Lawyer Advertising Rules: What You Need to Know

lawyer advertising rules-smallAll businesses need new customers. One of the most immediate ways to get them is by advertising.

But it may surprise you that the keywords “lawyer” and “attorney” are two of the most highly valued words on Googe Ads. This suggests just how many people search for lawyers online.

The opportunities are clear, but you’ve undoubtedly heard that lawyers must abide by some unique advertising rules.

That’s not a myth.

Failure to follow these rules can lead to accusations of unethical behavior and all that follows.

But what are the advertising rules and responsibilities for lawyers? Why do they exist? Are the rules the same for lawyers in all states? How can you effectively advertise your law firm while being ethical?

We cover all of that in this article and look at some of the typical digital advertising channels used by lawyers (and their pros and cons).



Can lawyers advertise online?

There is a myth floating around that lawyers cannot advertise online or that it’s in some way unethical or unprofessional.

Attorneys and law firms can advertise, but they need to follow some fairly strict ethical rules outlined by The American Bar Association (ABA) and furthered by the state bar associations.

For starters, your ad shouldn’t be like this one.

Bizarre Law Firm Ad

If you’d like to take a quick look at some equally strange and non-compliant ads, we’ve written an entire post on 20 bizarre lawyer ads.

The ABA’s Rule 7.2 on Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services specifies that a lawyer can communicate information about their services through any platform. Still, there are certain restrictions governing what they can share.

The ABA and state bar regulators attempt to protect the public from misleading, deceptive, or coercive ads. The ABA notes that:

  • Undignified advertising can detract from the public’s confidence in the legal system
  • Lawyer advertising should help the public understand its legal rights and the judicial process
  • Lawyer advertising should uphold the dignity of the legal profession

However, the ABA endorses responsible lawyer advertising that informs the public of valuable legal services, especially in traditionally underserved markets.

Besides this, attorneys retain the freedom of expression under the First Amendment. So, although lawyers can expect a higher level of scrutiny than most other professions with ads, advertising is not prohibited and should be an essential part of an overall law firm marketing strategy.

A comprehensive digital marketing strategy should include cost-effective, long-term lead generation strategies like website marketing, search engine optimization, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and legal advertising.

That said, Google Ads and Facebook Ads are a highly effective and targeted way to generate high-quality leads quickly when done correctly.


What can lawyers not do in legal advertising?

The ABA lays out the basic lawyer advertising rules in Rule 7.2. You can find more information in the ABA’s Aspirational Goals for Lawyer Advertising. The individual state bar associations also detail the regional responsibilities of lawyers when advertising.

These shouldn’t be too hard to follow. Start by avoiding the following, and you should stay off the radar.


Don’t say you’re an “expert” or a “specialist”

Lawyers cannot claim to be “experts” or “specialists” unless formally certified or accredited as such by an ABA-accredited organization authorized by your state, district, or U.S. Territory.

The following is an example of what not to do anywhere in the U.S. or Canada.

Expert Lawyer Facebook

Even the most experienced criminal defense attorney cannot claim to be a “criminal defense expert” unless certified as such. It’s best to avoid using these words in ad or marketing copy.


Don’t make false or misleading statements

It should be no surprise to any lawyer that deliberately making false statements is a no-no.

Not only is it highly unethical, but misleading clients about your services, success rates, or their chances of winning their case won’t win you any friends (or clients) in the long run.

For instance, if you advertise a free 30-minute consultation, make sure it’s around 30 minutes (not five or ten). Centra Lawyers LLP, a multi-practice law firm in British Columbia, is good to its word.

Lawyer Advertising Free Consultation
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The rules vary from state to state and province to province, but it should be obvious that using fictitious law firm/lawyer names or fake legal documents is also a no-no.

Also, avoid using superlative phrases like “the best,” “the most,” or “the cheapest” to describe your firm. They could be construed as untrue, confusing, deceiving, or misleading.

In the following example from an advertisement on the Avvo legal directory, family lawyer Andrew Aaron Zashin from Zashin & Rich uses the term “Best Lawyers’ Lawyer of the Year.” But this is the name of an award he’s received rather than a claim to be the best.

Lawyer Advertising Rules Avvo
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Don’t break the rules with client testimonials

Promoting your firm with genuine testimonials from satisfied clients is not misleading. In fact, it’s recommended for building credibility and trust, like Oykhman Criminal Defence in Calgary does.

Lawyer Advertising Testimonials
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Before posting testimonials on your law firm’s website or using them in your advertising, make sure they follow the guidelines.

Again, these rules are set by your local state bar. You should check these carefully before creating ads or websites. The ABA states that attorneys must not compensate or “give anything of value” to a person for recommending their services.

Ensure that positive testimonials are provided according to a client’s free will and don’t create the expectation that new clients will achieve the same results.

Similar ethics rules usually apply to publications, awards, and bar association memberships. Law-related or legal industry publications/accolades and current bar association or other professional association memberships are safe to use.


