There’s nothing more vital to a law firm than its ethical standing. That’s why it’s especially important that law firm marketing is honest and in compliance with American Bar Association (ABA) standards. Putting the best foot forward in marketing is the goal, but there’s a fine line that law firms must walk so no rules are broken.
The ABA has laid out ethical standards for legal marketing in Ethics Rule 7 governing the Bar and judiciary. What’s more, state ethics rules can limit how law firms create great, effective ads that can positively impact a firm’s business. While we aren’t here to give legal advice, we have developed some marketing ideas for law firms, and how to develop effective ads (without breaking any rules).
Great Stories Capture Attention
Being a smart and competent firm is great, but it isn’t enough to attract new clients these days. Law firms must find ways to stand out from their competition, and odds are they have a unique story to tell on some level. Blogging is a great way to do that, letting people know the story behind attorneys and partners, the firm, and the successes it's had with clients and in the community.
To stay within the ethical boundaries of Rule 7.1, make sure anything that’s written about past client successes doesn’t violate confidentiality agreements. This is especially common if the firm outsources the writing.
Cover All Channels
Law firms should develop ads that strengthen brand awareness in the mind of the target client base. Taking an integrated approach to marketing can be a successful strategy. For example, coordinate the messaging on social media and radio. Radio ads can be effective in legal marketing because they reach a broad audience, but also target potential clients in a specific practice area as well as strategically reaching target demographics.
When law firms utilize radio marketing, they should avoid making future promises when talking about past success. This also falls under Rule 7.1, and it’s a trap that’s easy to fall into. For example, a DUI lawyer, might tout statistics such as “reduced sentences in 70% of our cases.” While that’s fine, the statistic shouldn’t be inflated to something less factually accurate such as, “Hire us, and you’ll have a 70% chance of getting a reduced sentence.”
Know The Target Audience
When targeting a specific audience, ensure the advertisements don’t fall into the category of solicitation, which would violate Rule 7.3. The main focus is to make sure the ad is sent out to the general public. If it’s targeted to specific individuals, it likely falls under the category of a solicitation. For example, firms should be careful of this when using email marketing. While it’s great to send out periodic newsletters with helpful information about the practice area, law firms should avoid offering specific services related to individual legal issues via email.
As we touched on above, smart legal marketing will make wise use of disclaimers to avoid any ethical breaches or conflicts. When using email marketing, per the example above, include a disclaimer stating that the messaging is only for advertising purposes, as opposed to a direct solicitation. This is primarily to avoid breaching Rule 7.3. When blogging about legal tips or education, include a disclaimer that the blog shouldn’t be considered legal advice and that the information is general in nature.
Maintain Strong Branding
When branding the firm, reference the rules in regards to trade names and how the firm is referenced. While it’s fine to use trade names, avoid misleading the consumer to confuse it with another brand. Keep in mind if two attorneys share an office, they can’t market a combined name unless it’s legally one firm. Doing so would be in violation of rule 7.5.
In addition to branding, ensure the firm maintains a good presence on online review sites that matches that of the branding messaging. Although reviews are written by customers and can’t be edited or changed, the law firm should address any potential concerns promptly and properly to show that the issue is important and that it has (or is being) taken care of. The transparency of online review sites can leverage your branding and messaging if handled correctly.
Marketing a law firm on radio, social media and other digital and traditional marketing channels can increase business to the practice, but the firm should be cautious not to cross ethical boundaries. By educating themselves on the regulations and ensuring the messaging and its details are within the specified guidelines set by the American Bar Association, the law firm can take advantage of available marketing options to attract new clients and drive business to the firm.