When starting out with digital marketing for law firm websites, it’s important to be mindful of your state’s bar regulations for advertising. In this article we’ll go over some of the high level points to look out for. Before you begin designing your law firm’s website or new marketing campaign, it is extremely important that all promotion of the attorney services adhere to Rules 7.1 through 7.3, dealing with advertising and solicitation.
The Rhode Rules of Professional Conduct outline the guidelines for attorney advertising in Rhode Island.
Rule 7.1 states that all communications made by an attorney in regards to their advertising must not be misleading or untruthful. A communication is considered misleading or untruthful 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
- It contains any testimonial about, or endorsement of, the lawyer without identifying the fact that it is a testimonial or endorsement, and if payment for the testimonial or endorsement has been made, that fact must also be disclosed.
- It contains a dramatization or simulated description of the lawyer, partners or associates, offices or facilities, or services without identifying the fact that the description is a simulation or dramatization.
Truthful statements can also be prohibited by this rule if it omits necessary facts which would make the attorney’s communication considered as a whole not materially misleading. A truthful statement can also be considered misleading if there is a “substantial likelihood that it will lead a reasonable person to formulate a specific conclusion about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services for which there is no reasonable factual foundation.”
Rule 7.2 permits an attorney to advertise in the state of Rhode Island in order to assist the public in obtaining legal services. In order to avoid misleading or overreaching practices that can come with advertising, Rule 7.2 requires:
- A copy of each advertisement be sent to the Supreme Court Disciplinary Counsel prior to or within 48 hours of the first dissemination of such advertisement and another copy of each advertisement be retained by the lawyer for three years after its last dissemination along with a record of when and where it was used.
Rule 7.2 also prohibits a lawyer from giving anything of value to any persons recommendation of their services other than the reasonable costs of advertisements or communications.
Rule 7.3 regulates any direct contact between an attorney and their prospective client. Lawyers are prohibited from soliciting employment from anyone who has made it known they do not desire to be solicited; or from soliciting anyone using coercion. All solicitations should include the disclaimer “Advertising Material.”
Rule 7.4 Allows an attorney to communicate whether or not they focus in a specific aspect of law; however, they are prohibited from claiming to be a “specialist” or “certified” in any field of law unless:
- They have been certified as a specialist by an organization that has been approved by an appropriate state authority or that has been accredited by the American Bar Association;
- the name of the certifying organization is clearly identified in the communication;
- the lawyer also includes, as part of the same communication, the disclaimer that: “The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all lawyers in the general practice of law. The court does not license or certify any lawyer as an expert or specialist in any particular field of practice.” (As adopted by the court on February 16, 2007, eff. April 15, 2007.)