Don’t malign your competitors

Criticizing your competitors’ reputation, performance, or services isn’t recommended in any industry but is considered especially unprofessional in the legal profession.

Law firms should treat competitors fairly. If you compare your services to others, keep it accurate and fair. Anything less could be construed as false and misleading.


Don’t directly solicit your services

Attorney advertising that communicates a lawyer’s services, like this Google Ad from personal injury lawyers Morris Bart, is permitted.

Google Ad Personal Injury Lawyer
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However, soliciting your services as a lawyer is unethical and is prohibited. According to the ABA, solicitation is when you communicate to a specific person requiring specific legal services that you can provide these services for financial gain.

You can see where the dilemma lies for many law firms. With digital marketing channels offering many ways to target particular clients, the line between advertising and solicitation is blurry.

Generally speaking, targeted advertising direct to the general public is permitted. It becomes solicitation when it’s addressed to a specific person.


What else should lawyers know about attorney advertising?

Now that you know what not to do with lawyer advertising, it’s best to familiarize yourself with some other responsibilities of law firms when marketing or advertising your services.


Do you need a physical office address?

The pandemic changed how many attorneys work. Remote meetings with clients and even online court appearances suddenly became acceptable.

With cloud-based software making it easy to conduct legal business from anywhere, at any time, on any device, many law firms have moved almost entirely online.

However, depending on the local advertising rules, you may still need a physical office address featured on your website and in your advertisements to meet local attorney advertising regulations (both digital and traditional).

This Florida law firm, Bryant Taylor Law, takes no chances and does what many firms do: features its full contact details in the footer of every webpage, including its office address.

Lawyer Advertising Office Address
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Check what applies in your area before starting your marketing campaigns, and comply with all regulations.


Can you use your firm’s trade name?

Part of the duty of state bar associations is to protect the public by ensuring that firms are who they say they are.

Before using a trade name in lawyer ads, be clear on the identifying information you must include. In some jurisdictions, it’s not permitted to use a trade name as it’s considered “beneath” the professional dignity of attorneys and could be misleading to clients.

However, rules are being relaxed in many jurisdictions. In New York in 2020, the use of trade names became permitted.

Aaron, Sachs and Associates, PC, in Missouri sometimes use its trade name autoinjury.com in ads.

Lawyer Advertising Trade Name
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Are there other mandatory legal ad rules in your state?

In some states, the bar association sets minimum requirements for information that must be included in each advertisement.

For instance, identifying information, such as the name of at least one lawyer or the name of the law firm, may need to accompany each ad.

In some states, like New York, advertisements must be explicitly identified as “attorney advertising,” as in this example from the Rahman Law Firm.

You may also need to retain copies of traditional and digital advertisements for a certain period to comply with local bar requirements (in New York, it’s three years). In some states, you cannot use pending case information in ads. This means no testimonials from clients with pending matters are permitted unless informed client consent is provided in writing. When it comes to lawyer rates and fees, there are usually no fixed rules other than not claiming to be the cheapest, offering the lowest fees, or the biggest discounts. You can usually post the hourly or fixed rates you charge if you like. A few examples of state rules that bypass ABA rules are: Paid communications/advertisements must be identified as such in Georgia and Missouri Compensation for professional publicity in news items is prohibited in New York Advertisements must be legible and intelligible in Florida, Louisiana, and New York The golden rule is to understand and comply with your region's specific lawyer advertising rules. Each local bar association should have a page dedicated to lawyer advertising rules, like this example from the State Bar of Texas. Lawyer Advertising Rules Texas https://www.texasbar.com/Content/NavigationMenu/ForLawyers/MembershipInformation/AdvertisingReview2/RulesCommentsOpinion.htm
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You may also need to retain copies of traditional and digital advertisements for a certain period to comply with local bar requirements (in New York, it’s three years).

In some states, you cannot use pending case information in ads. This means no testimonials from clients with pending matters are permitted unless informed client consent is provided in writing.

When it comes to lawyer rates and fees, there are usually no fixed rules other than not claiming to be the cheapest, offering the lowest fees, or the biggest discounts. You can usually post the hourly or fixed rates you charge if you like.

A few examples of state rules that bypass ABA rules are:

  • Paid communications/advertisements must be identified as such in Georgia and Missouri
  • Compensation for professional publicity in news items is prohibited in New York
  • Advertisements must be legible and intelligible in Florida, Louisiana, and New York

The golden rule is to understand and comply with your region’s specific lawyer advertising rules. Each local bar association should have a page dedicated to lawyer advertising rules, like this example from the State Bar of Texas.

Lawyer Advertising Rules Texas
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Other best practices in legal advertising

A couple of other pointers regarding attorney advertising are:

  • Be as clear as possible in your ads — avoid ambiguity and lower the potential for misunderstandings and confusion, which can create issues.
  • If in doubt, hire experienced legal advertising and marketing professionals to assist in identifying and reaching the appropriate audience in effective and appropriate ways.

