Here is the text of ABA Model Rule 7.1:

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.

Each State's Adaptation of Model Rule 7.1 - Review Those That Apply to Your Practice

If you practice in Florida, then check out Rule 4-7.2(c)(1)(J), which prohibits attorney testimonials in any kind of advertising. Ditto for those practicing in Indiana: read your state's Rule 7.2(d)(3). Here in Texas, things aren't quite as strict: testimonials can exist, within certain limitations. You need to check what state bar rules apply for every jurisdiction that applies to your law firm.

Online List of State Bar Rules Regarding Testimonials

The ABA has a webpage with links to each state's individual set of ethical rules.  Visit this online resource to find the ethical rules that apply to your situation.  

The ABA also provides a litany of examples on permeations of its Model Rule, gleaned from a Louisiana lawsuit's filed briefing, which includes in part:


  • Prohibition on Using False, Misleading or Nonverifiable Communications about Lawyer’s Services (Ohio)



  • Prohibition on Testimonials or Endorsements (Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Wyoming)



  • Restrictions on Testimonials or Endorsements (California, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia, Wisconsin)



  • Prohibition on Statements that Cannot be Substantiated or Verified (District of Columbia, Florida, Ohio, Oregon)



  • Restrictions on Statements Regarding Past Success (Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, New York,South Dakota, Texas, Virginia)



  • Prohibition on Statements that Promise Results (Florida, Louisiana)



  • Prohibition or Restriction on Comparing Quality of Lawyer’s Services or Describing Quality of Services (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming)
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