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The Ins and Outs of Ethical Legal Marketing

5 mins

Successful marketing is challenging in just about any industry, but the legal industry especially is faced with the additional burden of continuously evolving state bar rules and ethics decisions. Understanding the complexities involved in legal marketing can bring tremendous growth opportunities to your firm.

The evolution of legal marketing has made it possible for lawyers to expand their practice more rapidly, if they did it right. Until the 1970s, most states prohibited lawyers from marketing and advertising. Law firms could not engage in any type of promotion based on the concept that it essentially constituted solicitation. These rules quickly changed with the U.S Supreme Court case of Bates v. Arizona that protected truthful advertising.

Since then, marketing and advertising for lawyers rapidly has evolved. Law firms and attorneys no longer have to rely solely on print media when promoting their business. Additionally, clients now have multiple options when researching potential legal resources, other than word of mouth or referral marketing. For example, practices can now use digital marketing tactics, like online ad networks, review sites, email marketing, and more.

Potential clients can (and do) research an attorney’s qualifications, experience and practice areas at just a click of the button online. Research indicates that >80% of prospective clients research firms online prior to engagement (90% for consumer practice areas). While digital marketing is a fast and effective way to grow your practice and client base,  it is important to understand the ins and outs of ethical legal marketing as you build your marketing strategy.

Want to optimize your law firm marketing plan? Start building your strategy with our free resource,  The Complete Guide to Building a Marketing Strategy for Your Law Firm.

What is Ethical Legal Marketing?

Each state has implemented ethical rules governing legal marketing differently (and some have implemented the Model Code, an entirely different set). Attorneys often break the guidelines because they are not aware of the evolving state bar rules and ethics decisions, or because they abdicate their marketing to a generic marketing firms that does not understand the special considerations that apply to the legal field.

There is a lot of risk involved when a client chooses a law firm. Most of the time it includes their freedom, money, reputation, or responsibilities. It is important to educate clients in honest ways to prove your firm is equipped to take on their challenges. Below outlines some of the common ethical legal marketing issues and best practices to follow:

Compliance Basics

One of the most frequently violated ethical legal marketing guidelines pertains to testimonial use. Best practice recommendation is to avoid testimonials:  

  • That discuss outcomes of legal matters
  • That discuss quality of legal skill
  • That imply, or could be thought to imply by any stretch of imagination, that a similar result is likely
  • That are paid (whether in money, barter, discounts, or in any other way)
  • Where, if any facts are stated in the testimonial, they cannot be verified
  • That are anonymous

Never, ever use fake testimonials. Ever.

Writing Your Disclaimer

The fact of the matter is, there's a tension between effective marketing and being so conservative you get little benefit from a testimonial because it's blunted.

Many states prohibit attorney disclaimers that could give an unjustified expectation about the results a lawyer is able to achieve for a particular type of case. Below are starting point recommendations for writing a disclaimer based on your comfort on either end of the spectrum. But, since we're talking about disclaimers here - here's our disclaimer. These disclaimers aren't legal advice - you are responsible for making your own judgement based on your situation, and your state.


Marketing-Friendly Disclaimer: “Here’s what our past clients say about us based on their unique situations:”

Middle Of The Road Disclaimer: “Your situation and legal matter is unique, and we cannot promise you a specific result. In fact, no lawyer can guarantee your result will be the same as any previous client. Here’s what our past clients say about us based on their unique situations:”

More Conservative Disclaimer: “Your situation and legal matter is unique, and we cannot promise you a specific result. In fact, no lawyer can guarantee your result will be the same as any previous client. The statements below do not imply your experience will be the same. Here’s what our past clients say about us based on their unique situations:”

Note: You can also include language in your engagement letter to the effect that “Any statements from prior clients that you may have seen do not imply that you will achieve the same results.” Again, use your own judgment about where on the "marketer versus overly conservative lawyer" you want to be.

Lawyers need to be generating educational information that is readily available to clients and potential clients. It will help them understand what they are facing and how the laws may affect them. According to an Avvo report, 42% of consumers research their legal issues online; and accordingly it becomes imperative for you to provide ethical and educational legal content to your client base.

What is it that make you or your firm the best available option for clients? As you learned, all of the educational content must be supplied within the parameters of your state bar guidelines. Can you keep up with the complexities of legal marketing? Discover how legal content marketing can help you educate your potential buyers and attract ideal clients.

Looking for a complete breakdown of the state of law firm marketing and how firms are catching up? Check out our compiled guide to law firm marketing.

Practice Alchemy is your resource for both outsourcing your law firm marketing workload and receiving strategic direction. Start generating high-quality leads for your practice and get on the right track towards success. Click here to schedule your free marketing assessment! 


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Raj Jha