Did you know that lawyers have been advertising since the 1800s?

Attorney advertising with newspaper ads was a thing even back in the 1800s, with Abraham Lincoln’s law firm among those advertising during the 1850s.

Lawyer Advertising - Abraham Lincoln
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However, in 1908, the ABA started to clamp down on lawyer advertising in its Canons of Professional Ethics. Business cards were permitted, but many states passed regulations banning or severely limiting attorney advertising.

Since the 1970s, the matter of law firm advertising has been regularly kicked around the courts as the legal profession has attempted to balance freedom of speech and expression with protecting the public against false claims.

While law firm advertising continues to face scrutiny, ads that stay within the rules and use practices like client testimonials, publication in Super Lawyer magazines, and so on are permitted.


What does legal advertising mean in 2022?

The debate has moved from newspapers, magazines, Yellow Pages, bus benches, and billboards to TV and now online, with digital advertising channels increasingly dominating our lives.

In 2019, the online advertising market became larger than print and TV, and that gap is only expected to grow.

This is not surprising when you consider the advantages of digital advertising over traditional channels:

  • Digital advertising is more targeted and sends a more precise message to prospects, which boosts response rates and ROI.
  • It’s easy to track and measure results from digital advertising campaigns, allowing you to adjust for better performance.
  • Digital advertising helps you actively engage with prospects instantly, establishing credibility, trust, and building relationships.

It’s likely that many of your competitors are already using digital advertising channels, but are they getting it right?

Let’s look at a few of the lawyer advertising channels you should consider.


Digital advertising options for lawyers in 2022

There are four main digital channels for attorney advertising, each with its own pros and cons. Let’s take a quick look at each one.


Google PPC advertising

With PPC, you bid on keywords that people seeking services like yours might use in a search. If you successfully set up your ad campaign, your ad appears for the relevant search(es).

You only pay when a prospect clicks an ad and visits your site.

Most law firms that use PPC use Google Ads. While it’s easy to run campaigns, optimizing a campaign is not straightforward, and mistakes can be costly. It’s best left to professionals.

Pros:

  • Great for targeted campaigns
  • You decide the budget
  • You only pay if a prospect clicks through
  • It can generate instant leads

Cons:

  • It can be difficult to get right
  • Usually requires professional assistance to be successful
  • It can take a lot of time, a lot of investment — or both

Google Local Service Ads

Local Service Ads are featured above traditional Google Ads right at the top of the search engine results page, making them even more valuable. If your law firm’s ad features here, you can generate a large amount of traffic.

Lawyer Advertising Local Service Ads

Local Service Ads are designed to generate phone-call leads and are pay-per-lead rather than pay-per-click, but the same lawyer advertising rules apply.

Ads are ranked based on the firm’s number of positive reviews, proximity, bid, and other factors.

Pros:

  • Great for targeted local campaigns
  • You decide budget
  • Leads generated immediately

Cons:

  • Usually requires professional management to be successful
  • Pay-per-lead rather than pay-per-click

Facebook PPC advertising

Social media is not a subject that sits comfortably with all law firms, but the opportunity to build awareness of your firm and generate new leads through social media should not be missed.

Lawter Advertising Facebook

With two billion monthly active users, Facebook is hard to ignore. The Facebook advertising platform provides instant access to the newsfeeds of highly targeted prospects. Depending on your practice area, this type of lawyer advertising may be an option for your firm.

Pros:

  • One of the world’s largest digital platforms in terms of reach/users
  • Highly targeted campaigns
  • Cost-effective when well managed
  • It can generate instant leads

Cons:

  • It can be challenging to manage campaigns successfully without professional help
  • Not suitable for all practice areas, e.g., criminal defense lawyers

Legal directory advertising

Advertising on Avvo, FindLaw, or other lawyer directories is another way to generate instant leads.

Lawyer Advertising Avvo

Many of these directories help potential clients find lawyers and provide a wealth of information about various legal topics. This, plus the extensive SEO efforts of these directories, generates a large amount of traffic.

By creating a free profile on these platforms, your firm may be able to send new business your way — and with a paid listing or advertising, these chances increase.

Pros:

  • High volume of traffic from searches on these directories
  • You can be put in immediate contact with potential clients seeking your specific services
  • Free listings available

Cons:

  • Some platforms do not provide exclusivity for leads, so you may be competing against other firms for the same business, despite paying a fee

Ready to add lawyer ads to your marketing armory?

With many effective digital advertising channels now available to law firms, generating a steady flow of targeted and high-quality leads for your business is possible.

Solo attorneys can compete on an even playing field with larger firms but only by staying within the ABA and state bar advertising rules. These rules may evolve as online advertising evolves. It’s important to stay up to date and on the right side of the line.

If you are honest, ethical, and understand your state’s rules, you should have no advertising problems. Now that you know the present rules, you can sleep easily knowing that your ads are compliant and out there generating new business for you.

Find out more about your lawyer advertising options during a free consultation with one of our professional legal marketing specialists.